Monday, 4 April 2011

Norman McLaren (1914 - 1987)

Born in Scotland, Norman Mclaren studied set design at the Glasgow School of fine art; however, it was his membership of the Glasgow Film Society that started his interest in cinema and the possibilites of moving pictures.  After graduating, he became a cameraman, initially working for the GPO film unit, then the National Film Board of Canada (making propaganda films during WWII).  During his free time, he experimented with novel filmic techniques, such as drawing or directly onto the film stock or stop-motion animation.

His earliest experiments consisted of scratching the emulsion from the film to create white lines on a black background (according to some accounts, he was forced into this by the fact that he had no access to a camera (Konczewski, 1990)).  Further development of the technique led to several abstract films, such as Begone Dull Care, in which abstract strokes of colour dance and morph in time to the backing music; this was produced by painting directly upon a frameless film strip.
Fig. 1 Begone Dull Care [Film Still]
A common theme in McLaren's short films is the importance of music, particularly in his more abstract films where the soundtrack unites sometimes dispirate imagery into a cohesive whole.  Several other films are based around the soundtrack, for example Le Merle - a visual representation of a childrens nursery rhyme about a crow created using paper shapes animated on a coloured background.
Fig. 2 Le Merle [Film Still]
McLaren continued to experiment with new techniques, including pioneering work with optical printers and 3D films.  One of his most visually interesting works is Pas de Deux, which consists of two ballet dancers dancing against a black background.  The unique feature is a sort of "motion trail" effect, where multiple images are superimposed in a single frame, leading to a heightened sense of motion and a distorted sense of time.
Fig. 3 Pas de Deux [Film Still]

List of Illustrations

Figure 1.  National Film Board of Canada (1949) Begone Dull Care [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 04/04/2011)

Figure 2.  National Film Board of Canada (1959) Le Merle [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 04/04/2011)

Figure 3.  National Film Board of Canada (1968) Pas de Deux [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 04/04/2011)


Jean, M  (2006) Norman McLaren - The Tireless Innovator In: National Film Board of Canada [Online] At: (Accessed on 04/04/2011)

Konczewski, M (1990) Norman McLaren In: [Online] At: (Accessed on 04/04/2011)

National Film Board of Canada (2010) NFB Profiles: McLaren, Norman In: National Film Board of Canada [Online] At: (Accessed on 04/04/2011)

Sexton, J (2003) McLaren, Norman (1914-1987) In: BFI Screenonline [Online] At: (Accessed on 04/04/2011)

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