A gentleman panhandler. One of the pioneers of Canadian animation.
Oscar nominee. Poor beggar. An artist unable to create. God observing
the world. Fallen angel. Arrogant. Shy. Broken. Not destroyed.
Ryan, directed by Chris Landreth, hovers between animation
and documentary, and defies easy definition. It is based on the
life of Ryan Larkin, a Canadian animator who, thirty years ago,
at the National Film Board of Canada, produced some of the most
influential animated films of his time. Today, Ryan lives on welfare
and panhandles for spare change in downtown Montreal. How could
such an artistic genius follow this path?
In Ryan we hear the voice of Ryan Larkin and people who
have known him, but these voices speak through strange, twisted,
broken and disembodied 3D generated characters...people whose
appearances are bizarre, humorous or disturbing. These appearances
reflect Chris Landreth's personal world of "psychological
realism." A world encapsulated in the words of Anais Nin:
"We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are."
Technical notes by Chris Landreth
Ryan was conceived, developed and animated in the world
of 3D computer generated imagery (CGI). Although the characters
and sets have detailed realism, everything in the film has been
modelled with CGI tools- there is no live-action footage. All
characters in Ryan were animated by hand (there was no
'motion capture' used in the film).
A number of software tools were used to create interesting 'effects,'
such as smoke, fog, distortions, clothing and dynamic hair on
the characters. The production of Ryan relied heavily on
Alias's Maya animation software (V 4.0) for modelling, rigging,
animation, lighting and rendering of the 3D world in the film.
In addition, we used Discreet Combustion V2.1 for all compositing
and 2D effects, Adobe Photoshop V7.0 for painting and texturing,
and Adobe Premiere for creative development and editing.
Chris Landreth went into animation as a second career after
a stint as an engineer. He received his MS degree in Theoretical
and Applied Mechanics from the University of Illinois in 1986.
For three years he worked in experimental research in Fluid Mechanics
at the University of Illinois before making his leap into computer
animation. In 1994 Landreth joined Alias|Wavefront, where it was
his job to define, test and abuse animation software, in-house,
before it was released to the public. In addition to well-mannered
software, this work resulted in the production of animated short
films, including The End (1995) and Bingo (1998).
In his surreal short The End, the animator discovers he's the
character in his own work while trying to think of a decent ending
for it. (It will not be the first time that Landreth challenges
the illusion he is trying to create.) Bingo is a five-minute computer
animated adaptation of a live theatre performance called Disregard
This Play by the Chicagobased theatre company The Neo-Futurists.
The recorded audio performance of this absurdist play was used
in Bingo, which then incorporated bizarre visual imagery and exaggerated
characterization to support the telling of the story. The End
and Bingo have received wide international recognition and numerous
awards, including an Academy Award nomination for The End in 1996
for Best Animated Short Film and a 1999 Genie Award for Bingo.
In his current film, Ryan, Landreth turns his attentions to a
biography of animator Ryan Larkin, while at the same time challenging
our notions of documentary and animation. Landreth is arguably
one of the most imaginative filmmakers working today in computer
graphics. He gives us interpretative visuals that go beyond "photo-realism"
into a pioneer realm where the visual appearance reflects the
characters' evolving "pain, insanity, fear, mercy, shame
and creativity." A realm that he calls "psycho-realism."
Text originally published in ArtFutura's 2004 catalog.