Norman McLaren (1914-1987)
Following the establishment of its National
Film Board in 1939, Canada has become a major contributor
to the field of animation. One of Canada’s most influential
animators was Norman McLaren. He was an exceptional artist who
explored a variety of film techniques and was fascinated by the
relationship of music to visuals. His sense of creative freedom
led him to break new ground in animation techniques; for example,
he was credited with introducing the technique of pixilation in
his Oscar-winning film Neighbours (1952).
The Collector’s Edition features new
digital masters of 14 of Norman McLaren’s best works.
Documentary Creative Process: Norman McLaren
booklet Norman McLaren on the Creative Process
Critical Viewing for Neighbours
- How do you think these films were made?
- Why did the filmmaker use animation instead of
- How did the choice of film technique impact your
perception of the theme?
- Which parts of this film do you think might have
been offensive to earlier audiences?
- How do you feel about this particular sequence?
- Why are we now allowed to view this kind of image?
most famous animation that reveals his technical brilliance and his
sensitivity to the human condition.
The stop motion live-actor technique, typically referred to as pixilation,
is created by applying the principles of animated cartoon movies to
the filming of actors. Instead of making a series of drawings, real
human beings are placed in a series of postures in front of the animation
camera. Two animator artists were used as the actors in this particular
film because, according to McLaren, they knew exactly how to move
themselves. One interesting note: this entire short film was shot
outdoors in one location. If doing another such film, McLaren stated
that he would shoot it indoors with artificial light. This is because
the summer climate of eastern Canada fluctuates too much from day
to day and many days they had to stop shooting because of grey skies
or very sunny days.
A Chairy Tale (1957)
animation brings to life an inanimate object, the chair. The method
for making the chair move was that of traditional string-puppet technique
where animators manipulated horizontal strings (fine black nylon fishing
tackle) which was invisible to the camera. The numbers of frames per
second used was varied on purpose, because it was much easier to control
the chair's behavior if it was moved slower than normal. The short
film was completely edited before sound of the animation was considered.
At that time, the distinguished composer-performer sitarist, Ravi
Shankar, had come to Montreal. After being invited to view
the silent film, he expressed a keen interest in composing the music.
A Chairy Tale was shot indoors; but McLaren discovered that indoor
shooting has its own problems. Dust and footmarks on the black floor
were to prove just as irritating as any problem with the Canadian
A Phantasy (1952)
This animation was created from a single color-pastel
drawing that was slowly metamorphosed. Slightly changing different
areas of the drawing at various speeds resulted in a technique that
creates a continuous state of flux or metamorphosis. The music was
planned after the visuals were completed. McLaren believed that
abstract films may only contain unrepresentative shapes but since
they assume motion in time and space they can possess a great deal