NFB’s Free McLaren’s Workshop iPad App is a Must-Download

McLaren’s Workshop is a free iPad app from the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) that provides access to over fifty films by experimental filmmaker Norman McLaren and allows users to create their own films with animation techniques used by McLaren. I was impressed when I previewed the app last fall at the NFB’s Montreal headquarters, and now that I’ve had a chance to play with it more extensively, I can confirm that it’s a no-brainer download for anyone with even the slightest interest in animation.

The fifty-one shorts on the app include all of McLaren’s best known works such as Begone Dull Care, Blinkity Blank, Le Merle, Neighbours and Pas de Deux as well as plenty of rarities dating back to the early-1930s. It makes me think back to the 1990s, when I saw my first McLaren film on an ancient stretched-out videotape, and I can only marvel at how easy this app makes it to view such a varied assortment of his work. Color plays an important role in McLaren’s films, and it is rich and vibrant throughout thanks to film restorations that were done in 2006 for the DVD set Norman McLaren: The Masters Edition. In addition to the films, there are eleven documentaries in which McLaren and his colleagues discuss process, an illustrated biography, and an extensive essay by McLaren documentarian Donald McWilliams.

The app points forward to a new way of learning animation history in the 21st century, in which understanding a filmmaker’s work isn’t done through passive activities like reading a book or watching a film, but rather by making films of one’s own. McLaren’s Workshop contains three separate programs that allow the user to create animation using digital tools that approximate the techniques of cut-out animation, scratch-on-film, and synthetic sound, the latter of which will appeal particularly to those with a music background.

The cut-out workshop is free, the other two workshops are each a $2.99 in-app purchase. While pinching-and-zooming on an iPad doesn’t create the same visceral, sensory experience of manipulating paper cut-outs by hand or scratching onto film stock, the workshops are elegantly designed for simplicity and intuitive usage. They provide an excellent entry point to McLaren’s animation techniques for students and novices, although as you’ll see below, the tools are robust enough for professional filmmakers to have fun, too.

A couple other features worth pointing out: firstly, the app allows users to store McLaren’s shorts for up to 48 hours of off-line viewing, and additionally, during the first two months of the app’s release, users can upload their own films from the program directly to Vimeo accounts.

Start your weekend right and download a copy of McLaren’s Workshop on the Apple Store. And to get a little inspiration for what can be done with McLaren’s Workshop, check out these films made by top indie animators using the new app:

I Am Alone and My Head is On Fire by David OReilly (scratch-on-film)

Day Sleeper by Don Hertzfeldt (scratch-on-film)

Bon App by Regina Pessoa (cut-out)

Five Fire Fish by Koji Yamamura (scratch-on-film)

Barcode Transmission by Renaud Hallée (synthetic sound)

Cyclop(e) by Patrick Doyon (scratch-on-film)

(Disclosure: The NFB is a sponsor of Cartoon Brew.)


  • Ryan

    Great. More bad news for us folks without an iPad. Looks good though, especially what animators are already doing with it. Koji Yamamura’s is definitely my favorite.

  • VS

    Amazing, however for some reason the sound is not working on this app for me?