Begone Dull Care

Norman McLaren, Evelyn Lambart, Canada, 1949, Office national du film


When, in 1948, Norman McLaren embarked on his latest film he already had 30 and more short animated films, comprising a diverse range of techniques, under his belt. As with Len Lye before him he painted and drew directly on to the 35mm transparent film, and engraved on black filmstock. McLaren also used optical methods such as the Vitacolor system, and then the Warnercolor system to render a black pattern in colour against a light background.

In Begone Dull Care (Caprice en couleur) he brought all of his techniques together in a joyous experiment with new ideas and techniques.  In certain segments he applied a base colour directly on to the film moving through the Moviola in time to the music of the Oscar Peterson Trio. In another section of the film McLaren worked with Evelyn Lambart, his long term collaborator, to apply all sorts of coloured dies, such as a yellow die, to the film - which was held on a 4 meter long wooden rail that he’d created expressly for the purpose. He proceeded to scratch, or etch, drawings and shapes, image by image, in to the film which then appeared yellow or blue against a green background, depending on which layer of ink had been removed. The perfect synchronization between Peterson’s piano and the painted figures, etched or drawn on to the film was achieved by transcribing the musical score by hand on to the dopesheet - a document that breaks down and details every single second that makes up the whole of the of an animation to the 24th of a second. All of these techniques require a complete and unerring mastery of craft - of engraving, painting and printing that is difficult to imagine today. The young McLaren suffered from synaesthesia, and throughout his life, as seen here, with the hypersensitivity ability to hear colour.


painting on film.