Love and Paper Aeroplanes

paperman-disneyscreencaps-com-83Last week, I wrote about Valentine’s Day and how, now more than ever, we shouldn’t judge it as a simple romantic holiday but an occasion to highlight the importance of love in all its many and varied forms. In this blog, however, I’m going to focus squarely on romantic love, because that’s important too and at this time of year, it seems to come under attack from people who aren’t in a relationship. Understandable, but still a little silly in my opinion.

How am I going to explore romantic love, I hear you ask? Through the medium of Disney’s short masterpiece, Paperman. Because I haven’t mentioned it before. Like ever. No seriously.

Paperman is about a lonely nobody called George who lives and works in a vaguely 1930s-esque metropolis. One day he encounters the girl of his dreams (Meg) and resorts to using paper aeroplanes to capture her attention when they’re parted. Our hero has no luck via this route, but eventually the fates take over and literally sweep the two young lovers up for a reunion on the train platform at which they first met. Awwwwww.

It’s absolutely goddamn lovely and were it possible, I’m pretty sure I’d propose to it. You want to do the same no doubt, but I’ve already bought the ring, so BACK OFF, ok.

I honestly believe that at the centre of Paperman is the essence of romance itself. I appreciate that’s a slightly grandiose statement and if you’re feeling cynical about love at the moment, you’re probably scoffing (or vomiting) at having read it. But I don’t care. It’s true, and if I (a pathetically lonely creature who at the age of 32 has never so much as held hands with a woman, never mind kissed or been in a relationship with one) can write it, you can sure as heck read it.

What makes Paperman so glorious is the way it juxtaposes the banal and the magical. George and Meg are pretty normal people making their way through a normal day, loaded with tedious paperwork and stuffed briefcases. They get the train, they make their way to a job they’d probably rather not be at, and they likely go home at night ready to do the exact same thing the next day. Had they never met, their lives would have continued as such, just as it did the day before. And the day before that. And the day before that. These are not the Princesses and Princes we’re used to seeing in Disney romances.

Director John Kahrs’ decision to make the film black-and-white adds to this sense of everyday banality. George and Meg live their lives in monotone and with its giant skyscrapers, speeding trains and uniform office environments (all beautifully captured by Kahrs’ camerawork), their world becomes a cage they stand little chance of escaping from. Until, of course, the fates take over and the wind blows a little piece of paper (of magic, of colour, of love) into their world.

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Meg stifles a laugh, George joins in after working out the joke, and with one tiny quirk of the weather, their lives are changed. But that’s not the end of it. Had George and Meg been separated and gone through a series of similarly serendipitous events before meeting again and forming a relationship, Paperman would be an enjoyable but rather unremarkable piece of film-making no different from the multitude of other romances out there. Love is lovely, it’d say, and that’s fine, because yes, of course, it is. But it’s also difficult and painful and all about the delicate decisions we have to take to make love happen. Paperman reflects that.

George’s delicate decision revolves around his job. He’s an office drone surrounded by men who look like they’ve forgotten how to spell love, never mind feel it. George is no doubt going the same way, but now, in Meg, he’s found a spark he wants to turn into a fire. Can he though? Can he really risk his livelihood for a girl he’s never spoken to just because he’s meet-cuted with her? It’s the kind of choice we all face: the choice between the practical and the romantic, the reality and the dream, the life we need to live in order to survive and the life we want to live in order to be happy.

Of course, George chooses love (Paperman would be pretty depressing if he ignored Meg), but he has to work for it. Every aeroplane he throws to win Meg’s attention fails: falling just short, straying just wide, or hitting a pigeon just as it’s about to sail through the window to its intended target. It’s almost like he’s being tested. The world wants to see his breaking point, to see just how much he wants to turn that spark into a fire. Every plane thrown, every despairing grunt, every frustrated moan is George’s fight against the fates – and eventually the fates reward his endeavour.

In a film about the meeting of, rather than the relationship between, George and Meg, the final act is the closest we get to seeing the rush of their love. This fantastical flurry of paper is the stuff that cinematic dreams are made of and it produces some of Paperman‘s most iconic imagery: the bounce of the failed planes as they slowly creep into life, the blur of the windows as Meg follows her aeroplane through the train, the thrill of George being dragged across the road by the aeroplanes, his pursuit literally putting his life in danger. It’s intoxicating and it allows the audience to feel the excitement and fear of the love the characters are chasing, and which we hope we’ll feel ourselves.

It all leads, of course, back to the train station. The film calms, the music slows, and George and Meg are finally reunited. And yes, I know it’s predictable. And yes, I know it’s all very mushy. And yes, I know that real life doesn’t happen in such perfect little romantic and fantastical episodes.

But I don’t care.

Last year, I fell in love with someone, and she seemed to like me back. Paperman was my go-to film for the warm fuzzies during that time. After years of nothing, it maintained my hope that this might finally be the time, that she might finally be the one. It wasn’t. And she wasn’t. And now, we haven’t spoken for months. But I still think of her, and I still care about her because I adored her as a friend before anything else. She was, and I expect still is, an incredible woman and she struggled with love as much as I did. She’s happy with someone else now, and I’m delighted for her. How could I not be? Nobody deserves a flurry of paper aeroplanes like she does.

As for me, I’m still alone, but Paperman remains my go-to film for the warm fuzzies. Because after years of nothing, it maintains my hope that eventually, there might finally be the time, and there might finally be the one. That’s what makes it so special. It reflects both the love you have, if you have it, and the love you hope you have, if you don’t have it. It keeps you going in all those giant grey offices where life seems to eek out its existence in the thin spaces between pieces of piled up paper. It keeps your head up even as you kick the street in frustration, feeling like the chance is gone forever. It keeps you believing that your very own train station is out there and some day, some way, some how you’ll meet that special someone.

It gives you hope and reminds you to keep hoping.

Because sometimes your paper aeroplane flies straight and true, and sometimes it strays just wide. The latter doesn’t mean you should give up hope that the former will ever happen. It just means that you need to make more paper aeroplanes.

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Making a Paperman Shirt

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Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know I have a deep, abiding love for the Disney short film, Paperman. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a sweet, lovely tale told in black and white about a bored office worker (George) who meets the girl of his dreams (Meg) on a train platform one blustery morning. The pair part, but when he spots her in the office opposite his, he tries to draw her attention by making and launching paper aeroplanes. Yep, it’s an amazing meet-cute as a short animation, and it’s absolutely magnificent.

In recent months, I’ve been trying to boost my confidence and have decided a good way to do that is by buying some cool t-shirts. As a previous blog explained, I’m a very shy person, but am hoping I can start to feel more comfortable standing out a bit, and maybe start some conversations with likeminded people because of the shirts. Progress on the confidence has been slow so far, but I’ve bought some super-cool shirts that I’m enjoying wearing.

I wanted to buy a Paperman shirt, but sadly I couldn’t find one. So, I decided to make my own by creating a stencil I could use to paint onto a shirt with. As I’m not a t-shirt designer, or artist, in any way shape or form, I wanted to keep things pretty simple. That’s when I came across a piece of Paperman art Disney released for Valentine’s Day 2014, a year after the film had been released with Wreck-It Ralph. It’s a beautiful piece, and it provided a route into what would become my Paperman shirt.

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I didn’t just want to copy this pose, but I loved the line approach the artist had taken, and so wondered if I could transpose it onto a still from the film: namely the one of George and Meg on the train platform. So, I printed the still, got out my craft knife, and started experimenting.

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Initially, I tried cutting out along the light being cast onto the characters, but that didn’t work. While it gave definition to the right side of their bodies (as the right is where the light is coming from), the left side was left completely blank. The result looked a bit weird, so I tried again, this time cutting out lines around the whole body.

It’s important to note that I didn’t simply cut their outline as then I’d just have a sillouhette. Instead, I cut out a stretch of line, then left a space, then cut out a bit more and left a space. I placed the stencil on a piece of paper, painted, and was left with the below.

wp-1474902213015.jpgI was pretty pleased with this, for a first attempt, but I still had George to do, and even on Meg there was room for improvement. The left hand side of her skirt was missing, her hair lacked definition, and her hands seemed to disappear into nothingness. I gave it another go, this time stencilling George too. Same technique applied: cut out the stencil, put on to paper, and paint.

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Despite the paint bleeding, this was an improvement. The bleeding wasn’t a problem (as this was just a test, I hadn’t secured the stencil to the paper, so the paint ran under the stencil), and Meg’s skirt looked a lot better. George came out well too, and attempts to define hair showed improvements. All the other little issues, I knew how to solve, so it was on to making the proper, final stencil.

Before embarking upon this activity, I’d watched tutorials on YouTube, and they all recommended using ‘Freezer Paper’. This isn’t something I’ve encountered before in the UK, but it’s essentially food wrapping paper that’s like regular paper on one side and lightly waxed on the other. The wax is important because that’s what holds the stencil in place. You create the design on the papery side, put the waxy side onto your shirt, and iron, so the wax bonds just enough with the fabric to hold it in place while you paint. In other words: no bleeding!

I bought some Reynolds Freezer Paper from Amazon, placed a little of it over the stencils I’d already created, and started cutting along the lines. This was nerve-wracking as I knew it was for real this time. I took extra caution to get it right, but still took some risks by following my hunches and righting the mistakes of the test runs. I ended up with the below, which I placed over some black card help me more clearly identify where all the lines were.

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Ready to take the plunge, I put the stencil on the shirt, ironed it, and applied the paint. Gulp!

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This is the scary part, because there’s no happy medium. You’ve either created an excellent piece of art, or ruined a perfectly good shirt. What’s it going to be? In this case, I was convinced it was the later. As the lines were so thin and as I was unaccustomed to painting on fabric rather than paper, it didn’t feel like the paint was applying properly to the shirt, so I painted over some lines a few times. Had I done too much? Would the paint bleed because I’d over-painted? There was only one way to find out…

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It actually… worked? It worked?! It actually, really worked?! Some lines are thicker than others sure, and the paint actually bled through the shirt and onto the inside of the back (luckily it’s not visible on the back of the back of the shirt – top tip though: put some paper inside the shirt, beneath where you’re painting), but it worked. It actually looked pretty good!

I left the shirt for the night, pleased with my efforts, but I couldn’t help but feel something was missing. It didn’t quite look complete: Meg and George seemed a little lost in the empty space without something to anchor them. So, I decided to push my luck the next day and create a stencil of the film’s title, written in its distinctive font.

This would be a challenge for two reasons: (1) the font has a handwritten quality that would be hard to reproduce with stencilling (2) the only way to create a stencil of letters with holes in them (a’s and e’s for example) is to keep the part you cut out and put it gently back into place when you come to ironing the stencil on. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, a massive pain in the arse. But once it was cut out and all the teeny tiny pieces carefully put in place, I ironed and painted and held my breath.

And reader… it worked!

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I literally let out a little sigh of relief when the stencil came off and looked good. Better than good, in fact. Fantastic! The text anchored the image and helped frame it in the t-shirt as a whole, making it seem less lost in the empty space. The font itself came through pretty well, not exactly looking handmade, but looking enough like the real font to feel right. I’d taken a risk and somehow it paid off.

I’d considered adding other elements to the shirt, but decided to quit while I was ahead. The shirt looks great as it is, and further tinkering would just complicate what’s a pretty nice, simple design. So, I gave it its first spin while I was in London for the Empire Live Moana and Pixar events, and it held up. No-one spotted the shirt, sadly, but I was happy with how it looked and the paint didn’t crumble or flake. My first t-shirt had been a success, and I’m already planning other designs to try out in the near future.

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To make the shirt, I used the following: