Monday, 9 April 2012

Animator Profile : Norman McLaren

Fig. 1
Norman McLaren (1914-1987) was a Canadian film director and animator, known for being a pioneer within the filmmaking and animation. McLaren’s work experiments and strives to reinvent cinematography, this includes his animations to music, ‘visual music’, abstract film, pixilation and drawn on film animation. His work gained the attention of many admires, which in turn got him noticed within the industry, winning him an Oscar in 1952 for Neighbours and a BAFTA Award in 1986 for Best Animated film, Pas de Deux.

McLaren started his career studying at the Glasgow School of Art, where he focused on set design. When he started experimenting with animation, film he took the stock itself and painted/scratched onto it. In 1939 he moved to New York, where he focused on his visual music animations including Dots and Boogie-Doodle (1940). Moving to Canada in 1941 he worked for the National Film Board, working on a number of animated shorts. Marc Glassman states, "In the classic animation works Begone Dull Care, Fiddle-de-dee and Boogie Doodle, he drew, painted, engraved and scratched onto film stock in order to make the music of jazzman Oscar Peterson, fiddler Eugène Desormeaux and pianist Albert Ammons come alive ...The results in each case were breathtaking, challenging and, ultimately, highly successful." (Glassman 2009) Glassman picks up upon McLaren's technique and his contribution to the film and animating industry.
Fig. 2
McLaren's achievements has been stated many a time, Terence Dobson observes, "For half a century from the 1930s to the 1980s, the celebrated Canadian animator Norman McLaren made films at a prodigious rate – his output averaged about one film every year. The innovatory nature of his films won him worldwide acclaim, honours and prizes (including an Oscar™)." (Dobson 2004) Dobson argues the place McLaren holds in history in relation to the world of film and animation. It's clear through the way McLaren experiments and observes movement in its purist form.
Fig. 3
Both Dots and Le Merle are stunning examples of McLaren's work. The rhythm and the timing of the moving imagery and music are faultless. Strong shapes and bold movements bring the music to life. Something that is so unexpectingly engaging makes a significant imprint on the viewer’s imagination. The bold colours have a playfulness about them and assist in accentuating the shapes dancing across the screen. Just a joy to experience.

Fig. 4
Pas de Deux is without a doubt one of McLaren's most famous works, it was created by photographing on a high contrast camera setting with an optical step and repeat print. This produced a visually stunning movement study of the two dancers. Something about it encapsulates the audience, both the imagery and music captured were memorising to the audience. David Johnston argues, "It [Pas de Deux] was made in the context of the world of animation in 1968. No one had ever done anything like this before. McLaren chose the dance as the subject for his film not necessarily because he loved ballet, but because the form of the dance very much lended itsself to the technique being employed. The technique used in this film had never been seen before. We look at it now and it seems like nothing special, but no one had ever thought of this multiple-exposure technique before McLaren. This is generally considered to be McLaren's magnum opus, and it is valuable viewing by any student of animation. Wathing it not as entertainment, though, but with an eye toward composition, staging, timing, and so on." (Johnston 1999) Johnston summarises beautifully what McLaren's Pas de Deux creates visually and the technique behind the almost stroboscopic cinematography. The film feels to emphasise the ideas around animation and movement, the continuous flow of frames seem representational of the work animators create in order to produce the perfect stream of movement.the two dancers.

List of illustrations

Figure 1. Norman McLaren. At: (Accessed on:2/4/12)

Figure 2. McLaren, Norman (1940) Dots. At: (Accessed on:2/4/12)

Figure 3. McLaren, Norman (1958) Le Merle. At: (Accessed on:2/4/12)

Figure 4. McLaren, Norman (1968) Pas De Deux. At: (Accessed on:2/4/12)


Terence Dobson (2006) The Film Work of Norman McLaren. At: (Accessed on:2/4/12)

Marc Glassman (2009) Norman McLaren: Animation genius created poetry. At: (Accessed on:2/4/12)

David Johnston (1999) A revolutionary film, deserving of its place in the history of animation. At: (Accessed on:2/4/12)

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