Last Exit on St. Laurent Street: The Wonderfully Fucked Up World of Ryan Larkin
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Within the after-hours sessions, McLaren set up a project for the eager young artists (including Pierre Hebert, Co Hoedeman and Ralph Abrams). "He'd give us 16mm cameras and teach us the fine aspects like calibration and how to use our senses. He had a test that involved taking a cut-out of a round ball and shooting it single and double frame." Each artist was given a roll of film to shoot whatever they wanted. Animation came as naturally to Larkin as drawing. "Norman said I had natural control over timing and pacing over any given object." At the same time, Larkin developed a unique technique involving stop-frame action with charcoal that was easy to erase. Using a strong sheet of paper, Larkin was able to draw deeply into the paper and still erase it. Utilizing this new technique, Larkin made a one-minute test film called Cityscape. This dark, nightmarish view of the city is filled with animation and a melange of strange characters coming and going. Finally, the main character finds solace in a country landscape, alone. It is hesitant and sloppy at times, but it is also a shocking, raw and almost paranoid portrait of the cement garden.

Larkin shot Cityscape single frame and "the whole thing went whizzing by in 30 seconds." So to enhance the film, Larkin took it to an optical imager, reprinted the frames and cross mixed them while developing short cross dissolves to give the film a natural looking emotion. People at the Board noticed Cityscape and were taken by its originality. McLaren approached Board producers and asked that Larkin be given carte blanche to make any film using the charcoal technique. "They said, 'Here's a budget. You've got three months to make any film.' I spent a week wondering what I was going to do. One of Norman's friends presented me with a solo flute piece called Syrinx by Claude Debussy. A French flutist recorded it and that was my starting point." Using the flute piece, Larkin then turned to the Greek story about Pan. In this tale of stalking, Pan is constantly hasslin' the hotty Syrinx for a little love. Tired of his come-ons, Syrinx asks Gaea for help. Gaea then turns Syrinx into a clump of reeds. Pan then takes the reeds and turns them into an instrument.

Syrinx. © National Film Board of Canada. All rights reserved.

Larkin faced a number of problems before completing the film. The music was a key ingredient and had to be carefully time and paced. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough money in the budget to buy the music so they were forced to find a member of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra to record it for less. Meanwhile, Larkin discovered he had to re-shoot the film. "First time I got off track and the images weren't coming off as beautiful as I wanted. I was getting nervous but Wolf [Koenig] and Bob [Verrall] said, 'Go back and re-shoot the whole thing.'" Ah, the fortune of a court artist! Larkin re-shot the film, this time concentrating more on the images and the body of Syrinx. The final product received excellent reviews and Syrinx won awards all over the world including the Grand Prize at a children's festival in Iran.

Becoming Established
Larkin was now living a princely life in downtown Montreal continuing to paint and sculpt and surrounded by many friends. "I was always good at sculpting and doing three dimensional sculptures. I began to see animation as a form of sculpting." Larkin had a few small exhibitions and many people at the NFB purchased his drawings and paintings. Larkin gleaned his inspiration in cafes and bars watching and absorbing the way people walked and talked and moved. He loved to watch people and would make sketches of people walking or get friends to pose. Larkin's friends were also doing more than posing, doing what kids were supposedly supposed to do: drugs. Ironically, Larkin wasn't into drugs at the time and instead was a Virgil to his LSD induced mates. "They would experiment and I wouldn't. I made sure they didn't fly out windows." Things would soon change. Despite the wealth of friends and success, Larkin remained lonely. The death of his brother had quietly fractured the family. "Because I was on the boat nobody knew what happened, but somehow I failed to save my brother." Something changed. "I was always the goofy little guy and they figured I goofed up again." Nothing was ever said to Larkin but he nevertheless felt eyes scorching him. Larkin, a man who could bring images to life, could not save a life dearest to him.

After Syrinx, the producers told Larkin that he had to go back to applying his talents to industrial films. He made a variety of educational films for St. John's Ambulance, an elaborate colour pastel clip on preventing forest fires, and a contribution to the NFB's exhibition at the Montreal Expo. "The Board had its own pavilion, called Labyrinth, and they had multi screens. I was asked by Roman Kroiter and Colin Low, to put in a Labyrinth, the old Greek idea, using the same style as Syrinx."

Following the Expo exhibit, Larkin put in a proposal to do a film based on sketches he had drawn of people walking around. The proposal was accepted and Larkin was given a year to do the project. However, dreading the thought of repeating himself, the film took two years as Larkin took time to perfect new techniques. "I was developing my Oriental brush work with water colours, and the human figures and the way that anatomy works, expressions of human behaviour, how funny they look sometimes when they're trying to impress each other with certain movements. I wasn't doing any rotoscoping, I was doing a lot of self-study. I had mirrors in my little office, and I would go through certain motions with my own body and was just going with pencil, ink and paper." In concentrating on motion and the details of the figures, Larkin abandoned background movement instead choosing a blank white screen.


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