Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Unit 5: Animation - Animator Profile - Norman McLaren 1914 - 1987

Figure 1. Norman McLaren

McLarens work shows a many rhythmic wonders from pulsating & rising to sinking & shattering. The expressions felt are abstract but work effectively with their audio counterpart inspiring one to tap their foot while they gaze in awe. One can only remain captivated until McLarens feature conclusion, leaving audiences quietly reflecting on what they just witnessed.

Best known for:

•Documentary “Neighbours”
•Rythmetic short “Pas de deux”

Figure 2. Lines Horizontal

McLaren spent his early animation career editing film directly by scratching & painting onto the film stock itself. His earliest film “Seven Till Five” was influenced by Einstein displaying strong formality. McLaren was driven very much by his will to expand the uses of tools he was provided to construct varying abstract perspectives to the art of film. McLaren loved experimentation for in his eyes it was the only way to expand to new mediums & learn what the traditional animator could or could not get away with. The approach was bold & gave birth to unique animation techniques, Marcel Jean of the National film board Canada observes:
“A tireless innovator, he perceived animation filmmakers as artisans who, much like artists in their studios, control every step of the production of their films. Consequently, McLaren set an example for his colleagues, motivating them to develop their own tools and experiment with new techniques”. (Jean: 2006)
To McLaren the animator was to consider everything & push it to new realms one could even attribute this ideal to the likes of “Lines Horizontal”, which sees horizontal lines expanding and contracting to the rhythm of a tune throughout the duration of day & night cycle. The experience is mesmerizing particularly because of what the lines come to form. McLaren’s animated experiences worked not because of what they were but what they could be. One could argue that McLaren based his work on suggestion expressed through movement, body language & the very basics of the abstract.

Figure 3. Le Merle

McLaren loved to push the boundaries of his work to bring life to his work very much like that of other animators which seemingly is the reason one decides to animate. A still image on a page is not enough if it is not expressing who it is and in most cases why it is that way. McLaren’s characters expressed no fine detail expressing his idea solely through movement and suggestion. McLaren was to express the role of the animator not so much the role of the fine artist. One could argue that this was at testament to McLaren to forge life from non-living objects Graeme Hobbs of Movie Mail observes:
“As McLaren says, it is through mastery of these that an animator brings ‘life, meaning, character and spirit’ to his work. All of this information is presented absolutely straight, with the most limited of resources and in the most methodical, even dry, manner”. (Hobbs: 1998)
One would have to agree with McLaren’s approach, for if shapes form a character even in abstract they are brought to life with movement. This can be found in most of McLarens work, however in this case though let us consider McLaren’s “Le Merle” (the Blackbird). To look at the character one could not look any further for simplicity but as the Blackbird moves and shifts shape one cannot help but enthuse over this little critter. The Blackbird is no longer considered a couple of lines with circles it has an identity, it is funny, it is the Blackbird as we always will know it. Underneath everything are shapes and forms, McLarens work shows even the simplistic can have character.

Figure 4. Pas De Deux

Let us consider McLaren’s further research into that of the animated form paying particular attention to his fascination with Ballet. Let us consider “Pas De Deux” a short film which illustrates the movement of form on stroboscopic level showing trails left by the floating cast. The film is not based on words but on the sheer suggestion of its cast, what they are feeling as they move and intertwine. The movement is a class of perfection which feels mesmerising combined with its gentle audio counterpart. The audience is transcended to another plane entirely as if falling through the air without ever touching the ground. Fosco Lucarelli of Socks Media Art Architecture observes:
“Biographer Maynard Collins points out that the “technical virtuosity of this film, its ethereal beauty, its lovely Roumanian pan-type music, made it a joy to watch, even if – perhaps, especially if – you do not care for ballet”. (Lucarelli: 2010)
McLaren’s “Pas De Deux” expresses the beauty of the male and female form to its basic colour palette considering the shapes and how they fold and intertwine. The audience are repeatedly treated to the frames that they took for granted earlier on. The early animator can draw a wealth of visual experience from this film alone, being able to express the form from numerous angles on different frame points. Still it is without question that for Pas De Deux McLaren was once again expressing a visual medium on another experimental stage, working with the basics to transcend them through movement and suggestion.


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Norman McLaren. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 07/03/12)

Figure 2. Lines Horizontal. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 07/03/12)

Figure 3. Le Merle. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 07/03/12)

Figure 4. Pas De Deux. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 07/03/12)



Jean, Marcel. (2006) Norman McLaren Overview of Work. At: (Accessed on: 07/03/12)

Hobbs, Graeme. (1998) Every Film is a kind of Dance At: (Accessed on: 07/03/12)

Lucarelli, Fosco. (2010) Pas de deux, by Norman McLaren At:
(Accessed on: 07/03/12)

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