This weekend, you might’ve had the chance to catch a program of Oscar-nominated animated shorts, either at the Jacob Burns Film Center or the Irvington Town Hall Theater. If so, then you were no doubt charmed by an almost-silent, nearly black-and-white short called “Paperman” — and just in time for that post-Valentine’s Day glow, too.
Actually, unlike most of the other shorts, it’s possible that you saw “Paperman” at a multiplex this past fall. The Disney short screened — to stunned audience expecting louder, video-game-inspired fare — in front of Wreck-It Ralph when it was in theaters. That’s where I first saw it, and the story — about a chance meeting on a train between a bored office drone and a woman with a little-bit-brighter shade of red lipstick — melted my cold heart a little.
I’ve mentioned before, but “Paperman” was directed by John Kahrs, who grew up in Cornwall. You might never know it, but this article — only tangentially about animation, but mostly about plane-building enthusiasts, having been printed in the Falco Builders Letter — actually highlights what a hidden enclave of animation talent in our area.
The writer of the article, Stephan Wilkinson, is also a Cornwall native. He mentions he was he was introduced to Kahrs through a mutual friend (and fellow plane builder) Carl Ludwig, who lived in the area. Ludwig, a NASA alum, worked on one of the first forays into computer-animation, Disney’s Tron, while he was at a small computer animation company based in Elmsford named MAGI. Blue Sky Studios — the studio behind those Ice Age movies — in the “Our Story” section of its Web site, notes that “MAGI is credited with some of the most memorable sequences in the film, including the classic light cycle sequence.”
Ludwig went on to co-found Blue Sky, which was located in Westchester before it decamped to Greenwich in 2009. According to Blue Sky history: “Ludwig [and his co-workers] developed proprietary software called CGI Studio that would become (and still is) perhaps the most advanced rendering software used in production.” Kahrs worked with Ludwig at Blue Sky before he was hired away by Pixar in 1997, basically working on all of their movies. And now Kahrs is an Oscar-nominated director.
So, next time someone tells you that all of the animation innovations happen out in California, you have to remind them that two industry titans have come from the 28-square-mile town of Cornwall.