Norman McLaren | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Norman McLaren

McLaren has earned an international reputation for his imaginative and skilled contribution to the art of film. He has received honours from many countries.
McLaren, Norman
Innovative filmmaker Norman McLaren was Canada's leading director of animated films (courtesy Library and Archives Canada).

McLaren, Norman

Norman McLaren. Film maker, b Stirling, Scotland, 11 Apr 1914, d Montreal 26 Jan 1987; honorary LL D (McMaster) 1966, honorary D LITT (York, Toronto) 1972. He became interested in cinematic techniques while studying 1932-7 at the Glasgow School of Art and spent his spare time making films and playing the organ. His gifts attracted the attention of John Grierson, who offered him a position in the British General Post Office Film Unit when he left the school. McLaren remained with the unit until 1939. About this time he began to experiment with synthetic sound and developed a considerable range of semi-musical effects, mostly percussive. After working independently 1939-41 in New York, he joined the National Film Board of Canada (of which Grierson had become the director) and began to develop the innovative animated film techniques that eliminated the camera and required the artist to draw directly on the film. McLaren also created 'animated sound,' a form of 'visible' or synthetic sound made by hand-drawings on the sound-track of the film. He explains his method in the short film Pen Point Percussion. The implications of the method have been of considerable interest to electronic composers and have earned McLaren high regard as a sound pioneer. In addition to his synthetic sound-tracks, he has integrated a wide variety of musical forms into his films. The Trio lyrique of Montreal sings a folksong in Le Merle; Ravi Shankar and Chatur Lal perform in A Chairy Tale; Glenn Gould plays Bach for Spheres; a calliope is used in Hoppity Pop and panpipes in Pas de Deux; jazz by Eldon Rathburn is featured in Short and Suite and jazz by the Oscar Peterson Trio in Begone Dull Care. In Lines Horizontal and Lines Vertical pure animation, in patterns of straight lines etched directly on the film interprets music by Pete Seeger and Maurice Blackburn respectively.

McLaren has earned an international reputation for his imaginative and skilled contribution to the art of film. He has received honours from many countries. Those from his own include the first medal of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1963, the Canada Council Medal in 1966, the Molson Prize in 1971, and the Diplôme d'honneur of the CCA in 1978. In 1973 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. In 1982 he was awarded the Albert-Tessier prize for cinema from the MACQ and in 1985 he was made Chevalier of the Ordre national du Québec A general list of his films and of his numerous awards (to 1975) is given in Maynard Collins' Norman McLaren

Films with Music

Love on the Wing (General Post Office film unit 1938). Ibert Divertissement

Allegro (Guggenheim Museum 1939). Synthetic sound

Rumba (ibid 1939). Synthetic sound

Stars and Stripes (ibid 1939). March tune

Dots (ibid 1940). Synthetic sound

Loops (ibid 1940). Synthetic sound

Boogie-Doodle (ibid 1940). Albert Ammons plays boogie.

Spook Sport (1940). Interpretation of Saint-Saëns' Danse macabre

Mail Early(NFB 1941). Benny Goodman's 'Jingle Bells'

V for Victory (NFB 1941). Sousa march

Five for Four (NFB 1942). Ammons plays 'Pinetop Boogie.'

Hen Hop (NFB 1942). Barn dance music

Dollar Dance (NFB 1943). Music by Applebaum; lyrics by Guy Glover and McLaren

Alouette (NFB 1944). N. 1 of the Let's All Sing Together sing-along series

C'est l'aviron (NFB 1944). Part of the Chants Populaires series; also on video compilation The Genius of Norman McLaren

Là-haut sur ces montagnes (NFB 1946). The singing of the folksong from which the film takes its title. Part of the Chants populaires series

A Little Phantasy on a 19th-Century Painting (NFB 1946). Synthetic sound

Hoppity Pop (NFB 1946). Barrel organ music

Fiddle-De-Dee (NFB 1947). Fiddler plays 'Listen to the Mocking Bird.'

La Poulette Grise (NFB 1947). Anna Malenfant sings the folksong.

Begone Dull Care (NFB 1949). Oscar Peterson Trio plays jazz; also on video compilation The Genius of Norman McLaren

Pen Point Percussion (NFB 1950). Synthetic sound.

Around Is Around (NFB 1951). Music by Louis Applebaum

Now Is the Time (NFB 1951). Synthetic sound

Neighbours (NFB 1952). Synthetic sound

A Phantasy (NFB 1952). Maurice Blackburn's music for saxophone and synthetic sound; also on video compilation The Genius of Norman McLaren

Two Bagatelles (NFB 1952). Synthetic sound

Blinkity Blank (NFB 1955). Synthetic sound and music of Blackburn

Rythmetic (NFB 1956). Synthetic sound

A Chairy Tale (NFB 1957). Music performed by Ravi Shankar and Chatur Lal; also on video compilation The Genius of Norman McLaren

Le Merle (NFB 1958). Trio lyrique sings the folksong 'Mon merle.'

Mail Early for Christmas (NFB 1959). Music by Eldon Rathburn

Serenal (NFB 1959). Grand Curacaya Orchestra of Trinidad

Short and Suite (NFB 1959). Eldon Rathburn's music for jazz ensemble

Lines Vertical (NFB 1960). Blackburn plays electronic piano.

Lines Horizontal (NFB 1962). Pete Seeger plays winds and strings.

Canon (NFB 1964). How a musical canon is constructed, using music by Rathburn.

Mosaic (NFB 1965). Synthetic sound

Pas de Deux (NFB 1967). Panpipes; also on video compilation The Genius of Norman McLaren

Spheres (NFB 1969). Gould plays Bach Fugue 24 and Prelude 20 (Book I) and Fugue 14 (Book II) from The Well-tempered Clavier.

Synchromy (NFB 1971). Synthetic sound

Ballet Adagio (NFB 1972). Albinoni Adagio; also on video compilation The Genius of Norman McLaren

Narcissus (NFB 1983). Balletic interpretation of the Greek myth. Music by Maurice Blackburn

Also Animated Motion (NFB 1976-8), a series of five study of films prepared by McLaren on animation techniques


'Some notes on animated sound: abridged from a paper by Norman MacLaren [sic],' CanComp, 44, Nov 1969


'Animated sound: a Canadian composer's unique contribution to the advance of the cinema,' CanComp, 3, Oct 1965

'The eye hears and the ear sees..'. CanComp, 44, Nov 1969

'Filmography,' The Drawings of/Les Dessins de: Norman McLaren (Montreal 1975)

Collins, Maynard. Norman McLaren (Ottawa 1976)

Scottish Arts Council. Norman McLaren (Edinburgh 1977)

Glover, Guy. McLaren (Montreal 1980)

Richard, Valliere T. Norman McLaren, Manipulator of Movement (Toronto 1982)


The Eye Hears The Ear Sees (BBC TV 1970)

Creative Genius: Norman McLaren (NFB 1990)

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