CBC Digital Archives

1914: NFB animator Norman McLaren born in Scotland

It's Hollywood's biggest night. The Academy Awards are the most important awards in the entertainment industry and one of the biggest TV events in the world. The stars strut down the red carpet in their finest in anticipation of seeing who'll take home the coveted golden statuette — the Oscar. Since the awards were first handed out in 1929, Canada has enjoyed an impressive track record. CBC Archives pays tribute to a handful of Canadians whose Oscar recognition reverberated back home.

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The films Norman McLaren produced with the National Film Board are legendary. The genius filmmaker was known for his groundbreaking techniques as seen in this black and white TV footage. Almost a decade after his highly acclaimed film, Neighbours, won the 1952 Academy Award for Best Short Subject, McLaren continues to push the boundaries. A committed pacifist, McLaren struggled throughout his career to make films with a strong social political message. 
• Norman McLaren was born in Stirling, Scotland, on April 11, 1914.

• In 1941, the National Film Board invited McLaren to Canada to open its animation studio and train Canadian animators.

• In 1968 he was made an officer of the Order of Canada. He was promoted to companion in 1973.

• McLaren was a constant innovator. He pushed the boundary of traditional "Disney" style of animation. McLaren would scratch, paint and even put holes directly on film, coming up with new ways to combine visuals and sound. His films often didn't have words or a storyline as exemplified in his 1949's Begone Dull Care, which used the music of then up-and-coming jazz pianist Oscar Peterson.

• In his 1952 Oscar winning film, Neighbours, McLaren used stop motion to animate real people, two neighbours, whose friendship deteriorates when they fight over a single flower that blooms between their yards. The eight-minute film with its strong anti-war message is considered one of McLaren's best works.

Neighbours was criticized for being too violent. McLaren actually removed the scene which showed the men murdering each other's families to make it more palatable for the Academy. That edited version won the Oscar.

• McLaren was revered and admired especially by the NFB staff. As heard in Peter Raymont's excellent documentary on Norman McLaren for Sunday Morning, the NFB's staff was very protective of McLaren. They went as far as to cover up his homosexuality, an act which was only decriminalized in 1969. For more on the gay rights movement in Canada visit CBC Archives: Gay and Lesbian Emergence: Out in Canada

• McLaren donated his life's work, over 70 films, to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles.

• Norman McLaren died on Jan. 26, 1987, in Montreal.
Medium: Television
Program: The Lively Arts
Broadcast Date: Nov. 20, 1962
Guest: Norman McLaren
Duration: 2:21
NFB footage courtesy of National Film Board of Canada.

Last updated: April 11, 2014

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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