The Shadows Move
By Ken Clark
Len Lye’s early experimental cartoon work using Publicity Pictures facilities resulted in TUSALAVA, released in 1928. EXPERIMENTAL ANIMATION appeared in 1933 while he was employed by the G.P.O. film unit. Two years later he teamed with Humphrey Jennings to make a puppet/model film for Shell Oil entitled BIRTH OF A ROBOT. More cartoons and a number of live-action films followed. Eventually he left Britain and settled in the United States of America. Lye made his name in the early days by drawing and painting direct onto clear film stock. He worked closely with Technicolor forever seeking innovative visual experiences by ‘fooling around’ with the separate colour matrices.
Animating direct-on-to-film was further developed by Norman McLaren, a young Scot. When he was 21 he made his first animated film CAMERA MAKES WHOOPEE. Two years later, in 1937, he made several films for the G.P.O. Film Unit, which included LOVE ON THE WING. The G.P.O. Unit was a hot-bed of creativity. In addition to Len Lye and Norman McLaren there were Cavalcanti, Benjamin Britten and W.H. Auden, led by John Grierson. It is no accident therefore that LOVE ON THE WING was drawn direct on to 35mm film.
McLaren had by now begun his experiments with hand drawn soundtracks. Drawing synthetic sound direct on to film had been pioneered in Holland and Germany by Moholy Nagy and Pfenninger in 1922. By 1932, a number of people, including Rimsky Korsakoff had produced interpretations of classical music. Sid Griffiths drew sound effects on the tracks of some of Anson Dyers ‘Sam Small’ films.
After making THE OBEDIENT PLANE for the Film Centre in 1939, a two reeler involving animated diagrams and live action, McLaren immigrated to America where he continued his work. But his more creative period began when Grierson, now Canadian Film Commissioner, brought him to Ottawa to join the National Film Board of Canada.