An­i­ma­tor makes a splash with Os­car-nom­i­nated Piper

Ni­a­gara Falls na­tive Alan Bar­il­laro is a grad­u­ate of Oakville’s Sheri­dan Col­lege

The Hamilton Spectator - - A & E - LAU­REN LA ROSE

TORONTO — Cana­dian an­i­ma­tor Alan Bar­il­laro has had a hand in some of Pixar’s big­gest hits in­clud­ing “A Bug’s Life,” “Mon­sters, Inc.” and “WALL-E,” but the Ni­a­gara Falls na­tive man­aged to soar to solo suc­cess at the helm of his Os­carnom­i­nated de­but film “Piper.”

Bar­il­laro’s an­i­mated short about an adorable baby sand­piper search­ing for food on the beach landed a cov­eted spot in the­atres where it screened with Pixar’s fea­ture-length smash “Find­ing Dory” — 2016’s top-gross­ing film.

“It started with this idea of see­ing th­ese lit­tle shore­birds on the beach that run away from the waves — it felt like such a char­ac­ter to me,” Bar­il­laro said in a phone in­ter­view from Pixar An­i­ma­tion Stu­dios in Emeryville, Calif., where he has worked for nearly two decades.

“I thought that was so com­pelling that where this bird has to eat is also some­thing that they look — to me — fright­ened of.”

Bar­il­laro’s six-minute film is one of three projects from Cana­dian an­i­ma­tors in con­tention for an Os­car on Sun­day. “Pear Cider and Cig­a­rettes” di­rected by Van­cou­ver’s Robert Val­ley, and “Blind Vaysha” by Mon­treal’s Theodore Ushev are also in the run­ning for a golden stat­uette.

“There’s a legacy of great an­i­ma­tion from Canada that you feel re­ally proud to be a part of,” said Bar­il­laro, a grad­u­ate of Sheri­dan Col­lege in Oakville.

Bar­il­laro grew up in Chip­pawa, near Ni­a­gara Falls, with a long­time love of draw­ing.

Dur­ing high school, he landed an in­tern­ship at the An­i­ma­tion House in Toronto where he be­came “hooked” on the craft.

Bar­il­laro said one of his ear­li­est and most mean­ing­ful teach­ers was Sheri­dan in­struc­tor Char­lie Boni­fa­cio, whose son, Evan, also works at Pixar and served as an an­i­ma­tor on “Piper.”

“It’s kind of a spe­cial treat to have one of the teach­ers that taught you to an­i­mate in the first place, and to be hon­oured with hav­ing his son work­ing on his first film.”

Bar­il­laro made a con­scious de­ci­sion not to have any di­a­logue in “Piper,” leav­ing sounds of chirp­ing birds, crash­ing waves and other sta­ples of beach life punc­tu­ated by a whim­si­cal score to help con­vey the story.

“I think that’s what makes an­i­ma­tion re­ally spe­cial. It’s al­ways ex­cit­ing to me as a medium,” said Bar­il­laro.

“To me, it’s like you’re in this col­lab­o­ra­tion of artists all try­ing to ex­press some­thing kind of del­i­cate and per­sonal ... it’s like a paint­ing where ev­ery­thing has to be right for it to work.”

Bar­il­laro’s kids — a nine-year-old daugh­ter and seven-year-old twin boys — also had a hand in shap­ing “Piper.”

While on a fam­ily trip to Kauai, Hawaii, the young­sters cap­tured un­der­wa­ter im­ages on GoPro that was used as ref­er­ence footage.

“The rea­son the feath­ers and the cam­era had to be at that de­tailed level is I wanted you to em­pathize with the char­ac­ter and re­ally feel for her,” said Bar­il­laro. “I didn’t re­ally feel like you could feel for her at a dis­tance you’re used to stand­ing at a beach. You had to be in their world and see it from a kid’s per­spec­tive.

“A wave that might not be fright­en­ing to you as an adult, that might only hit your an­kles, to a lit­tle bird that’s only four inches off the ground,” he added. “To me, that’s say­ing from your child’s point of view that can be re­ally ter­ri­fy­ing.”

Even af­ter years de­voted to help­ing bring other ac­claimed an­i­mated projects to the screen, Bar­il­laro said the Os­car nod for his first foray into di­rec­tion was “sur­real.”

“It’s hum­bling,” he said. “When you start th­ese films, you’re just try­ing to con­vey some­thing very per­sonal to the au­di­ence .... You don’t re­ally think be­yond that when you’re mak­ing a film.

“You’re do­ing your best as an artist just to say what you’re try­ing to say. It’s all quite an hon­our, and a lit­tle over­whelm­ing.”

PIXAR VIA THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

A still from the Pixar film “Piper,” which is about lit­tle shore­birds that run from the waves.

DEB­O­RAH COLE­MAN, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Cana­dian an­i­ma­tor Alan Bar­il­laro’s “Piper” screened with smash hit “Find­ing Dory.”

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