Friday, 20 May 2011

Animator Of The Week: Chris Landreth

'Ryan' (2004). Copyright Chris Landreth. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada in association with Copperheart Animation.

To combat my current low creative output due to studying for a business module this semester and also running a business in my 'spare' time, I've decided to get the artistic juices flowing a little by indulging in some weekly research into animators who are inspirational or seminal, or both..! I'll get the ball rolling with a complex practitioner, the CGI animator Chris Landreth...

After years of working as an engineer, Landreth initially became involved in computer animation during the '90s whilst working as a software tester on a number of computer graphics programmes, including Maya [1]. This research resulted in 'Bingo' (1998) designed as a showcase for the new CGI technology and 'The End' (1995) a tongue-in-cheek, existentialist short that was amongst the first to demonstrate Landreth's trademark 'psychorealistic' style [2] - a metaphoric visual device whereby a character's inner turmoil is made manifest in abstract forms about their bodies.

In addition to being technically challenging, there's no doubt that Landreth's work is difficult, personal and has a tendency to rub people up the wrong way. His Oscar-winning short 'Ryan' (2004) gives an uncompromising insight into the decline of his friend and fellow animator, Ryan Larkin. Based on a series of interviews with Larkin and others close to him, the short follows the artist's decent from greatness into obscurity and his battle with drug and alcohol addiction that contributed to his untimely death in 2007.

It is difficult to discern exactly what Landreth's motivation was with the short and it makes me uncomfortable to consider that the production merely uses Larkin's misery to portray a wider story about fear and self-loathing. The fact that Landreth reveals his own misguided efforts to 'save' Larkin from himself gives me some comfort, however. 'The Spine' (2009) reveals a similar insight into the darker side of human behaviour, this time focusing on co-dependent relationships as its subject matter [3]. Again, the audience is provided with hope for the central character, only to have those hopes dashed in the final seconds of the short. This pathos, however unpalatable, certainly hammers the point home.

Love him or loathe him, there is no question that Landreth's work has had a significant influence on CGI animation techniques and narratives. If you have the time, I would highly recommend both 'The Spine' (11 mins 20) and 'Ryan' (13 mins 56) as good introductions to this complex artist's work.

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