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Techniques

Pixillation

Shooting of the film <strong><em>Neighbours</em></strong> (1952) in a park in the city of Ottawa. © NFB

Shooting of the film Neighbours (1952) in a park in the city of Ottawa. © NFB

<strong><em>Neighbours</em></strong> (1952) -Norman McLaren. © NFB

Neighbours (1952) -Norman McLaren. © NFB

Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart while producing <strong><em>A Chairy Tale</em></strong> (1957). © NFB

Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart while producing A Chairy Tale (1957). © NFB

<strong><em>A Chairy Tale</em></strong> (1957) - Claude Jutra and Norman McLaren. © NFB

A Chairy Tale (1957) - Claude Jutra and Norman McLaren. © NFB

Shooting of the film <strong><em>Monsieur Pointu</em></strong> (1975). © NFB

Shooting of the film Monsieur Pointu (1975). © NFB

<strong><em>Monsieur Pointu</em></strong> (1975) - André Leduc and Bernard Longpré. © NFB

Monsieur Pointu (1975) - André Leduc and Bernard Longpré. © NFB

By Marcel Jean
Animation Expert

Norman McLaren coined the term pixillation for the stop-motion animation technique that consists in shooting, one frame at a time, characters or objects whose movements are controlled entirely by the filmmaker. He used this technique in Neighbours (1952), a powerful antiwar fable, then in A Chairy Tale (1957) and Opening Speech (1961), two films in which the story turns on the refusal of an everyday object (a chair and a microphone) to behave as expected.

The origins of pixillation go back to the "trick films" using special effects that marked the early years of filmmaking. Examples are some of the tricks of Georges Méliès, the famous El Hotel electrico by Segundo de Chomon (1905) of Spain and Le mobilier fidèle by Roméo Bosetti of France (1912).

More than any other animation technique, pixillation is closely bound to reality. The interaction of actors and objects in a three-dimensional setting introduces a series of references to reality. This has an influence on the choice of subjects dealt with in films that use this technique. It is no accident, for example, that McLaren made his most political works with this process.

Robert Awad made judicious use of the technique, in combination with others, in his parodies of documentaries, The Bronswik Affair (co-directed by André Leduc, 1978) and Amuse-gueule (1983). Yet it was Leduc who made most frequent use of pixillation at the NFB. In three films—Tout écartillé (1974), Monsieur Pointu (co-directed by Bernard Longpré, 1975) and Chérie, ôte tes raquettes (1976)—he explores the technique's potential for fantasy.


The theme of Tout écartillé and Chérie, ôte tes raquettes is the frenzy of the modern world, a theme that Roland Stutz explored further in his Taxi, illustrating a song by Claude Léveillée, a film that exploits the speeded-up effect obtained with pixillation.

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