Disney’s 2012 Paperman animation was the first animation to be publicly released using the pseudo-3D/2D animation software Meander developed by Disney’s software engineer, Brian Whited. The program took about 3 years to develop, and was an attempt to get paper animators to switch to digital animation by giving them a tool that could accurately capture a handmade curve through a drawing tablet. It combines both 2D and 3D animation, utilising vector graphics and automatically generating in-betweens. This revolutionary piece of software has become one of the first steps towards combining the two distinct disciplines of animation into one, changing the potential future of animation drastically.
In the beginning, there was traditional hand-drawn animation. Animators used animation cells and paint to create frame-by-frame movement, carefully layering components onto animation pegs and photographing each frame manually. This method of animating went on for many, many years and was used to produce many television shows and movies.
As technology evolved over time, computers eventually developed the capability to code animation. 3D animation rapidly developed, taking over traditional methods and dominating the animation industry. Studios like Dreamworks and Disney eventually scrapped their traditional 2D animation departments and decided to go full CG in favour of the superior production efficiency. But there were certain characteristics and nuances in the 2D hand-drawn style that never quite carried out into 3D, as much as animators tried. The freedom of being able to exaggerate forms and perspective to whatever extent the artist wanted to and to bend time and movement so loosely was difficult to portray in 3D without coming across a number of technical problems.
“So using the expertise I had in both geometry and using modern hardware, I was just trying to come up with ideas, and I would iterate back and forth with artists. I would make a little demo, and I would go to an artist and ask them to draw curves, over and over again and say, ‘Does that feel right?” and they’d say “Oh, that’s a little off, that’s not exactly what I wanted.” That was probably the first six months of development.” – Brian Whited
Not much is known about the program Meander, as limited information has been uploaded to the public domain. However, there are a number of videos posted by Disney that show the in-program development of their short Paperman which uses Meander. It can predictively draw the motions of characters to speed up the animation process, whilst still maintaining the rich style of the artistic hand. Once the lines are captured correctly, they can be made dynamic. The computer is able to nudges the hand-drawn lines into the right positions for the next frame in a process called Final Line Advection. However, this technique can cuase difficulties when a multitude of lines are needed to be animated together in a piece of fabric. It was issues like these that kept the Disney programmers busy bug-fixing and developing.
Meander is a program that has finally broken the line between 2D and 3D animation, allowing animators to use the best of both mediums to the fullest. To be able to efficiently animate and smooth away 3D motions whilst keeping the spontaneous, organic nature of hand-drawn frames, it’s unique combination of functions has the ability to produce some truly special work.