Animator Larkin dies at 63

Oscar-nominated artist remembered for shorts

Canadian animator Ryan Larkin died Feb. 14 in Ste. Hyacinthe, Quebec of metastasized lung cancer. He was 63.

A longtime staffer at the National Film Board of Canada, the Montrealer’s film “Walking” was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of animated short in 1969. Toronto helmer Chris Landreth’s pic “Ryan”, an innovative animated bio-pic of Larkin, won in the same category at the Oscars in 2005.

Larkin worked as an animator at the NFB headquarters in Montreal from 1963 to 1977, and, during that time, he directed a series of acclaimed, award-winning animated shorts, notably “Cityscape”, “Syrinx”, “Walking” and “Street Musique”.

“There has always been an important affection in film schools and amongst animation aficionados for his body of work, modest though it is in scale,” said David Verrall, who worked with Larkin near the end of his NFB tenure and who is currently executive producer of the NFB animation studio. “He was remarkably gifted in the depiction of movement. The way in which he characterized movement, he had an instinct for that which was second-to-none.”

But Larkin’s life and career spun out of control after he left the NFB in the late ’70s. He battled addictions to cocaine and alcohol, and eventually ended up living on the street in Montreal, making money panhandling on St. Laurent Boulevard, one of the city’s busiest streets. For a quarter-of-century, he completely stopped making films.

Landreth met Larkin several years ago at the Ottawa Animation Festival, where they were on a jury together, and the Toronto helmer decided Larkin’s dramatic life story was an ideal subject for an animated short. The resulting film, “Ryan”, played film festivals around the world and won an Oscar. It also led to a resurgence of interest in Larkin’s work.

Montreal musician Laurie Gordon became friends with him and she and her husband eventually brought him to live with them in their home in Ste. Hyacinthe just south of Montreal. Prior to that, he’d been living at a center for homeless men in Montreal. With Gordon producing and managing his career, Larkin had begun work on his first new film in nearly 30 years, the animated short “Spare Change”. The film was not finished when Larkin died, but Gordon hopes to complete the project this year based on the work Larkin has already done.

“Ryan Larkin getting back to work was the big miracle,” said Gordon. “It was a wonderful situation that happened.”

In December, Larkin completed three five-second animated station IDs for MTV Canada, which aired on the Canuck web.

Larkin is survived by his parents and one brother.

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