The year is just getting started, but we already have a trailer for one of the most epic projects of 2016, a 32-minute hand-drawn short film from Robert Valley. Cartoon Brew presents the exclusive premiere of the Pear Cider and Cigarettes trailer below:
In addition to directing commercials and various short-form projects, Valley has built his reputation as a much-wanted hired-gun on other people’s projects, from the Gorillaz music videos to the Tron: Uprising series, but his latest short represents a new career phase as a film director.
The main character in Pear Cider and Cigarettes is Valley’s childhood friend, Techno Stypes, a hard-living daredevil whose self-destructive spiral eventually leaves him lying in a Chinese hospital in desperate need of a liver transplant. Valley’s own life intertwines with Stypes’ (not his real name, by the way) in a crazy true story that charges animated autobiography into gritty new territory.
Valley originally self-published Pear Cider and Cigarettes as a multi-volume graphic novel, but the plan was always to end up with an animated film, he told Cartoon Brew. “The film isn’t just an adaptation from the book, but I wanted to take it one step further an actually animate the panels straight from the comic,” Valley said. “This involved some planning up front.”
With twenty years of industry experience, dating back to a breakout stint on the MTV classic Aeon Flux, Valley brings an electrifying visual style to his new film that belies its tiny crew. And by tiny, we’re talking, like, one person. Valley single-handedly produced all of the film’s artwork and animation by himself over the course of the last half-decade.
Valley was uncompromising about what he wanted his film to be, and went to great lengths to protect the integrity of his personal tale, including financing the production through animation with his own money. “I wanted to do it by myself,” he explained. “I was afraid that anyone who was going to invest money in my film probably wanted to tell me what they think.” He credits an on-going gig at Laika with giving him “enough work to pay the rent, but not so much that I couldn’t get my film done.”
Valley aims to wrap up Pear Cider this spring and get it into festivals and online by the summer, but is still in need of significant funds for music licensing and post production. He will launch a Kickstarter campaign tomorrow to push the film across the finish line.
Cartoon Brew spoke to Valley about the new project via e-mail:
Cartoon Brew: I know you’ve animated before in Photoshop. Is that how you animated this film too, or did you have a different process? There were some particularly impressive cinematic and 3D effects you achieved, but is there any 3D in the film?
Robert Valley: I animated this whole damn film in Photoshop. I know Photoshop isn’t the perfect animation tool. TVPaint…yeah, yeah TVPaint, I got it…but I don’t got it on my computer. Not now, and I definitely didn’t have it on my computer back in 2012. I had Photoshop. In the back of my head I knew that eventually I would have to decide how I was going to animate my Pear Cider books…my books that were created entirely in Photoshop, my books that were already conveniently broken down into animation layers.
3D effects…you mean this?
Lots of layers, a bit warp in After Effects, and here’s the key…animating with the transform/skew function in Photoshop. I use that a lot. It’s a bit much to get into here but I will cover all of that in the accompanying script-to-screen book [that will be available in the Kickstarter campaign]. I have no secrets dammit.
Your friend Techno was very “rock ‘n’ roll” so it’s fitting that you’re designing a strong soundtrack with both licensed songs and original music, including from Robert Trujillo, the bassist of Metallica. Talk a little bit about how you approached the music for the film?
Robert Valley: I am telling the story of Pear Cider through music — both music that we listened to when we were growing up, and music that I was listening to while I was working on this project. Overall the soundtrack for this 32-minute film has 19 songs in it. What I really like is the way a song builds, and then at a certain point how it ‘kicks in’ to the chorus; this has basically become the structure for the editing, where each sequence builds slowly with the song. When the visuals ‘kick in’ right when the song ‘kicks in’ you get that nice satisfying feeling.
The multiple songs also gives the story a much broader sense of time passing, and considering the story of Pear Cider takes place over the course of 25 years, it just seemed right. Somewhere along the way I met Robert Trujillo; it was a completely random introduction but it seemed to be a good fit. As luck would have it, he has a bit of time in his extremely busy schedule. He is currently composing some original music with his side project Mass Mental. Additionally, Anitek is composing some original music as well. I have worked with Anitek previously on the Shinjuku shorts I did a while back and always thought that his trip hop grooves were just right for this type of animation. Anitek has composed some music that is so dark that it’s absolutely filthy; I f#cking love it.
You’re launching a crowdfunding effort tomorrow. The animation is already done so what is the money being raised for?
Robert Valley: The Kickstarter will pay for all the music licensing, as well as post production and sound mix. Even though all the visuals are done, there is still plenty of work to do before the film is complete. I am completely terrified and totally excited at the same time. I don’t know how, but one way or another the film will get done before March 2016. After sitting on my arse animating for the last few years, things are starting to kick into gear in the most exciting way.
Passion Pictures in London, which is the producer of the Gorillaz animated videos, has their name attached to the project now. How are they involved?
Robert Valley: I’ve had a long history with Passion. The Gorillaz jobs were done there, as well as the Beatles Rock Band and Dance Central cinematics. In fact, all the highlights of my animation career have been at Passion — and most of my beer consumption was done across the street. It made perfect sense for me to reach out to them after the animation was done. I’m working with Cara Speller, who was Jamie Hewlett’s producer for the longest time, and being a huge Gorillaz fan I was hoping some of that mojo would rub off on me. Passion is guiding this project through the post production and music licensing, as well as the distribution and festival circuit.