Pierre Hébert, born in Montreal in 1944, was studying anthropology with a view to a career in Nordic archaeology when he began to draw and scratch home-made films directly on to celluloid: Histoire verte (1962), Histoire d’une bébite (1962), Petite histoire méchante (1963), Opus 1 (1964). At the same time he was contributing to the magazine Objectif, and illustrated L’afficheur hurle, a collection of poems by Paul Chamberland.
After joining the NFB in 1965, he made Op Hop – Hop Op (1966), followed by Opus 3 (1967), Autour de la perception/Around Perception (1968) and Notions élémentaires de génétique/Fundamental Principles in Genetics (1971), four abstract films, as well as Explosion démographique/Population Explosion (1967), an educational film.
The second, more political period of his career was inspired by years of activism and close study of the works of Marx and Brecht: Père Noël, père Noël /Santa Claus is Coming Tonight (1974), Entre chiens et loup (1978), Souvenirs de guerre/Memories of War (1982). For Étienne et Sara, a transitional film completed in 1984, he collaborated with the Belgian poet Serge Meurant. Now for the first time he was taking an interdisciplinary approach. The films that followed – Chants et danses du monde inanimé – Le métro/Songs and Dances of the Inanimate World: The Subway (1985), Ô Picasso – Tableaux d’une surexposition (1985), Adieu bipède (1987) – brought him into close collaboration with improvisational musicians, which encouraged him to attempt scratching film live, in front of an audience. He did this for the first time in 1986 during Jean Derome’s multidisciplinary show Confitures de gagaku. It was followed by other performances, including Adieu bipède (1987) and Adieu Leonardo (1987). The short film La lettre d’amour (1988) and the feature-length La plante humaine (1996) represent the apogee of this period of intense creative activity.
From 1996 to 1999, Hébert was director of the NFB’s French animation studio, and produced a number of films, including Michèle Cornoyer’s Le chapeau/The Hat (1999), the last film he produced.
He then left the NFB and continued to pursue a rigorously demanding career, giving a series of performances with the American musician Bob Ostertag and creating digital works as an independent filmmaker: Between Science and Garbage (2003), Variations sur deux photographies de Tina Modotti (2004), La statua di Giordano Bruno (2005) and The Technology of Tears (2005). He also published two books on animation film, L’ange et l’automate (1999, Les 400 coups) and Corps, langage, technologie (2005, Les 400 coups). In 2004 the government of Quebec awarded him the Albert-Tessier Prize.