Animation in Canada

Perhaps one of the most noted artists using animation in Canada was Norman McLaren.  McLaren spent his life as a film director and animator and was a member of the prestigious National Film Board of Canada (NFB).

McLaren was born in 1914 in Stirling, Scotland, and first began experimenting in animation and film as a student at the Glasgow School of Art.  Success in animation, as well as film, almost always depends upon access to a camera but McLaren just didn’t have access to a camera at this point of his education.

No available camera didn’t mean McLaren couldn’t practice his art, however.  Instead, he developed his own technique, one that didn’t require a camera at all.

What McLaren did in lieu of a camera was to draw each individual frame directly onto the film.  By scratching and painting the images directly onto the film stock, McLaren’s films could be produced entirely without a camera.

Seven Till Five, made in 1933, is the earliest film McLaren made that is still in existence today.  The film depicts everyday life in an art school.

By 1935, McLaren owned a Ciné-Kodak camera, which he used to make his next film, Camera Makes Whoopee.  In it, he used a technique called pixilation.

Pixilation uses people posed in a specific way for each frame, with the illusion of motion becoming apparent when each frame is projected in rapid succession.  This film, which told the story of a ball for art school students, also uses animation and superimpositions to stage trick shots.

It wasn’t until 1941 that McLaren began to work in animation in Canada, after brief stints in London and New York City.  His move to Canada was prompted by an invitation from the National Film Board to establish a studio specializing in animation where aspiring Canadian animation students could train.

Once established as an expert in animation in Canada, McLaren released the most famous of all his films in 1952.  Neighbours won both the Canadian Film Award and the Academy Award for animation and was highly acclaimed around the world for its denunciation of war and violence.

During the 1950s and 1960s, McLaren’s work took him to India and China, where he taught animation and film techniques for UNESCO.  He produced a five-part instructional series, titled “Animated Motion,” which is still considered an outstanding tool for teaching the basic techniques involved with film animation.

McLaren continued his work in animation in Canada until his death in 1987, earning awards and other accolades well into the 1980s.  The NFB celebrated McLaren’s work by naming its head office in Montreal the Norman McLaren Building in his honor.  The Montreal borough where NFB headquarters are located named a district after him.