Ryan Larkin (July 31, 1943 – February 14, 2007) was a Canadian animator, artist, and sculptor who rose to fame with the psychedelic Oscar-nominated short Walking (1968) and the acclaimed Street Musique (1972). He was the subject of the Oscar-winning film Ryan.
Larkin had idolized his older brother, Ronald, whom he described as “the epitome of cool”. In 1958, at the age of fifteen, Larkin witnessed his brother die in a boating accident and, because he had never learned to swim, was unable to save him. Larkin stated that his brother’s death deeply scarred him.
Larkin attended the Art School of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where he studied under Arthur Lismer (a member of the Group of Seven) before starting to work at the National Film Board of Canada in 1962.
Larkin was bisexual, having had sexual and romantic relationships with both women and men during his lifetime.
At the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), Larkin learned animation techniques from the ground-breaking and award-winning animator Norman McLaren. He made two acclaimed short animated films, Syrinx (1965) and Cityscape (1966), before going on to create Walking (1969). Walking was nominated for an Academy Award in 1970 in the category Best Short Subject, Cartoon, but lost to It’s Tough to Be a Bird by director Ward Kimball. Syrinx won many international awards. He went on to direct the award-winning short Street Musique, which premiered in 1972 and would be the last of his works, finished during his lifetime.
He also contributed art work and animation effects to NFB films including the 1974 feature Running Time, directed by Mort Ransen, in which Larkin also played three bit parts.
In 1975, the NFB commissioned Larkin to create a mural for the entrance foyer at its Montreal headquarters. He delivered a piece featuring an adolescent boy with an erection, which the NFB removed from viewing.
Larkin left the NFB in 1978.
Ryan, the film
In later years Larkin was plagued by a downward spiral of drug abuse, alcoholism and homelessness. By this time estranged from his parents, he had developed a routine of spending his nights at the Old Brewery Mission, and his days panhandling at Schwartz’s, eating at Mondo Frites, drinking beer at the Copacabana bar, or reading a book in the lounge at Welch’s used book store. Towards the end of his life, he found himself back in the limelight when a 14-minute computer-animated documentary on his life, Ryan, by Canadian animator Chris Landreth, won the Academy Award for Animated Short Film and screened to acclaim at film festivals throughout the world. Alter Egos (2004), directed by Laurence Green, is a documentary about the making of Ryan that includes interviews with both Larkin and Chris Landreth as well as with various people who knew Larkin at the peak of his own success.
As of 2002, Larkin had been working with composer Laurie Gordon of the band Chiwawa on a new animated film entitled Spare Change, his first auteur film since working at the NFB. Together they founded Spare Change Productions and sought funding for the film through Gordon’s production company MusiVision. They received grants from Bravo!FACT, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec and SODEC but were still short of financing. MusiVision and the National Film Board of Canada went into co-production only after Larkin’s death. Spare Change premiered at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema on October 9, 2008. Spare Change features three CHIWAWA tunes for which Larkin created storyboards and animation, including Do It For Me from the 2005 release Bright. A new CHIWAWA album Bus Stop Chinese Buffet will include tracks from Spare Change including Overcast Skies whose lyrics were penned by Larkin, and part of a group of Larkin poems – Beat Poems For Grandkids.
MusiVision also produced the documentary film Ryan’s Renaissance for CTV Television about Ryan’s final years, his return to creating art, and Spare Change. It was produced by Gordon and Nicola Zavaglia. Larkin, who had panhandled outside Montreal Schwartz’s deli, appeared briefly in a documentary on the famous restaurant, Chez Schwartz, directed by Garry Beitel 
In December 2006, Larkin created three five-second bumpers for MTV in Canada, a preview to Spare Change. Each frame was hand-drawn. It was the first professional work he had executed in over 20 years. Larkin said that he had given up some bad habits, including drinking, in order to better focus on his animating career.