Friday, May 23, 2014

Pen Point Percussion: How to Animate Sound by Norman McLaren

Animating Sound

Norman McLaren
Norman McLaren with his 1950 animation equipment
Pen Point Percussion: How to Animate Sound by Norman McLaren.

This is a great little documentary on an unknown corner of animation by a legendary pro. It may be of interest to anyone who is curious about how films store sounds.

Believe it or not, traditional animators are not restricted to the realm of sight. They also are able to animate sound without the aid of any tools aside from film and a brush.

This is done precisely the same way that the animator would do visual animation. However, instead of drawing figures, the animator would manipulate geometric shapes on the portion of the film reserved for sound.

Norman McLaren
Drawing on film to create crazy sounds.
Naturally, anyone interested in animating sound now would use all sorts of fancy modern software, synthesizers, and what-have-you to create electronic music. It wouldn't have anything to do with actually putting brush to film. But, at its essence, creating sound can be done simply by drawing directly on film, which essentially is how all sound is stored there, just not by human hand. Watching this gives you a deeper understanding of what film is, and what it actually does.

Norman McLaren, incidentally, was a Scottish-born animator who won many prestigious awards during the 1950s and 1960s, including a BAFTA for Best Animated Film in 1969 ("Pas de deux"). He also did the animation for the US government during World War II. He spent most of his career in Canada.

No animation blog would be complete without some reference to Norman McLaren.

Norman McLaren
The animator at work.
From the youtube page:
An introduction to the hand-drawn sounds of Norman McLaren. Prepared by Don Peters and Lorne Batchelor. 1951.


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