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Multi-Award Winning RYAN Poised for Oscar© Victory

To most, animation conjures an alternate realm of magic. In Oscar© -nominated animation RYAN, this realm of magic is incontestably dark. Rather than tripping through to a world of benign fantasy, we are plunged into the foreboding chamber of a haunted mind. That mind once led the hand of celebrated Canadian animator, Ryan Larkin. In the aptly titled RYAN, director Chris Landreth celebrates the work of this overlooked artist while examining the personal demons that led to his professional and personal demise.

Winning accolades from around the globe, including recognition at Cannes, Venice, Sundance and Toronto, RYAN is poised for a win in the Best Short Animation category at this year’s Oscars. The grim story and chilling visuals make RYAN an unlikely award contender. Instead of presenting a world of distracting enchantment, the film illuminates a universal story usually told in whispers: the tragedy of a fallen man. Eschewing subjects that act like award bait (tenacity and triumph over adversity), RYAN offers a melancholy tale on the fragility of the human spirit.

Landreth’s curiosity about the famed animator led to a meeting with Ryan three years ago. After learning that the prolific boy wonder of Canadian animation was now a beggar on the streets of Montréal, Landreth committed himself to bringing the story of Ryan Larkin to life. Eager to make sense of Ryan’s dramatic fall, Landreth conducted interviews recorded on over ten hours of audiotape. The film is essentially a digitally animated reenactment of these interviews. Creating elaborate and time- consuming 3D animation from raw audiotape is a risky choice. Even riskier is choosing a subject as nihilistic as the self-destruction of a promising artist. Amazingly, Landreth turns these seeming liabilities into strengths. In one memorable exchange, Ryan explodes when Landreth confronts him with his alcoholism. The rage indicated on audio expresses itself viscerally in the threatening movements of Ryan’s subtly articulated figure.

Landreth includes himself in the gallery of surreal figures that haunt his grim, sunless world. Both he and Larkin, as disfigured marionettes, are personifications of bad choices and regret. As if to relieve the despair, Landreth honors Ryan by including clips of his award-winning films. These expressive and elegant hand drawn images come as a welcome antidote to the film’s grim, claustrophobic design. The apparent joy that Ryan displayed in his work supports Landreth’s claim that his film is “an elegy, not a requiem.

Trained as an engineer, Landreth received his MS degree in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from University of Illinois. Pursuing his abiding interest in animation, Chris joined Alias Wavefront in 1994 where he rigorously tested animation software for the consumer market. In his spare hours, Landreth created the animated shorts, THE END (1994) and BINGO (1998). Both films earned award nominations, including Academy nomination for Best Animated Short for THE END and a Genie Award for BINGO.

In one of may ironies that should not go unnoticed by Academy voters, Landreth will walk the same red carpet that Ryan Larkin walked some thirty-five years ago. On the festival circuit, director Chris Landreth, appears sensible and articulate yet his work presents a hellish world of excess and madness. In a sad contrast, Ryan Larkin’s sunny and colorful works come from a man now deranged and broken. While Larkin’s work reflects the eccentricity and optimism of the sixties, the complexity and darkness Chris Landreth’s work indicates a contemporary world of uncertainty and entrenchment. While both men are temperamentally and artistically opposed, they share the admirable gift of capturing the zeitgeist of their time.

The current excitement surrounding RYAN indicates that Mr. Larkin’s baleful existence may yet have a happy ending. The notoriety of RYAN has generated requests for new work. Emboldened by his renewed fame, Larkin is embarking on new animation projects that will pick up where he left off many years ago.

Also enjoying the current success of RYAN are fellow animators from Seneca College Robb Denovan, Sebastian Kapijimpanga, Paul Kohut and Jeff Panko, producers Steve Hoban, Marcy Page, Mark Smith, Executive Producers Jed Cory, Karyn Nolan Noah Segal and David Verrall, the staff of Heart Mountain Productions and the National Film Board of Canada. For more information on RYAN, please visit the website of the National Film Board of Canada The Academy Awards take place on February 27, 2005

Phil Scanlon and Keiko Beatie


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