June 2004 to March, 2012
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Category — Actionscript 3.0

Thinking about Norman McLaren

John Robert Colombo kindly lent me a compilation set of Norman McLaren DVDs and we’ve been watching the works of Canada’s outstanding animator. McLaren was born in Scotland and went to art school there before he landed in Montreal and went to work for the National Film Board.

He produced experimental films that were half a century ahead of their time, beginning in Scotland in the 1930s but really taking off in Canada in the 40s and 50s. Here is an example of work done by drawing, painting and scratching directly onto film.

My reaction to McLaren’s work surprises me.

On one hand, it’s obviously very advanced for the time it was done and very original, too. Nobody else was doing anything like it. On the other hand, today’s technologies make similar presentations much easier to do, smoother, more polished and more dramatic.

We are so spoiled with amazing visuals now, it can be difficult to appreciate McLaren’s work without making an effort to remember how and when it was done. Just watching his animations, without reference to his painstaking production ingenuity or the absence of precursors to build upon, how does his work stand up? I’m not so sure.

McLaren did a lot of animation with cutouts… paper shapes that he moved about and photographed frame by frame. He created atmospheric backgrounds by making multiple exposures onto the same film. Considering his methods, he got some amazing effects but the same and better can be achieved now by any kid with a copy of Flash.

The work that seems freshest to me is the stuff he made by hand, directly on film. Flash doesn’t do that. The textures of the drawn-on-film works deliver an immediate, personal quality that does stand up. The pace of such films is in keeping with our sped-up expectations, too. Some of McLaren’s work seems too slow for our tastes these days.

The didacticism of his Oscar-winning film Neighbours kind of turns me off and the point McLaren is making is quite laboured. In bread-and-butter propaganda work for the war effort, the campy message seems silly and the animation is sophomoric.

I know I am being unfair. A “peace” message in the Cold War era was quite daring. The whole world ran at a slower pace, too. McLaren’s work would not seem to drag, back then. People probably wanted to spend a lot of time enjoying the novelty of stop motion animation. And everyone’s wartime propaganda looks corny now.

July 11, 2011   1 Comment

More HTML canvas fun, with javascript

It’s a javascript particle emitter I call The Sprinkler and it’s here just because it’s fun to watch. It’s not a movie, it’s randomly running code. No Flash plugin required, but Internet Explorer probably can’t display it.

The script is being displayed in the HTML5 canvas element. I just modified some of the parameters in a piece written by someone who actually know what he’s doing… Andi Smith.

March 19, 2011   1 Comment

More HTML canvas fun

Well, this isn’t a lot of fun to look at, but it is a good demo of the way Flash-like effects can now be generated without Flash.

The animation is calling on one of an increasing number of “libraries” of open source code designed to save time and reduce errors.

This one uses Okapi. Enthusiasts can hook into these libraries to make new things much more easily than they could starting from scratch.

I am including this in the Actionscript category although it’s javascript, because Actionscript is really just Adobe’s form of javascript. Really, do we need Actionscript at all?

March 14, 2011   No Comments

HTML5 and javascript have a beautiful future

You can view this kaleidoscope full screen here. (Well, maybe you can view it. Internet Explorer may not work. Nothing new about that.)

Try this cloth simulation, too.

No Flash plugin required

March 13, 2011   1 Comment

Click his smirk and watch him go.

Get Adobe Flash player

Sheriff Stephen is trotting out the old law and order ammo, getting ready for the next shoot-out at the Minority Corral. What better time to fashion a bobblehead for the Old West P.M.?


A bit of Photoshop to make the caricature and a bit of Flash Actionscript (thanks, Senocular) to make it bob.


The toy is just a fun way to announce that I’m getting back to studying Flash. I hope to throw in some Adobe After Effects in for good measure.

August 30, 2009   7 Comments

Why I am not pursuing Adobe Air

Adobe Air makes it fairly easy to create desktop applications that will work on any computer that can handle Flash… and that’s most computers, regardless of platform. Flash technology is good and it works well for web apps. Why not use it to make desktop apps, then?

Air desktop apps can work directly with a user’s system files. Web apps aren’t allowed to do that, for security reasons. There’s the rub… if you distribute an AIR app, how is anyone supposed to know it won’t do evil things with their files? They have to trust the app. Not a good idea.

To overcome this huge disadvantage, Adobe Air advocates recommend purchase of “code-signing certificates” assuring users that the app was made by the person who has signed the app. That makes the author identifiable and accountable. Fine. But the certificates cost hundreds of dollars. Hobbyists aren’t likely to shell out, just so that they can give their homemade software to strangers. At least I’m not going to.

If I’m making an app just for myself, I don’t have to make it cross-platform. As long as my app works on my Mac, I’m good. Don’t need Air for that. I can share my Mac apps with Mac friends who know me, too.

So no Air for me, thanks. I love Flash and will continue to work with it for browser-based applications. I just don’t see the need for it on the desktop.

June 21, 2009   No Comments

The Obamas will have their hands full!

Friends Blair and Louise have plenty of experience raising their bright, energetic Portuguese Water Dogs. (Same breed as the Obama’s “Beau”). Blair caught some delightful romps with his camera.

After years of watching some of the best commercial photographers in the business, Blair has picked up a few tricks. Nice depth of field work on the lilies and the bird, for example.

Blair was the youngest senior art rep at the famous TDF Artists company before he set up his own Keystone Studios.

April 16, 2009   3 Comments

Stephen Harper nose lengthener

Put your cursor on his nose, press down and drag it out a bit.

Repeat. Squeeze. Squash. Have fun. For a fresh start, just refresh the page.

But wait! There's more! You can make a movie!

Stretch the picture a bit, then click the little arrow for a toolbox. The green play button will animate your changes. You can figure it out from there.

This marvellous web toy is the work of the talented Saverio Caminiti in Rome, Italy. The choice of photograph was mine.

October 1, 2008   4 Comments

Flash billboard transition

Back in the 90s, I designed  outdoor boards for McDonald's, so I've used my own work in this demo of the Actionscript 3.0 billboard transition class. The script was written by the people at Flash&Math in one of their valuable tutorials.

September 7, 2008   No Comments

Toronto Fire Movie… 104 years old!

Renovating the bathroom is taking longer than I planned, so here’s some Flash filler that I came across. It’s amazing stuff actually… film of fire wagons racing up Bay Street over a century ago. It should autostart.


Here’s a link to an archive of photos, if you are interested.

August 7, 2008   1 Comment