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Prix 1987 - 2007

Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich

Chris Landreth

“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”—Anaïs Nin

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 is a 14-minute animated film which tells the incredible true life story of Ryan Larkin, a Canadian animator who, thirty-five years ago at the National Film Board of Canada, produced some of the most influential animated films ofhis time. Today, Ryan is living on welfare and panhandles for spare change in downtown Montreal. How could such an artistic genius follow this path? Ryan sheds some dramatic light on this question.

Ryan demonstrates a powerful new use of 3D Computer Animation—as a tool to create an “Animated Documentary”. You will hear the voice of Ryan Larkin in conversation with myself. You will hear the voices of prominent animators and people in Ryan’s life. In the animated world of Ryan, these voices speak through strange, twisted, broken and disembodied characters, people with appearances which are bizarre, humorous or disturbing. Appearances which reflect my interpretation of their personalities, psychologies, souls. And, in turn, my own personality and soul. To paraphrase Anais Nin, I use 3D computer animation to “see things as I am”.

Over the past twenty years, Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) has essentially reached the holy grail of “Photorealism”. Virtually every high-budget feature film relies on CGI to create stunning explosions, populate worlds with extraterrestrial aliens, insert virtual human actors. And in spite of all its use, or more likely because of it, CGI is largely perceived to be a sterile, impersonal, crass, perhaps even menacing medium. Why? Part of the answer, I believe, is that there is another sort of “Realism” in character animation which has not yet been explored very well: the metaphorical realism of human thoughts, emotions and psychological nuances. Can the advanced tools of computer animation be used to show this sort of realism? I believe that computer animation has enormous unexplored potential to move and challenge us, by showing this side of human experience.

My animation work (in particular the end and Bingo) has used and continues to use Photorealism, but what I am most interested in, rather than achieving Photorealism in CGI, is coopting elements of Photorealism to serve a different purpose, i.e. to expose the realism of the incredibly complex, messy, chaotic, sometimes mundane and always conflicted quality we call “human nature”. In recent talks I’ve given on this subject, I refer to this as “Psychorealism”.

One fascinating development in the last decade or so has been the emergence of animated films which are based around non-fictional human subjects. The most well-known of these is Nick Park’s Oscar-winning short film Creature Comforts (1990), in which Park audio-recorded ordinary people discussing their ordinary lives, then created clay-animated zoo animals who spoke these people’s dialogues. Other recent examples of animated documentaries are Repetition / Compulsion by Ellie Lee, based on interviews with battered women in New York, Drawn From Memory by Paul Fierlinger, in which people’s personal memories are animated in 3-minute vignettes, and Snack and Drink by Bob Sabiston, which attempts to show the world through the eyes and ears of an autistic teenager living in Austin Texas (Sabiston was later to collaborate with Richard Linklater on the feature film Waking Life). In each of these examples, the filmmaker uses animated imagery to enhance, accentuate or exaggerate the reality of what was being spoken by actual people, not fictional characters. In each of these examples there is a strong element of “Psychorealism” present: the dialogue is movingly authentic. It is unscripted; you hear the mundane stuttering, pausing, hesitating that all people do when they are speaking and thinking at the same time, which is virtually impossible to “stage” or “script”. The result, for example with Creature Comforts, is a story that is faithful to the dialogue being spoken, but powerfully allegorical in a way which complements, filters or distills the realism of the original story, which a straight, live-action documentary could never do.

The film Ryan takes the “animated documentary” form to a new level. Unlike the examples given here, Ryan is created with 3D CGI. As with Bingo andthe end, I provide a visual approach which has detailed photorealistic elements, but has intense, non-realistic visual interpretation as well. It is my intent to use these elements to convey the real story which is Ryan Larkin’s—one which is impassioned, exasperating, tragic and ultimately redemptive.