Norman McLAREN - Writer

Animator. Nationality: Scottish. Born: Stirling, 11 April 1914. Education: Attended Stirling public schools; Glasgow School of Art. Career: 1934—while a student at Glasgow School of Art made

Norman McLaren
Norman McLaren
antiwar film with animated sequence which won first prize, Scottish Film Festival; 1936—after graduation hired by John Grierson at General Post Office Film Unit; 1936–38—worked on live-action documentaries; 1938—made first professional animated film Love on the Wing ; first example of his drawing-directly-on-film technique; 1939–41—worked in New York independently, and for company producing publicity shorts and Museum of Non-Objective Art; 1941—hired by Grierson at Canada's National Film Board to set up animation department; 1949—began long collaboration with Evelyn Lambert on Begone Dull Care ; 1952—for antiwar film Neighbors developed process of animating film of live actors called "pixillation." Award: Academy Award for Neighbors , 1952. Died: 1987.

Films as Director:


Hand Painted Abstraction ; Seven Till Five ; Camera Makes Woopee ; Colour Cocktail


Hell Unlimited ; The Defense of Madrid


(For GPO Film Unit, London) Book Bargain ; News for the Navy ; Many a Pickle ; Love on the Wing


(For Film Center, London) The Obedient Flame


(For Museum of Non-Objective Art, New York) Dots *; Scherzo ; Loops *; Rumba (lost); Stars and Stripes *; Boogie Doodle *

(For National Film Board of Canada)


Mail Early ; V for Victory


Five for Four ; Hen Hop *


Dollar Dance


C'est l'aviron ; Keep Your Mouth Shut


La Haut sur ces montagnes


A Little Phantasy ; Hoppity Pop *


Fiddle-de-dee *; Poulette grise


A Phantasy


Begone Dull Care *


Around Is Around ; Now Is the Time


Neighbors ( Les Voisins )** (+ mus); Two Bagatelles ** (+ mus)


Blinkity Blank *


Rythmetic (+ mus)


A Chairy Tale ( Il Ă©tait une chaise )**


Le Merle


Serenal *; Short and Suite *; Mail Early for Christmas ; The Wonderful World of Jack Paar (for TV) (credit sequence only)


Lignes verticales ( Lines-Vertical )*; Opening Speech ( Discours de bienvenue de McLaren )**


New York Lightboard


Lignes horizontales ( Lines-Horizontal )*


Caprice de Noël ( Christmas Crackers )** (credit sequence and intertitles only)


Canon **


Mosaic ( MosaĂŻque )* (+ mus)


Pas de deux (live action)


Sphères ( Spheres )




Ballet adagio


L'Écran d'épingles (co-d with Alexeieff and Parker) (documentary)


Le Mouvement image par image (series of 5 animation instruction films)


Narcissus (live action)

* films without camera (direct drawing, engraving, or painting on film)

** "pixillation"


By McLAREN: books—

The Drawings of Norman McLaren , Montreal, 1975.

Norman McLaren on the Creative Process , edited by Donald McWilliams, Montreal, 1991.

By McLAREN: articles—

"L'Animation stéréographique," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), July-August 1952.

"Notes on Animated Sound," in Quarterly of Film, Radio, and Television (Berkeley, California), Spring 1953.

Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1955.

"L'Écran et le pinceau," in Séquences (Montreal), December 1955.

"Making Films on Small Budgets," in Film (London), December 1955.

Interview, in special animation issue of Cinéma (Paris), January 1957.

SĂ©quences (Montreal), October 1965.

"The Synthesis of Artificial Movements in Motion Picture Projection," with Guy Glover, in Film Culture (New York), no. 48–49, 1970.

Film Library Quarterly (New York), Spring 1970.

"OĂą va l'animation?," in Ecran (Paris), January 1973.

"Rhythm 'n Truths," interview with D. Elley, in Films and Filming (London), June 1974.

"A Dictionary of Movement," interview with M. Magistros and G. Munro, in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), v. 3, no. 4, 1980.

On McLAREN: books—

Forsyth, Hardy, Dots and Loops: The Story of a Scottish Film Cartoonist , Edinburgh, 1951.

Norman McLaren , La Cinémathèque québécoise, Montreal, 1965.

Collins, Maynard, Norman McLaren , Canadian Film Institute, 1975.

Russett, Robert, and Cecile Starr, Experimental Animation , New York, 1976.

Bakedano, Jose J., Norman McLaren , Bilbao, 1987.

On McLAREN: articles—

"Hen Tracks on Sound Tracks," in Popular Mechanics , April 1949.

Queval, Jean, "Norman McLaren ou le cinéma du VVIe siècle," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), October-November 1951.

"Movies without a Camera, Music without Instruments," in Theatre Arts (New York), October 1952.

Jordan, William, "Norman McLaren: His Career and Techniques," in Quarterly of Film, Radio and Television (Berkeley, California), Fall 1953.

Special animation issue of Cinéma (Paris), January 1957.

Martin, André, "Le Cinéma de deux mains," in 2 parts, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January and February 1958.

Martin, André, "Mystère d'un cinéma instrumental," in 3 parts, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February, March and April 1958.

D'Yvoire, Jean, "Les Démons de McLaren," in Radio-Cinéma-Télévision (Paris), 29 June 1958.

Mekas, Adolfas, "The Second Story—Honoring the Only Canadian Artist," in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1962.

Weinberg, Gretchen, "Mc et Moi," in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1962.

"The Craft of Norman McLaren," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley, California), Winter 1962–63.

Egly, Max, "Klee, Steinberg, McLaren," in Image et Son (Paris), March 1965.

Cutler, May, "The Unique Genius of Norman McLaren," in Canadian Art , May-June 1965.

Vinet, Pierre, "Multi-McLaren," in Take One (Montreal), September-October 1966.

Burns, Dan, "Pixillation," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley, California), Fall 1968.

"The Career of Norman McLaren," in Cinema Canada (Montreal), August-September 1973.

Elley, D., "Rhythm 'n Truths," in Films and Filming (London), June 1974.

"Norman McLaren au fil de ses films," in special McLaren issue of SĂ©quences (Montreal), October 1975.

Revue de la Cinémathèque (Montreal), February-April 1990.

Bassan, R., "Trois films de Norman McLaren," in Bref , no. 10, Autumn 1991.

Ciment, G., "Voyage Ă  l'interieur d'un crane," in Positif , no. 371, January 1992.

Werner, L., "Spontaneous Frames of Movement," in Americas , September-October 1993.

Chevassu, F., "Hommage Ă  Norman McLaren," in Mensuel , no. 11, November 1993.

Clark, Jeff, "Selected Films: Norman McLaren," in Library Journal , 15 March 1994.

Felperin, Leslie, "A: Animation," in Sight and Sound (London), June 1996.

Robinson, C., "Norman McLaren: A Tribute," in Take One (Toronto), Summer 1997.

* * *

Norman McLaren was one of the great polymaths of animation and filmmaking. Although many independent and experimental animators can, and do, work with a range of different techniques, few have explored the breadth of possibilities with such thoroughness and expertise as McLaren. Cel animation, animation with paper cutouts, pastels, paint, three-dimensional objects, "pixillated" human beings, the light board at Times Square, and even "animation without a camera" are just some of the methods he used in his nearly fifty-year-long career. In addition, he also painted and drew, wrote extensively about animation, collaborated with and inspired many other artists (including John Grierson, Benny Goodman, Oscar Peterson, Evelyn Lambert, Rene Jodoin, George Dunning, Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker, and Ravi Shankar, to name but a few), developed sophisticated optical printing techniques for live-action film, and is said to have invented the "travelling zoom" shot which inspired the "portal" sequence in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey . Nonetheless, though his technical accomplishments and aesthetic achievements have profoundly influenced animators all over the world, he often maintained that his films' primary function was to convey his own feelings and to elicit an emotional response in his viewers. Towards the end of his life he said, "I just would like to be remembered for having made some films which have touched people greatly or melted them or moved them in some way or excited them."

Although the body of his work is heterogeneous, eclectic, and resistant to totalizing characterization, its single, unifying concern is the representation of movement. Indeed, he is said to have described animation itself as not the art of moving drawings, but of drawing movement. His later interest in dance, and ballet especially, is thus not an aberration from his animated work, but contiguous with it, as Pas de deux (1967) demonstrates. In an interview with Maynard Collins, McLaren revealingly notes that even when listening to music, which is so integral to his work, "I see movement, rather than specific images. . . . Movement is my basic language."

The most intriguing films in which McLaren articulates this "language" of movement are the "cameraless" and abstract ones he made while working independently and for the National Film Board of Canada where he headed their animation department. Some of these depict recognizable figures and imagery, like Dollar Dance (1943) and Hen Hop (1942) (of the latter, Picasso is said to have proclaimed "At last, something new in the art of drawing!"). Others veer in the direction of total abstraction and consist of flickering patterns of colour, line, and form, like Begone Dull Care (1949). This last is probably one of his best known cameraless films, made with Evelyn Lambert, his longtime collaborator, and scored by Oscar Peterson. It consists of a rich jumble of jiving squiggles and blobs rendered by washes of dyes that were etched, scratched and variously textured by a number of materials, including Lambert's fortuitous and accidental discovery of dust. Some of McLaren's abstract films consist of elaborations on a single geometrical theme or figure taken to their furthest logical extreme, like Lines-Vertical (1960), Lines-Horizontal (1962), Dots and Loops (1940), and Mosaic (1965). This aspect of his oeuvre owes a considerable artistic debt to Oscar Fischinger.

McLaren's reputation as a sort of abstract expressionist of film has tended to occlude recognition of the overtly political films he made throughout his life. It was, after all, the powerful antiwar film he made as an art student at Glasgow's School of Art, Hell Unlimited (1936), that launched his professional career and gained him entry to the G.P.O. Film Unit in the 1930s, leading to his work on The Defense of Madrid (1937) with Ivor Montague. Some of the "propaganda" films— Stars and Stripes (1941), Mail Early (1941), and V for Victory (1941)—he made in America during the Second World War may seem facile now, and perhaps mere excuses for formalist experiment, but Neighbors (1952) an allegory of war with two "pixillated" men fighting to the death over a flower, manages to synthesize emotive content with technical innovation. Neighbors eschews intellectual proselytizing and makes its pacifist point with admirable economy of expression. Its clarity has won it a place in many a school film library, an appropriate place for a man who was as much an educator, literally and figuratively, as he was an animated film maker.

—Leslie Felperin Sharman

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