Robert Val­ley’s un­ex­pected jour­ney

Os­car-nom­i­nated an­i­mated short film was five years in the mak­ing

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

TORONTO — Van­cou­ver an­i­ma­tor Robert Val­ley has hardly been hurt­ing for work.

As a hired gun for sev­eral projects, Val­ley has con­trib­uted to high-pro­file works in­clud­ing “Tron: Up­ris­ing,” “Won­der Wo­man” shorts and mu­sic videos for vir­tual band Go­ril­laz.

Still, some­thing was miss­ing and Val­ley looked to de­vote time to a per­sonal project: a bi­o­graph­i­cal film doc­u­ment­ing his tur­bu­lent re­la­tion­ship with a child­hood friend who went by the name Techno Stypes.

He turned to the crowd­fund­ing plat­form Kick­starter for sup­port and the re­sult­ing project, “Pear Cider and Cig­a­rettes,” is now in the run­ning for an Os­car in the best an­i­mated short cat­e­gory. He’s one of three Cana­di­ans in con­tention for the award on Sun­day, along­side Mon­treal’s Theodore Ushev for “Blind Vaysha” and Alan Bar­il­laro of Chip­pawa, Ont., for “Piper.”

“Things were go­ing good with my ca­reer, but I was do­ing a lot of work for other peo­ple,” said Val­ley, a grad­u­ate of Van­cou­ver’s Emily Carr Univer­sity of Art and De­sign.

“I kind of pulled out and worked on this project for the bet­ter part of five years, and I was pretty much off the radar ….”

Val­ley said his goal was to trans­late “Pear Cider and Cig­a­rettes” from its ini­tial graph­ic­novel form to film, adding that he thought it would be in­ter­est­ing to have a project that could “run through both medi­ums.”

The 32-minute film is en­tirely hand-drawn by Val­ley, who an­i­mated the pan­els from his comic us­ing Adobe Pho­to­shop. He also nar­rates the short. The ti­tle is a nod to the vices seen en­joyed by Val­ley’s booze-lov­ing, thrillseek­ing pal in the film.

“He was a year older than us grow­ing up, so he was a lit­tle bit ahead of the curve in terms of get­ting to ev­ery­thing first — pu­berty, girl­friends, smok­ing weed, driv­ing cars,” re­called Val­ley. “He was our ring­leader in a way. But he was also sort of one of those dare­dev­iltype guys. He was al­ways lead­ing us to­ward trou­ble, which was ter­ri­bly ex­cit­ing back then, but it seemed that he was al­ways the guy to pull out of it right at the very end.”

The film charts the pair’s re­la­tion­ship from child­hood and Techno’s self-de­struc­tive down­ward spi­ral, which even­tu­ally lands him in a Chi­nese hospi­tal await­ing a liver trans­plant.

“The story gets a lit­tle bit more in­tense to­ward the end,” said Val­ley. “There are cer­tain things about my in­volve­ment with Techno and try­ing to get him back to Van­cou­ver that might or might not have led to his demise at the end of the day.

“That was kind of hard for me to come to grips with — ac­cept­ing my re­spon­si­bil­ity. It took a year or a year-and-a-half for me to fi­nally ad­mit that and kind of put it out there. That was, I guess, cathar­tic as well.”

He had high-pow­ered sup­port in mak­ing the film from Me­tal­lica bassist Robert Tru­jillo, who saw an early ver­sion and con­trib­uted some orig­i­nal mu­sic. Val­ley re­cently lent his artis­tic tal­ents to the metal band’s “Mur­der One” video, a trib­ute to late Mo­tor­head front­man Lemmy Kilmister.

Val­ley teamed with Lon­don-based Pas­sion Pic­tures and pro­ducer Cara Speller, with whom he shares the Os­car nod. Through Kick­starter and other fi­nan­cial sources, they amassed the US $90,000 needed for mu­sic li­cens­ing and post­pro­duc­tion costs to com­plete the film.

Fol­low­ing its June re­lease, Val­ley said the film “re­ally did un­der­per­form right across the board.” He had thought the film had run its course and would lan­guish in the un­known. Then, the short made the long list of 70 Os­car nom­i­nees, and now is among the fi­nal five.


Van­cou­ver an­i­ma­tor Robert Val­ley says his Os­car-nom­i­nated short film “Pear Cider and Cig­a­rettes” is about a child­hood friend.

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