Norman McLaren (KL), also known as W.N. McLaren (LP), was born of Scottish descent in Stirling, on April 11, 1914. He went through the Stirling public education system and in 1932, entered Glasgow School of Art. where he later joined the Glasgow Film Society (RC). There he stayed, specializing in interior design (KL), until he finally switched to film in 1935 (LP).While studying there, his interest formed in experimental film and helped form a production group. (KL) This is where he began creating his first films. His first experiment was scratching of the emulsion of the film so it then became transparent(RC).


In 1935 he made Independent films about meat for a retail store, antiwar and Spanish civil war documentaries. After judging an amateur film competition, John Grierson noticed McLaren's work and invited him to join the British General Post Office Film Unit (KL) in 1937 (LP). Working under Grierson proved to be an interesting experience. Grierson wrote,"I have no great interest in films as such. Now and again, shapes, masses, and movements so disport themselves that I have a brief hope that something of the virtue of great painting may one day come to cinema..." (RC).

McLaren gained film training from Alberto Cavalcanti and Evelyn Cherry. At GPO he began his experiments with synthesized sound. Later he went to a London company called Film Centre and made documentaries (KL).


In 1936 McLaren was in Spain filming the Civil War and this later caused him to emigrate to the United States (RC). In 1939 he moved to New York and made films for the Guggenheim Museum of Non Objective Art. His experiments with synthetic sound continued and he developed a technique which produced a chromatic scale over a five octave range. During 1941 Grierson, then the head of the National Film Board of Canada, invited McLaren to join him there. While there UNESCO sent him to China, and in 1953 he was sent to India. In both places he determined how to effectively use films to teach illiterate people proper health rules. From 1950 through 1951 McLaren made some three dimensional experimental films in animation for the festival of Britain. During the end of 1953 he lead a quiet life, with a minor heart ailment. He shared an apartment with NFB producer Guy Glover. Continuing to develop as a film artist he went on to create films such as Rhythmetic, Serenal, Narcissus, La Poulette Grise, and Neighbours .

It was the there at Canada's National Film Board that McLaren remained until he retired. His work continued to win over 200 international prizes, most notable an Academy Award and a Candian Film Award. Before he died McLaren donated his work to the Museum of Modern Art and the Academy of Arts and Sciences as well.

Norman McLaren was a cinematic innovator who made films without cameras, and music without instruments. He produced sixty films in a stunning range of styles and techniques, collecting over 200 international awards, and world recognition. In creative process, director and colleague Donald McWilliams shows McLaren's methods creatively and how they were transformed into cinema. At the death of Norman McLaren (KL) in Quebec (LP) in 1987, the NFB named their headquarters The Norman McLaren Building in honor of this distinguished creator of animated films.

--Khalda Logan (KL) and Laura E. Pochodowicz (LP)
Updated by Rene Cartegena (RC), 2003

Norman McLaren