TORONTO — Husband-and-wife filmmakers Alison Snowden and David Fine had almost finished their now-Oscar-nominated animated short “Animal Behaviour” when a health crisis sent them into a tailspin.
Snowden had contracted a virus that developed into a life-threatening lung infection and needed to undergo risky surgery in their home city of Vancouver in 2017.
The rare respiratory illness “ended up with me needing a double lung transplant,” Snowden recalled in a recent interview.
“We were almost finished the film and this came out of nowhere,” added Fine.
“The transplant was an emergency, sudden life-saving procedure, and we dedicated the film to Vancouver General Hospital because they did no less than save Alison’s life.”
These days, Snowden is up and about, gearing up for a trip to Sunday’s Academy Awards for “Animal Behaviour” with Fine and their daughter.
The film is nominated for best animated short, a category that includes two other Canadians: Domee Shi for the Pixar production “Bao,” and Trevor Jimenez for “Weekends.”
The category is rounded out by the Irish title “Late Afternoon” by Louise Bagnall and Nuria Gonzalez Blanco, and the Chinese/American production “One Small Step” by Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas.
It’s the fourth such Oscar nomination for Snowden and Fine, who both write, direct and animate.
Their first nomination was in 1986 for “Second Class Mail,” their second was in ’88 for “George and Rosemary” and their third was in ’95 for “Bob’s Birthday,” which earned them the golden statuette.
“The idea of going from a room on your own where you animate to this huge gala with all these famous people was just ridiculous to me,” Snowden said, recalling her first time at the Oscars.
“I just felt really terrified, but then you get used to it.”
“Animal Behaviour” is their first animated short since “Bob’s Birthday,” which led to their TV series “Bob and Margaret” and then the shows “Ricky Sprocket, Showbiz Boy” and “Shaun the Sheep.”
Produced by Michael Fukushima at the National Film Board of Canada, the 14-minute “Animal Behaviour” is a comical look at creatures in a group therapy session, including a co-dependent leech, an aggressive ape, and an obsessive-compulsive cat.
The filmmakers created it with digital, hand-drawn, 2D animation, with a voice cast from Vancouver and musicians from Montreal.
“We were thinking how animals have similar issues to people but they don’t get judged by it,” Snowden said. “They’ll do all kinds of anti-social things and we just think they’re cute or we admire them for it.
“But it was also a way of showing how hard it is to change, even with therapy, because a lot of your issues are so ingrained.”
Snowden and Fine are British-Canadian dual citizens who met and started collaborating as students at Britain’s National Film & Television School, where they both graduated in 1984.
Snowden does most of the character designs and also voices some characters, including the cat in “Animal Behaviour” and Margaret in “Bob and Margaret.”
“People say, ‘Oh my God, how do you work with your spouse?'” Fine said. “We met working together, so it’s a natural part of our relationship in the first place.
“I’m not saying there aren’t stresses sometimes but I feel privileged to work with Alison. I love her talents and so for me, I’m working with someone who brings so much to what I come up with and I like to think I do the same for her.”
“Yes you do!” she replied with a laugh.
Asked if they’re going to make more films, the two said they’re not sure.
“This one took an insane amount of time to make, so who knows,” Fine said.
“I know the tendency when you get the Oscar nomination is like ‘What’s next?,’ and we’re just in the mode of enjoying this ride and seeing what happens and figuring out what we want to do.”
— With files from Laura Kane in Vancouver
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press