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.