Techno Stypes isn’t your typical cartoon protagonist. The Vancouverite loved to drink, he loved to smoke, and he probably enjoyed a dirty joke. Pear Cider and Cigarettes, the film based on the real-life man, has been nominated for a Best Animated Short Film Academy Award. The category has, in recent history, been dominated by the heartwarming snippets played before the latest Pixar blockbusters, but this year, Pear Cider and Cigarettes has been noted by top critics such as The New York Times’s A.O. Scott as the choice, if still unlikely, winner.
“I’m just happy with the nomination, I really wasn’t expecting it to happen,” writer and director Robert Valley, who’s nominated alongside producer Cara Speller, says over the phone in Vancouver. “I’m pleased just where I’m at right now, it’s all perfectly fine.” The nomination is another accomplishment in the Emily Carr University of Art and Design graduate’s already noted career. MTV’s cult classic Aeon Flux, and Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s musical cartoon duo, Gorillaz, are two examples of boundary-pushing projects that Valley has worked on. In Pear Cider and Cigarettes, he tells the true story of his childhood friend, Stypes, who Valley grew up with in West Vancouver. “Techno was a great guy, he was trouble. He would do things to make you feel uncomfortable, to put the whole situation at risk,” Valley remembers. “So it always felt like you were kind of on the edge. He was a dashing figure, really good looking, and very wide shoulders—sinewy and muscly legs. He kind of rocked the mullet when the mullet was probably out.”
The film picks up during a later point of Stypes’s life; he is yellow with jaundice, stuck in China awaiting a liver transplant, and still drinking when his parents ask Valley to rescue their son from self-destruction. “It’s a true story,” Valley explains. “The thing with Techno is there were lots of stories that were circulating around about him. When it came time for me to tell the story, I only wanted to tell the story that I was there to witness.” The cartoon evolves in storybook fashion, scenes playing out page by page, partly in reference to Valley’s graphic novel on which the film is based.
The dark, matter-of-fact narration is juxtaposed with Valley’s unique animation style, done completely in Photoshop—a newly developed technique for the artist. “It definitely gives it a certain kind of look. It doesn’t look like Flash, and it doesn’t look like traditional animation, either,” Valley says. “It looks the way it does because of the limitations it has. It’s not the most sophisticated tool, admittedly. I kind of came up with my own ways of easing in and easing out of movement and camera views.” Flat, shuttered scenes play against the strong themes in the film, drastically different than the other nominees in the Oscar category, such as the painterly Blind Vaysha (another Canadian nominee) and Pixar’s hyper-detailed Piper. “My film, it’s not the kind of story you expect to see in animation,” says Valley. “I’m not saying that I’m going to kick the doors open, but it does seem like there’s an appetite for [something different].”
As for attending the star-studded ceremony, “Um… Yeah, I’ll be there,” Valley says coolly. At the very least, it’s going to be one hell of a party, and Stypes was never one to miss out on a good time.