Canada is a leader in animation, pumping out scores of professionally trained artists every year from places such as Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont., and Vancouver's Visual College of Art and Design. But as they enter the industry, they face a tumultuous landscape of rapidly changing technology and economic upheaval.
Three of the five films nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Tuesday in the category of best animated short were helmed by Canadians. Together, they present a snapshot of the changing industry: One was produced by a multibillion-dollar Hollywood studio; another by a storied, award-winning agency of the federal government; and a third was a one-man labour of love, funded by Kickstarter.
Alan Barillaro wrote and directed this heartwarming six-minute short about a baby sandpiper that learns some tricks of survival from a hermit crab. Barillaro, who grew up in Markham, Ont., graduated from Sheridan College in 1996 and began working for Pixar on A Bug's Life (1998). His credits include Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and WALL-E, which inspired Piper in its use of storytelling without dialogue. Developed as part of the Pixar Shorts program, which the company uses both to test out new technology and give promising creators a shot at the (little) big time, Piper marked Barillaro's directorial debut. The film preceded Pixar's Finding Dory when that box-office smash played in theatres last summer. (It is also on the Dory DVD.) In a review of Dory, The New York Times wrote that the short affirmed "Pixar's place on the vanguard of animation. … It also makes astonishing strides in the vivid and detailed rendering of feathers, foam and sand."
Blind Vaysha (National Film Board)
Theodore Ushev helmed this eight-minute fable, based on a short story by the Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov about a girl who is unable to live in the present because she is born with one eye that can see the future and one eye that can see the past. Using modern technology to mimic linocuts, Ushev produced a film that feels at once rustic and urgent. Tipped by the Toronto International Film Festival as one of Canada's Top Ten Shorts of 2016, the film's Oscar nomination marks the 74th such honour earned by the National Film Board. (The NFB has won 12 of the awards.) Born in Kjustendil, Bulgaria, in 1968, Ushev moved to Montreal in 1999. Initially, he worked as a commercial illustrator before finding a home at the NFB, where he has produced a series of thoughtful, meditative shorts, including Tower Bawher (2006), a head trip of Russian constructivism; Tzaritza, a magical child's tale; and Blood Manifesto, a two-minute meditation on revolution comprised of a series of sketches drawn with the artist's own blood.
Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Massive Swerve Studios/Passion Animation Studios)
Vancouver animator Robert Valley's noirish, adult-oriented tale about a quixotic mission to save a friend from self-destruction, a 32-minute hand-drawn film, grew out of a pair of graphic novels he had previously self-published. Valley, who trained at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, has contributed his edgy animation to videos for the animated band Gorillaz, DC Nation and the TV series Tron: Uprising, and published his own Massive Swerve graphic novel series. For Pear Cider, he raised more than $65,000 to fund a passion project about his friend Techno Styles, who, as he explained in a fundraising video, "was born lucky and died unlucky." The film recalls Styles in his sun-kissed youth as a gifted athlete who, at age 17, is injured in a car accident and begins a slow descent into a lifetime of booze, smokes and fistfights. Decades later, Valley travels to China, where Styles awaits a liver transplant, and tries to get him to stop drinking so he can bring him home to his family in Vancouver.