An achievement on many levels, the Oscar-winning animated short PAPERMAN is by far one of Disney’s most stylistically beautiful animation pieces of recent history. Seemingly fully-3D realized yet at the same time appearing like a classic hand-drawn 2D work, the piece comes across as a fluid seamless execution that lets you focus on the story’s adorable protagonists.

But how exactly was it done? Not easily! Using a process called Computer-Assisted Animation of Line and Paint, Disney animators were able to combine CG animation’s strengths (including temporal coherence, spatial stability, and precise control) with traditional animation’s expressive and aesthetically pleasing line-based style.

A new video by Disney gives some insight into just HOW it all came together…

The process begins as an ordinary 3D CG animation, but later steps occur in a light-weight and responsive 2D environment, where an artist can draw lines which the system can then automatically move through time using vector fields derived from the 3D animation, thereby maximizing the benefits of both environments.
Unlike with an automated “toon-shader”, the final look was directly in the hands of the artists in a familiar workflow, allowing their artistry and creative power to be fully utilized. This process was developed during production of the short film Paperman at Walt Disney Animation Studios, but its application is extensible to other styles of animation as well.