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Ryan Larkin

Ryan Larkinb. July 31, 1943, Montreal, Quebec


Once described as “the Frank Zappa or George Harrison of animation films,” Ryan Larkin is a gifted animator with a unique style whose tragic life trajectory has become well know due to the incredible success of Ryan (2004), Chris Landreth’s highly acclaimed, Academy Award®-winning mix of animation and documentary that delves into Larkin’s personal experiences with animation and addiction.

A talented painter and sculptor, Larkin was making oil paintings by the age of ten and at thirteen was accepted into Montreal’s prestigious School of Fine Arts, where his teacher was Group of Seven painter Arthur Lismer. Tragedy befell young Ryan when, at the age of fifteen, he watched helplessly as his older brother drowned in a boating accident – a traumatic experience that would haunt him throughout his life. Though he began drinking as a child, he still excelled at his schoolwork and at nineteen began working at the National Film Board as an animator on educational films for the army and navy.

After a couple of years at the Board, he began attending workshops for young animators held by Norman McLaren, who recognized Larkin’s talent and became his mentor. Using a unique technique he developed that involved combining stop-frame action with charcoal drawings, Larkin made the dark, nightmarish Citérama (1966). This test film so impressed McLaren that he urged Board management to give Larkin carte blanche on his next animated short, Syrinx (1966), which garnered great acclaim and won awards at festivals around the world.

While holding small exhibitions of his paintings and sculptures, Larkin contributed charcoal animation to Roman Kroitor and Colin Low’s Labyrinth exhibition at Expo ’67 and spent two years completing Walking (1968), a seminal animation film still shown in animation classes, which uses a combination of line drawing and colour wash to depict human motion from various perspectives. Walking was nominated for an Academy Award® and made Larkin a star of the animation world.

Although his next film, Street Musique (1972), was equally well received, the unstructured, undisciplined and random nature of Larkin’s work – and his working style – was becoming more and more evident. After a prolonged and frustrating experience contributing animation to Mort Ransen’s Running Time (1974), Larkin holed himself up in his apartment for nearly two years while he developed his next film, Ding Bat Rap. Most of his money (the NFB sent him his cheques by taxi) went to cocaine and to supporting his punk lifestyle – financing friends’ bands, playing drums and writing lyrics. When Ding Bat Rap was finally completed, it was deemed crude and racist. NFB management were appalled, and even long-time booster McLaren found little ground to stand on to support Larkin. When he was commissioned by the Board to produce a mural for public display and turned in a 20 X 15 foot painting of an adolescent male with an erection, Larkin’s employment at the NFB swiftly came to an end.

Since the late eighties, when he finally weaned himself off cocaine, Larkin has roomed at a mission in Old Montreal and panhandled regularly outside a favoured bistro. He was cajoled by festival director Chris Robinson to serve on the selection committee for the Ottawa International Animation Festival in the summer of 2000. It was here he met Chris Landreth and the seed of Ryan was planted. Larkin is hopeful that the massive attention garnered by the film will allow him to make films again. The Ottawa International Animation Festival and Calgary’s Quickdraw Animation Society are currently helping him toward this goal.

By Andrew McIntosh

Film and video work includes

The Ball Resolver in Antac, 1964 (co-animator with William Pettigrew)
Syrinx, 1965 (director)
Cityscape, a.k.a Citérama, 1966 (director; producer; animator)
The Canadian Forces Hydrofoil Ship: Concept and Design, 1967 (co-animator with Sidney Goldsmith)
Labyrinth, a.k.a. Labyrinthe, 1967 (animator)
Walking, a.k.a. En marchant, 1968 (director; producer; writer; animator; conception)
Street Musique, 1972 (director; producer; animator)
Running Time, 1974 (animator)
Alter Egos, 2004 (appears as himself)
Ryan, 2004 (appears as himself)

Note: Updated to June 30, 2005


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