Next stop for both the Toronto-based animator and his film: the Cumberland Cinemas, where The Spine makes its Canadian bow in the official competition at the Worldwide Short Film Festival on Wednesday (June 17).
The Spine finds Landreth expanding upon the same idiosyncratic digital animation style he pioneered in his Oscar-winning short Ryan to tell the fictional story of Dan and Mary (voiced by Gordon Pinsent and Alberta Watson), a long-married couple who've reached the end of their dysfunctional tether.
"I've often seen people, couples, people in relationships that seem on the surface to be absurd, bizarre or unhealthy or all of those things," Landreth tells me over the phone from his Toronto home, the day before his flight to Annecy. "I think that all of us at one time or another have looked at people who are in these kind of relationships, and you wonder: How could they be together? Why have they stayed together for years or decades? And so, with the characters in The Spine, you see that dynamic pretty quickly on."
Landreth's "psycho-realistic" sensibility lets that emotional dynamic express itself visually, with his characters wearing their inner conflicts on their bodies. "What I've been doing for a little while," he explains, "is showing people's stories in a visual, physical sense - which is something we can do in animation where you wouldn't be able to do it in live action. It seems to me that if you're able to provide that extra visual metaphorical aspect to the way people look - something that the surrealists were getting into - if you're able to do that, you're able to add a layer of storytelling that adds richness to the story."
But the story has to be there in the first place. "When I write a script for something like this," he says, "I keep the visuals out of it. I mean, they always seep in a little bit, but the story needs to work as well as it can through dialogue. I did not want the visuals to be a crutch for that. The visuals add an extra layer ... but when I brought in Gordon Pinsent and Albert Watson and Patrice Goodman and Robert McCarrol, I was kind of closing my eyes and making sure that the story as carried through the dialogue that these guys did was really gonna work.
"I would say that the soul that Gordon had in his performance really did drive the visuals a lot. I mean, Dan doesn't look a whole lot like Gordon, but there is Gordon's soul in that character."
With The Spine on the festival circuit, Landreth can devote his full attention to his first feature-length project, an adaptation of Hans Rodionoff, Enrique Breccia and Keith Giffen's graphic-novel biography of H.P. Lovecraft.
"I am dreading it with every fiber of my body, but I'm also more excited about it," he says, "so it's a perfect mix. We're expanding on that graphic novel quite a bit; it's going to be historically touching on the biographical points of Lovecraft, of course, but we are going a few steps further, which is the reason it's going to be animated."
The Worldwide Short Film Festival screens The Spine in "Official Selection 1: The Edge Of Reason", June 17 at 2 pm at the Cumberland Cinema, repeating June 19 at 7 pm. shorterisbetter.com.[rssbreak]