Neighbours

Norman McLaren (1952)

In this Oscar-winning short film, Norman McLaren employs the principles of animation to animate live actors through the process of pixilation. The story is a parable about two people who come to blows over the possession of a flower.

Neighbours is a 1952 anti-war film by Scottish Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren. Produced at the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal, the film uses pixilation, an animation technique using live actors as stop motion objects. McLaren created the soundtrack of the film by scratching the edge of the film, creating various blobs, lines, and triangles which the projector read as sound.

Neighbours has been described as “one of the most controversial films the NFB ever made”. The eight-minute film was politically motivated:

“I was inspired to make Neighbours by a stay of almost a year in the People’s Republic of China. Although I only saw the beginnings of Mao’s revolution, my faith in human nature was reinvigorated by it. Then I came back to Quebec and the Korean War began. (…) I decided to make a really strong film about anti-militarism and against war.”

Norman McLaren

The version of Neighbours that ultimately won an Oscar was not the version McLaren had originally created. In order to make the film palatable for American and European audiences, McLaren was required to remove a scene in which the two men, fighting over the flower, murdered the other’s wife and children.

During the Vietnam War, public opinion changed, and McLaren was asked to reinstate the sequence. The original negative of that scene had been destroyed, so the scene was salvaged from a positive print of lower quality.

The term pixilation was created by Grant Munro to describe stop-motion animation of humans in his work with McLaren on Two Bagatelles, a pair of short pixilation films made prior to Neighbours. During one brief sequence, the two actors appear to levitate, an effect achieved by having the actors repeatedly jump upward and photographing them at the top of their trajectories.

Pixilation is a stop motion technique in which live actors are used as a frame-by-frame subject in an animated film, by repeatedly posing while one or more frame is taken and changing pose slightly before the next frame or frames. The actor becomes a kind of living stop-motion puppet.

2 Comments

  1. Very interesting film. I was captivated until the end. It makes a strong statement, using creative techniques. Thank you for sharing this.

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