February 28, 2005
Chris Landreth won this year's Oscar for Best Animated Short for his wonderfully thoughtful and sad Ryan. This computer-animated film pays tribute to Ryan Larkin, a famed Canadian animator who burst on the scene in the late 1960's and influenced a whole generation of animators. Larkin's animated shorts revealed a sharp creative mind with the soul of a poet, and his future was assured with an Academy Awards nomination in 1969. Tragically, however, he became ensnared in drug and alcohol addiction, which not only ended his career but destroyed his life. Today, Ryan Larkin is an alcoholic who begs on the street to survive.*
Landreth's documentary approach, including conversations with Larkin and clips from his films, is heartbreaking. To watch this gifted, soulful artist completely abandon his former life and quietly beg - "Spare any change, sir?" "Thank you sir" - is almost unbearably sad. I'm reminded, of course, of Isao Takahata's great pathos, but this is a living human being behind the animation.
Landreth draws people as a mix of surrealism and x-ray photography. Faces and bodies are withered and decayed, reflecting their inner turmoil. Ryan Larken's face is barely visable, almost completely eaten away; it's a magnificent metaphor for the damage this man has done to himself. Then Landreth points the mirror at himself, suggesting his fears that his inner turmoils would one day lead to the same fate.
Computer animation is typically created with modeling software and involve live actors for either video footage or motion-capture. Yet everything we see was crafted by hand. Faces have such a photorealistic quality that you will swear you are watching the actual person onscreen. It's amazing to watch.
The upcoming DVD release of Ryan will also include several of Landreth's other works as well as Larkin's classic shorts, as well as documentaries and audio commentary. Start saving your money now; this promises to be one of the year's essential releases.
The National Film Board of Canada was kind enough to offer this film on their website for free during Oscar Week, and I'm very grateful to them. Domo arigatou gozaimasu.
*2009 Note: Ryan Larkin died in 2007.