Canadian-born animator Alan Barillaro’s journey towards an Oscar nomination started while he was testing out new technology at Pixar.

“I’m an animation supervisor by day and I was working on a test,” Barillaro told BNN in a television interview Wednesday. “Out of that test, I started working on this little story that was very personal.”

That little story eventually evolved into ‘Piper,’ an Academy Award-nominated six-minute film, which could yield Pixar its first animated short Oscar in 15 years. The film follows a baby sandpiper’s first experiences with water and waves at the beach.  “For me, it was about a character trying to overcome their fears,” said Barillaro, who has worked on more than a half dozen Pixar feature films over the past decade.

‘Piper’ was released theatrically alongside Pixar’s box office juggernaut ‘Finding Dory,’ one of four Disney films to generate more than US$1 billion at the global box office last year. 

“You try not to think about it, because it gets a little intimidating to say you’re going to direct your first film and everyone’s going to see it.  But it’s an honour because a lot of great films out there don’t get seen as much.”

Barillaro grew up in Chippawa, Ont., a community in Niagara Falls.  He became interested in animation while attending high school in Markham, Ont. “I worked painting cells, and punching paper…sweeping floors, to be honest…anything I could to get into animation.  And I ended up going to Sheridan College. I’m proud of the history of Canada and how much they put into the arts.”