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An Animator’s Sudden Death Derailed His Film, So His Friends Finished It for Him

A still from the short animated film "Wolf and Cub" depicts a Black father and son standing at the edge of a cliff, looking off to a vast desert landscape. In the middle of the desert landscape is a building. The son is piggy-backed on the father's shoulders and the father is holding some sort of staff.
Written by late animator Marvin Bynoe, "Wolf and Cub" is inspired by a true story from his life. The short film follows Bynoe and his son, Livi, as they deliver a lunch to his wife, Eula, after she left it at home. The simple errand expands to an epic journey that takes the duo across snowy expanses and vast deserts. | Still from "Wolf and Cub"
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Marvin Jason “Stro” Bynoe's "Wolf and Cub" is a short animated film unlike any other. It consists of myriad styles and techniques — stop-motion, animation and felt cut-outs — from over 80 CalArts students and professors who volunteered their talent after Bynoe's sudden death in March of 2020.

The film, which is included in "Life Disrupted, " the first episode of this year's "Fine Cut," is a labor of love — a testament to an individual's impact on a greater community. At its forefront is Bynoe's love for his family, but the way in which it was made shows the love his classmates and colleagues hold for Bynoe. "Wolf and Cub" was the last script the 36-year-old artist wrote, and his peers were unwilling to let his story go untold.

According to Liam LoPinto, one of the film's several co-directors, "Wolf and Cub" is mostly based on a true story. Bynoe's wife, Eula Scott Bynoe, forgot her lunch one day, so he and their young son, Livi, brought it to her, but in Bynoe's script, this simple errand becomes more than that. Inspired by Kazuo Koike's "Lone Wolf and Cub" manga, which follows an assassin who travels with his young son to avenge their family, Bynoe elevates this task of delivering leftover oxtails and rice into an epic journey that takes them across snowy expanses and vast deserts.

LoPinto, who recently completed his BFA in character animation at CalArts, met Bynoe at school. For a time, they worked in cubes next to one another, where LoPinto recalls they'd pop over the top "like Wilson in 'Home Improvement.'"

"He was a magnanimous figure [who] always had a smile," he said. "He would take every minute of his time to fully listen to you, make eye contact with you, and give you a hug if you needed it. He'd never talk down to you in any way." Co-director Isabella Spadone remembers the first time she saw Bynoe on the second day of their second year.

A still from the animated short "Wolf and Cub" depicts a son piggy-backed on his father's shoulders. Behind them is a bright yellow sun and vibrant hues of pink and fuchsia.
1/5 The short animated film is composed of submissions from over 80 CalArts students and professors who volunteered their work to help finish Bynoe's last story. | Still from "Wolf and Cub"
A still from animated short "Wolf and Cub" depicts an Black father and son standing at a doorway. The son is piggy-backed on his father's shoulders. The father as a determined look on his face and is clutching onto two backpack straps.
2/5 The short animated film is composed of submissions from over 80 CalArts students and professors who volunteered their work to help finish Bynoe's last story. | Still from "Wolf and Cub"
A still from animated short "Wolf and Cub" depicts a father and son walking through a green forest. Rain falls on them.
3/5 The short animated film is composed of submissions from over 80 CalArts students and professors who volunteered their work to help finish Bynoe's last story. | Still from "Wolf and Cub"
A still from animated short "Wolf and Cub" depicts two legs taken from the knees down. The individual is wearing Nike shoes, sweatpants and a long coat.
4/5 The short animated film is composed of submissions from over 80 CalArts students and professors who volunteered their work to help finish Bynoe's last story. | Still from "Wolf and Cub"
A still from animated short film, "Wolf and Cub" depicts a Black family — a father, mother and son — smiling together. The mother places a hand on the father's chest and the son is piggy-backed on his father.
5/5

"[H]e walked past me in the Character Animation hallway, on his way to story class. He was smiling, holding his art supplies, and wearing a very cool outfit including short, grass-green basketball shorts," she said. She recalls sitting next to him in the computer labs, motivating one another as they worked on their portfolios and applied to internships, and falling into easy conversation whenever they ran into each other. She would frequently ask to see what he was working on. "His stories and films are always beautiful. He captured feelings of family and joy that felt intimate and universal," she said.

Bynoe grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and received his bachelor's in illustration from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. He started as a shoe designer at Bodega, a high-end Boston apparel store disguised as a market, then became its creative director. But Bynoe dreamed of working in animation, so he switched coasts and enrolled in the CalArts Character Animation Program in 2017.

Marvin Bynoe stands with his hands raised above his head and a smile on his face. He's wearing a birthday hat. He's in a classroom setting, with classmates sitting behind him.
Marvin Bynoe during an evening class at CalArts where his peers briefly celebrated his birthday. | Courtesy of Liam LoPinto

Two days before his death, Bynoe had presented "Wolf and Cub" to his screenwriting class. It was held over Zoom due to the pandemic, and LoPinto read the voice of the father character during the table read.

"He couldn't wait to make it as his final year's thesis film," LoPinto said.

An illustration depicts a Black man sitting at a desk with a smile on his face. He's holding up a peace sign and his other hand rests on a keyboard.
A still frame from a short looped animation created by Isabella Spadone, a friend of Bynoe and co-director of "Wolf and Cub." | Courtesy of Liam LoPinto

Because LoPinto still had a copy of the script he'd downloaded for class, he brought it to Eula in early 2021 and suggested they complete it.

At the time, students were already working on Bynoe's third-year film, "Rice," about a group of neighbors from various cultures connected to one another by how they used the staple in their cuisine. Bynoe had completed his animatic for "Rice," meaning students were working on a faithful rendition of Bynoe's existing plan. But with "Wolf and Cub," all they had was the text.

Instead of casting voice actors, LoPinto recorded Eula, who narrates the script, and three-year-old Livi, who provides voice and sound effects.

Watch "Wolf and Cub," a story of a father and son who cross a world of imagination to return mom's forgotten lunch.
Wolf and Cub

"The goal was to make a movie that his son could be in, so when he's older, he's in his dad's movie," LoPinto said. "[Bynoe] was so unabashedly proud of his family and used them for the inspiration that they were."

[Bynoe] was so unabashedly proud of his family and used them for the inspiration that they were.
Liam LoPinto

When LoPinto reached out for help with everything else to complete the film, he was met with friends eager to help. For Spadone, it wasn't even a question. "We felt we needed to help [Bynoe] tell his story still," she said. "Personally, it helped me grieve and feel close to Marvin, working in his story and creating with his words. Making 'Wolf and Cub' was also something we needed to do for Eula and Livi. Marvin's film is a major testament to his love for them."

A large group of people sit in a living room. They're all facing a television out of frame.
Volunteers on the "Wolf and Cub" crew gather to watch a rough cut of the film. | Courtesy of Liam LoPinto

"People played to their strengths, contributing in the best ways they could," LoPinto said. "It was just about picking the right people for each particular segment and then just letting them interpret it and come back with their own styles."

"I think it's phenomenal how through all of Marvin's work, there's this underlying theme of wanting to be a better father, friend or community member," said Sanjna Bharadwaj, "I think that's why so many people wanted to work on Wolf & Cub. It was so pure. It brought us together."

They received so much art, they couldn't even include it all. LoPinto hopes to make an art book filled with Bynoe's art and all the work people made for him, which they could sell to raise money for Livi's future.

Bynoe's work continues to ripple beyond his lifetime. The CalArts filmmakers want to show "Wolf and Cub" and a completed "Rice" as a double feature celebrating Bynoe. Ideally, that would happen on December 5, Bynoe's birthday, which Eula has renamed "Phenomenon Day." Eula is also actively pitching the TV show Bynoe had wanted to make, a coming-of-age tale about a young boy who explores various islands.

Beyond that, LoPinto hopes he can get "Wolf and Cub" in front of the artists who most influenced Bynoe, including The Jim Henson Company (Bynoe loved "The Muppets"), Studio Ghibli (he also loved "My Neighbors the Yamadas"), Rebecca Sugar, the filmmakers behind "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" and "The Last Dragon," and designer Virgil Abloh.

"He was always eager and hungry for more inspiration and his art shows that. There's some playful buoyancy to his art where you can see the specific influences that colors his work," LoPinto said. "For me, the goal is to be able to show it to people who inspired him so they know that's the kind of person he was and the kind of artist he was."

Three individuals paint a colorful mural in a small cube space. The mural consists of rolling green hills, a bright blue sky, pink-hued clouds, a rainbow and three unfinished subjects in the middle.
CalArts students, from left to right Natalie O’Brien, Sanjna Bharadwaj and Colleen Sinclair paint a mural in Bynoe's cube. | Colleen Sinclair
A mural depicts a Black family running in a vast green landscape with a rainbow and sun shining brightly behind them. The three are wearing capes and have joyful expressions on their faces.
The completed mural in Marvin Bynoe's cube. The mural depicts a scene of Marvin, his wife, Eula, and his son, Livi together. | Natalie O’Brien

"Marvin is one of the most magical people I will ever know," Spadone said. "When I think about him I feel warmth in my heart, and I think he'll always remind me how good we can be to each other in that way. There will never be enough words or pages to hold all that Marvin is. I hope we can keep showing everyone how beautiful his stories are, because the world really needs to see what Marvin did."

Editor's note: The article was updated to reflect Bynoe's full name: Marvin Jason “Stro” Bynoe.

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