Norman McLaren
William Norman McLaren

(1914-04-11)11 April 1914
Stirling, Scotland
Died27 January 1987(1987-01-27) (aged 72)
NationalityScottish / Canadian
Alma materGlasgow School of Art
Occupation(s)Animator, director, producer
Years active1933–1985
Known forFilmmaking innovation, Founding the animation department of the National Film Board of Canada
Notable workNeighbours
Pas de deux
Hen Hop
Begone Dull Care
Blinkity Blank
A Chairy Tale
Christmas Cracker
Lines: Vertical
PartnerGuy Glover
AwardsCompanion of the Order of Canada
Officer of the Order of Canada
Chevalier, National Order of Quebec
Prix Albert-Tessier
Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Concordia University
Film Awards: See below

William Norman McLaren, CC CQ LL. D. (11 April 1914 – 27 January 1987) was a Scottish Canadian animator, director and producer known for his work for the National Film Board of Canada (NFB).[1] He was a pioneer in a number of areas of animation and filmmaking, including hand-drawn animation, drawn-on-film animation, visual music, abstract film, pixilation and graphical sound.[2][3] McLaren was also an artist and printmaker, and explored his interest in dance in his films.[4]

His films garnered numerous awards, including one Oscar, one Palme d'Or, three BAFTA Awards and six Venice Film Festival awards.[5]

Early life

Norman McLaren was born in Stirling, Scotland, on 11 April 1914. He had two older siblings, one brother, Jack and a sister, Sheena.[6] At the age of 21, he travelled to Russia for a holiday which confirmed his communist beliefs; his father had paid for the trip in hopes of curing these beliefs.[6]

When McLaren was 22, he left Stirling[6] and studied set design at the Glasgow School of Art.[1] While there, he joined the Kinecraft Society; within the society, he began to experiment with different styles and techniques of filmmaking.[6] It was also at the Glasgow School of Art that McLaren met Helen Biggar, they produced films together outside the School and sought to have their productions released nationally.[6]

His early experiments with film and animation included actually scratching and painting the film stock itself, as he did not have ready access to a camera. One of his earliest extant films, Seven Till Five (1935), a "day in the life of an art school" was influenced by Eisenstein and displays a strongly formalist attitude.

McLaren's film Camera Makes Whoopee (1935), was a more elaborate take on the themes explored in Seven Till Five, inspired by his acquisition of a Ciné-Kodak camera, which enabled him to execute a number of 'trick' shots. McLaren used what would later be called 'pixilation' effects, superimpositions and animation not only to display the staging of an art school ball, but also to tap into the aesthetic sensations supposedly produced by this event.

His two early films won prizes at the Scottish Amateur Film Festival, where fellow Scot and future NFB founder John Grierson was a judge.[7]


GPO Film Unit

Grierson, who was at that time head of the UK General Post Office film unit, saw another of his movies at an amateur film festival and hired McLaren.[1][7][8] McLaren worked at the GPO from 1936 to 1939, making eight films including Defence of Madrid, Book Bargain (1937), Mony a Pickle, Love on the Wing (1938), and News for the Navy (1938).[8]

Solomon Guggenheim Foundation

McLaren then moved to New York City in 1939,[9] just as World War II was about to begin in Europe. With a grant from the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation, he worked in New York until 1941, making drawn-on-film animated works, including Boogie-Doodle (1940), along with Dots, Loops and Stars and Stripes.[10][11]


In 1941, at the invitation of Grierson, McLaren moved to Ottawa to work for the National Film Board and open an animation studio and to train Canadian animators. Upon his arrival in Canada, he made two films with the American director Mary Ellen ButeSpook Sport and Tarantella. Grierson asked him to direct a promotional film reminding Canadians to mail their Christmas cards early, Mail Early (1941). He then worked on animated shorts as well as maps for Allied propaganda documentary films, followed by his War Bonds campaign films: V for Victory (1941), 5 for 4 (1942), Hen Hop (1942), Dollar Dance (1943) and Tic Tac Toe (1943).[8] In 1943, he also produced the six-film series of animated French songs, Chants Populaire. In 1944 and 1945, he would do a similar series in English with Let's All Sing Together.

As of 1942, McLaren could no longer keep up with the demands for animation at the fast-growing NFB, and he was asked by Grierson to recruit art students and create a small animation team—a task made more difficult because many young students had gone off to fight in the war. McLaren found recruits for his fledgling animation unit at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal and the Ontario College of Art, including René Jodoin, George Dunning, Jim McKay, Grant Munro and his future collaborator, Evelyn Lambart. McLaren trained these emerging animators, who would all work on cartoons, animated cards and propaganda documentaries before going on to make their own films. Studio A, the NFB's first animation studio, formally came into existence as of January 1943, with McLaren as its head.[1][8]

During his work for the NFB, McLaren made 70 films, including Begone Dull Care (1949), Rythmetic (1956), Christmas Cracker (1963), Pas de Deux (1968), and the Oscar-winning Neighbours (1952), which is a brilliant combination of visuals and sound, and has a strong social message against violence and war. McLaren won the Short Film Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film for Blinkity Blank (1955), which he later selected as his diploma piece when he was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1974.[4]


In addition to film, McLaren worked with UNESCO in the 1950s and 1960s on programs to teach film and animation techniques in China and India.[1] His five part "Animated Motion" shorts, produced in the late 1970s, are an excellent example of instruction on the basics of film animation.


McLaren is remembered for his experiments with image and sound as he developed a number of groundbreaking techniques for combining and synchronizing animation with music.

The National Film Board honoured McLaren by naming its Montreal head office building the Norman McLaren Building. The Montreal borough of Saint-Laurent, which is home to the NFB, has also honoured McLaren by naming a borough district after him.

In 1979, the new Edinburgh Filmhouse included two seats dedicated to McLaren and Grierson.[6]

In 2006, McLaren was the subject of a short animated documentary McLaren's Negatives. Also in 2006, the Film Board marked the 65th anniversary of NFB animation with an international retrospective of McLaren's restored classics and a new DVD box set of his complete works.

In June 2013, the NFB released an iTunes app entitled "McLaren's Workshop," allowing users to create their own films using animation techniques utilized by McLaren and providing access to over fifty of his films.[12]

In June 2018, Robert Lepage, principal dancer Guillaume Côté and the National Ballet of Canada staged a ballet entitled Frame by Frame, based on McLaren's life and work.[13]

Filmmaker George Lucas has cited McLaren as an influence on his own work.[14]

Birth centenary events

The 100th anniversary of the birth of McLaren was marked by a project entitled "McLaren Wall-to-Wall" in Montreal's Quartier des Spectacles entertainment district, with short films inspired by McLaren works Neighbours, Begone Dull Care, Synchromy and Spheres projected onto local landmarks.[15]

McLaren's centenary was also celebrated in Scotland with the McLaren 2014 Programme of screenings, exhibitions, events and animation workshops. The Programme was conceived of and directed by animator Iain Gardner who also serves as the Animation Programmer for the Edinburgh International Film Festival. The programme was a key focus within the 68th Edinburgh International Film Festival in June, and ran through to the end of the XX Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in August. The McLaren 2014 Programme was managed by the Centre for the Moving Image, working in partnership with the National Film Board of Canada, and over 20 partners in Scotland and the UK.[16]

In April 2014 his only surviving nephew Douglas Biggar (younger son of Sheena) unveiled a blue heritage plaque on his childhood home marking the centenary of his birth.[17]


In 1968, McLaren was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and, in 1973, Companion of the Order of Canada.[18]

In 1954, the Locarno Film Festival included a block of programming title Homage to Norman McLaren.[19]

In 1975, he was presented with the Winsor McCay Award in recognition of his lifetime contributions to the art of animation.

In 1977, he received an honorary doctorate from Concordia University.[20]

In 1982, he was the first anglophone to receive the Prix Albert-Tessier, given to persons for an outstanding career in Québec cinema.

In 1985, McLaren was named Chevalier of the National Order of Quebec.[21]

In 1986, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the World Festival of Animated Film – Animafest Zagreb.[22]

In 2009, McLaren's works were added to UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme, listing the most significant documentary heritage collections in the world.[23]

Personal life

McLaren was gay. His life partner was fellow NFB director Guy Glover, whom he met at the ballet in London in 1937. They remained together until McLaren's death in 1987.[24][25]


Glasgow School of Art[26]

GPO Film Unit


National Film Board of Canada[27]


Hen Hop (1942)[28]

A Little Phantasy on a 19th-Century Painting (1946)[29]

Fiddle-de-dee (1947)[30]

Begone Dull Care (1949)[31][32]

Dots (1940) and Loops (1940) (released together 1949)[33][34]

Pen Point Percussion (1951)[35]

Now is the Time (1951)[36]

Around Is Around (1951)[37]

Neighbours (1952)[38]

A Phantasy (1952)[39]

Blinkity Blank (1955)

Rythmetic (1956)

A Chairy Tale (1957)

Le Merle (1958)

Short and Suite (1959)

Serenal (1959)

Lines: Vertical (1960)[41]

New York Lightboard (1961)

Christmas Cracker (1963)

Canon (1964)[42]

Mosaic (1965)[43]

Pas de deux (1968)

Spheres (1969)

Synchronomy (1971)

Ballet Adagio (1972)

Animated Motion (1976)[45]

Narcissus (1983)

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Rosenthal, Alan. The new documentary in action: a casebook in film making. University of California Press, 1972. 267-8. Print.
  2. ^ Schaffer, Bill (2005). "The Riddle of the Chicken: The Work of Norman McLaren". Senses of Cinema (35). Retrieved 16 March 2011.
  3. ^ Clark, Ken (Summer 1987). "Tribute to Norman McLaren". Animator (19): 2. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
  4. ^ a b Burant, Jim (2022). Ottawa Art & Artists: An Illustrated History. Toronto: Art Canada Institute. ISBN 978-1-4871-0289-0.
  5. ^ Kozlov, Vladimir (28 May 2009). "Movie of the week – Norman McLaren retrospective". Moscow News.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Dobson, Nichola (25 January 2018). Norman McLaren : between the frames. New York. ISBN 978-1-5013-2879-4. OCLC 1015372165.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  7. ^ a b Liz Faber, Helen Walters (2003). Animation Unlimited: Innovative Short Films Since 1940. Laurence King Publishing. p. 1929. ISBN 1-85669-346-5.
  8. ^ a b c d St-Pierre, Marc (December 2011). "70 Years of Animation, Part 2 – Norman McLaren". NFB Blog. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
  9. ^ Dobson, Nichola. Norman McLaren: Between the Frames. New York: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 87. doi:10.5040/9781501328800-008. ISBN 978-1-5013-2881-7.
  10. ^ Ortega, Marcos (16 July 2006). "Norman McLaren: The Master's Edition". Experimental Cinema. Retrieved 1 April 2011.
  11. ^ Beckerman, Howard (February 2004). Animation: The Whole Story. Allworth Press. pp. 51–52. ISBN 978-1-58115-301-9.
  12. ^ Amidi, Amid (7 June 2013). "NFB's Free McLaren's Workshop iPad App is a Must-Download". Cartoon Brew. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
  13. ^ Demara, Bruce (15 February 2017). "National Ballet and Robert Lepage team on work honouring Norman McLaren". Toronto Star. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  14. ^ Silberman, Steve. "Life After Darth". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 8 October 2023.
  15. ^ Milligan, Mercedes (5 December 2013). "NFB Invites Artists to Celebrate McLaren's 100th". Animation. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
  16. ^ McGill, Hannah (27 March 2014). "McLaren 2014 festival shines a light on underappreciated experimental filmmaker Norman McLaren". The List. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
  17. ^ Wood, Aaron. “Happy 100th Birthday Norman McLaren!”. Skwigly. Published April 11th, 2014. Accessed March 7th, 2023.
  18. ^ "Mr. Norman McLaren". Governor General of Canada. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  19. ^ "8th Locarno Film Festival 1954". Locarno Film Festival. Retrieved 9 March 2023.
  20. ^ Locke, John. "Honorary degree citation - Norman McLaren". Concordia University. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  21. ^ "Norman McLaren". Ordre national du Quebec. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  22. ^ "Animafest Zagreb 1986".
  23. ^ Boswell, Randy (31 July 2009). "Montreal filmmaker honoured by UN". Montreal Gazette. Canwest. Retrieved 4 August 2009. [dead link]
  24. ^ McWilliams, Donald (1990). Creative Process: Norman McLaren.
  25. ^ Glassman, Marc (17 August 2009). "Norman McLaren: Animation genius created poetry". Playback. Brunico Communications. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
  26. ^ "Norman McLaren". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 20 July 2016. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  27. ^ "Production Personnel: Norman McLaren". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  28. ^ "Hen Hop". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  29. ^ "A Little Phantasy on a 19th-century Painting". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  30. ^ "Fiddle-de-dee". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  31. ^ "Begone Dull Care". Berlinale. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  32. ^ "Begone Dull Care". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  33. ^ "Loops". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  34. ^ "Dots". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  35. ^ "Pen Point Percussion". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  36. ^ "Now is the Time". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  37. ^ "Around is Around". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 26 February 2023.
  38. ^ "Neighbours". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  39. ^ "A Phantasy". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  40. ^ "6th Berlin International Film Festival: Prize Winners". Archived from the original on 15 October 2013. Retrieved 26 December 2009.
  41. ^ "Lines: Vertical". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 26 February 2023.
  42. ^ "Canon". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 17 February 2023.
  43. ^ "Mosaic". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 26 February 2023.
  44. ^ "NFB – Collection – Pas de deux". Archived from the original on 8 July 2007. Retrieved 24 December 2005.
  45. ^ "Animated Motion". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 17 February 2023.