July 16, 2006
For 65 years, the place to see animated shorts has been the National Film Board of Canada. They've underwritten some of the most interesting animation of the 20th century. To celebrate their 65th year, the NFB has put up a website with 50 of its "greatest hits," little (under 10 minute) masterpieces. One name still deserves to be remembered: Norman McLaren (1914-1987). This Scots-born filmmaker, trained as a dancer, put together the NFB's first animation team, but earned a larger place in animation history.
By the time the NFB was founded in 1941, McLaren was already going far beyond the medium's uses and conventions. He scratched patterns into film emulsion (the 1955 Blinkity Blank), or wiped the emulsion off altogether and painted onto the celluloid (the 1942 Hen Hop). He experimented with stop-motion animation, using people rather than miniature figures (1952's Neighbours and the 1957 A Chairy Tale, with music by Ravi Shankar). He later focused on dancers and dance, and was still making films up to the year before his death.
However, while most avant-garde artists fade away, McLaren's unique work has been kept alive by, of all people, Hideaki Anno, the creator of anime which draw on techniques McLaren pioneered. All of the above-mentioned techniques find their way into Neon Genesis Evangelion, His and Her Circumstances, and FLCL."And it's one thing to say all of this, but finally there's a handy stop on the web where we can see McLaren's bold yet whimsical experiments, and recognize in them similarities to Anno's own risky animation.