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Norman McLaren Synchromy Analysis

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Norman McLaren, born 1914 in Stirling, Scotland, is best known for his contributions in animation. Contrary to what we view today as animation, McLaren's film, Synchomy, utilized the physical and analog process of creating an abstract film which experiments with sounds and corresponding visuals. It wasn't until McLaren had started his studies at the Glasgow School of Art in his home town that he would take interest in using film as a medium for his art.

Originally, his artistic interests were mainly concerned with interior design, but while at school, McLaren joined a film society where he saw films by Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Fischinger, which sparked his interest in using film rather than the traditional styles and processes of art during his time. After seeing such animators, McLaren realized that he could use film in order to display the abstractions made in his mind while listening to music which becomes the clear focus of many of his films and techniques (McWilliams, NFB).

After attending the Glasgow School of Art, McLaren started his work in London under the head of the GPO (General Post Office) Film Unit, John Grierson. His work at the London GPO gave McLaren the skills and knowledge of the actual processes of film-making. Here, he learned how to use metamorphosis, inspired by the French animator, Emil Cohl, as well as surrealism, which is for McLaren, concerned with projecting the subconscious through animation and onto film.

The next noticeable move in McLaren's career was his economically difficult but inspiration filled move to New York where he continued his method of drawing directly onto film and started to take advantage of using hand-drawn sound on the soundtrack area of the film, which created analog tones which sounded like a 4-8 bit processor. He accidentally discovered this method while working at the GPO and used this method throughout the remainder of his career.

In !941, McLaren moved to Canada where he worked again with John Grierson, at the National Film Board of Canada where he made several films for the war effort. Only a year after his employment with the National Film Board of Canada, McLaren was given the opportunity to begin an animation department where he would be able to teach his own philosophy about animation. Although the knowledge of McLaren's artistic techniques were became better understood, the originality of his film still holds its integrity and constitutes as a good method for the study of animation:

First, process reproduction is more independent of the original than manual reproduction. For example, in photography, process reproduction can bring out those aspects of the original that are unattainable to the naked eye yet accessible to the lens, which is adjustable and chooses its angle at will...Secondly, technical reproduction can put the copy of the original into situations which would be out of reach for the original itself. Above all, it enables the original to meet the beholder halfway, be it in the form of a photograph or a phonograph record. (Benjamin)

McLaren's use of film allows for his work with hand-drawn/hand-made illustrations to be better studied while still maintaining the original work's value since his pieces were not entirely mechanically produced. He also acquired new techniques such as chiaroscuro from illustrator/filmmaker Alexandre Alexeieff, which exemplifies a contrast between light and dark. He also developed a new technique called the traveling zoom which gave the viewer the effect of traveling down a river by keeping the subject of the image/scene relatively the same size while there is a significant change in the size of the background.



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