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‘Pear Cider and Cigarettes’: How an Imperfect Life Became an Oscar Contender

Robert Valley's autobiographical short animates an imperfect life with the imperfections of Photoshop.

“Pear Cider and Cigarettes”

Animation

For animator/illustrator Robert Valley, the imperfections of life and art magnificently come together in his Oscar-nominated short, “Pear Cider and Cigarettes,” about his friendship with a self-destructive daredevil, who died despite reaching out to the filmmaker for help to get a liver transplant in China.

Valley first wrote about his childhood friend, Techno, in two self-published graphic novels. He was a gifted athlete but, even at a young age, drawn to danger like a moth to the flame. It’s a dark, tragic, passionate account of the American Dream gone bad and the idealism of loyalty and hero worship.

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Yet even after the graphic novels, the Vancouver filmmaker (best known for “Aeon Flux,” “Wonder Woman” shorts, and Gorillaz music videos) was compelled to make a short about Techno. He set the project up at Passion Animation Studios and raised money through two Kickstarter campaigns, the second ($90,000) to license music rights and complete post work. He then released his 32-minute short, spanning the 25-year friendship, on Vimeo.

“Pear Cider and Cigarettes”

“It has some rock’n’roll elements in there that I like, some ladies during the early days, and then it turns into something else — a little slice of life,” Valley told IndieWire. “It didn’t turn out well for him but I can relate to that story. And it seems like a lot of people can slot in their own version of Techno.”

Valley used the graphic novels as his storyboard template. He wrote it all the day his son was born, and animated it all himself in Photoshop, the same software as the graphic novels. Valley was resolved to tell an imperfect story driven by an imperfect animation technique.

“It’s a methodology that people don’t use,” Valley said. “Whenever I mention that I used Photoshop, it raises eyebrows from the animation community and they wonder what the hell I’m doing. All the color profiling, the noise textures didn’t need to be translated — it all stayed within the same program.”

“Pear Cider and Cigarettes”

Musically, Valley incorporated 22 songs for wall to wall underscoring and to bridge the decades. He used Pink Floyd’s “Obscured by Clouds” and Black Sabbath’s “Into the Void,” as well as songs by The Dandy Warhols, Wilco, Leftfield, and originals by the likes of Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo.

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The hardest part was staying true to Techno. “There was definitely a certain responsibility,” Valley added. “He’s not around to defend himself, so I have no idea if he would’ve been acceptable to the way he comes off.”

But Valley still stays in touch with Techno’s family. “I was aware of the fact that this is a little painful for them, but the fact that there’s an Oscar nomination was OK after sitting around with them at Christmas.”

In addition to Vimeo, “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” is also available on the Mondo channel on VRV (a new online multichannel video experience).

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