Monday, 7 October 2013

Norman McLaren

This summer I discovered the works of the animator Norman McLaren. He was born in Scotland in 1914, spent most of his film career in Canada and died in 1987 in Montreal. Working for the National Film Board of Canada, he made many, many films using different media and in different styles. Some of his animations were etched straight onto film with no narrative and made to synchronise with music while others were narrative pieces involving live action.

I discovered McLaren's work by happening on an app for my iPad. 51 films, an essay and biography by Donald McWilliams later, I'm a fan. I've also been experimenting with the three workshops available on the app - paper cut-out animation, etching on film and synthetic sound. I've been enjoying it immensely and would recommend it for all. (Also, the app is free so no excuse not to play!)

My favourite film of his has got to be 'Pas de Deux'. The technique of 'live action with optical multiplication of imagery' creates a beautiful effect and the way the figures are silhouetted makes the dance very ghostly and graceful. I highly recommend watching the film. Whether you are an animator, a filmmaker, an enthusiast or just looking for something to do for 13 minutes, you will not be wasting your time.

"McLaren once said, 'Almost all of my films start with a curiosity about technique.' ... There was often a long gestation period between the technical curiosity and it's arrival in a film. The idea for 'Pas de Deux' was planted in Paris in 1951 when McLaren saw a cinema commercial for women's corsets. The images were multiplied. McLaren put that idea in his subconscious as an exciting technical possibility, and it would emerge in 1967 as 'Pas de Deux'." - extract from the essay 'Norman McLaren: A Filmmaker for All Seasons' by Donald McWilliams

I've been enjoying drawing from stills of the film. In animation, you need to draw the forms and 'see in the round' but drawing from this has been a wonderful opportunity to use other techniques; just drawing the shapes the light makes instead of seeing 'in the round' and drawing on mid-toned paper with a white pencil rather than the usual white paper and dark pencil have been liberating.

Dancers in general are wonderful to draw because of their grace and the lines they make with their bodies. If there were ever a figure where the 'line of action' is clear as day, it's a dancer.

"Animation is not the art of drawings-that-move, but rather the art of movements-that-are-drawn. What happens between each frame is more important than what happens on each frame. Therefore animation is the are of manipulating the invisible interstices between frames."
-Norman McLaren

I hope you enjoy the film and like my drawings. Until my next post!