Still from Ryan (2004) by Chris Landreth
© Copper Heart and National Film Board of Canada

In the 3-D computer animation film Ryan (2004), director Chris Landreth blended audio and visual techniques to create a work that is both documentary and diaristic: a standard interview Q and A format, voice-over narration, photos, and film footage are employed to give the film its documentary feel, while aspects of the sound mix, manipulated voices, and highly stylized visuals create subjective experience. Ryan is ostensibly about animator Ryan Larkin, but it is also the director’s exploration of his own fragile state of mind, and a coming to terms with the substance abuse of his mother, Barbara Landreth, to whom the film is dedicated. Ryan was made at the National Film Board of Canada, where Larkin was a promising young animator before drugs, alcohol, and mental illness put him on the streets.

Ryan opens with a stylized computer rendering of the film’s director talking about his past, establishing an introspective tone that ends with a rapid journey through his mind, punctuated by a disturbing scream. The film then shifts into fairly conventional documentary-style audio: a score leads us through the title sequence, Landreth’s voice-over tells of Larkin’s past, and then the two men carry out an interview. However, visuals remain stylized—for example, Larkin has only part of a face, which floats in space and occasionally freezes in the background, and some other figures are defined mainly through outlines. Near the end of the film, the audio becomes quite impressionistic, when Landreth creates a sequence of inner thought. Abstract noise replaces realistic audio as photos of his mother appear, and the film enters the subjective space of the director. Thus, largely through sound design, Ryan shifts between the realities of objective outer world and subjective inner world.