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McLaren's Workshop App

Rebecca Tharp
August 23, 2013 by Rebecca Tharp Staff

Hiya Vimeo pals!

Katie and Rebecca here, resident animation makers, lovers, and appreciators!

Here on Vimeo, it’s hard NOT to notice how special and vibrant our animation community is, what with so many amazing corners of the site to find animated gems. Vimeo is brimming with talented folks looking to animate – and at all levels! Professional animators, doodlers, casual stop-motioners are all welcome and invited to engage and share with each other on the site.

We’re happy to report that it’s now even easier to dip into the world of animation and share on Vimeo. Check out McLaren’s Workshop, an iPad app from the National Film Board of Canada.

The app was created in the name of Norman McLaren, an avant-garde filmmaker and animator. McLaren was a huge innovator in the film industry, developing fresh new styles of animation, such as drawn-on-film and visual music. His full biography (very interesting!) and 51 of his original films (very beautiful!) are available on the app for free. One thing that we especially love is that the app offers a direct share-to-Vimeo feature, so it's extra easy to upload your McLaren Workshop creation straight to the animation community right here!

The app itself provides several tools and methods for creating original animations inspired by McLaren’s work. The app offers three different technique-based workshops. The first is the free (!!!) option, called Paper Cut-Out. For an animator, this means placing paper cut-out items onto a surface, and photographing one or two frames from above. Then, the items are slightly modified and photographed again to create a sense of movement. This is repeated several hundred times until the motion is fully captured. And then, out of nowhere, VOILA! You've got an animation. Katie and I will guide you through the Paper Cut-Out technique here:

Getting Started: Once you've opened up the Paper Cut-Out portion of the app, choose the button in the lower right-hand side of the screen that says "Create a Film".

Setting the Stage: You'll see a fun and simple workspace on which to begin animating. By default, the app will provide you with a background image. You can change or remove this image by pressing on the mountain icon. We prefer a clean slate, so we're going to select "No Background".

Choose a Paper Pal: The shapes running along the left side of the screen are your bits of "paper", which have been "cut" into four different variations. Choose a shape to start animating with! We happen to really dig that little circle.

Set Up your First Frame: Once you've chosen a shape, decide where you'd like it to appear in the first frame of your animation, and resize it to your liking. Resizing may seem tricky, but it isn't. Check it out!

Adding Frames: Now that your shape is in position, you've got yourself a first frame! Now it's time to add another. To do this, click the + button in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. You've got two different views for seeing frames, toggle between them at the top of the screen to see which you prefer.

Shape Shifting: Once you've got a new frame, it's time to move your shape! To make animating easier, we recommend turning on the app's "ghosting" tool. This way, you'll see where your shape was in the previous frame, so you'll know how far to move it. We want our circle to shoot out from the corner, growing bigger as it moves.

Repetition is your Best Friend: Continue adding frames and moving your shape slightly each time. You can test out your animation as you go by pressing the little play icon the the bottom center of the screen.

Mistakes and Do-Overs: Want to delete a frame? Click the little trash can icon in the bottom left of the screen. Need to undo something? The little arrow icon can hook you up.

Credits, Music, and FPS: To the right of the mountain icon, you'll see a settings gear button. Tap this to create a title for your animation, name your director(s), choose a soundtrack, and select your frames per second. Keep in mind that a higher number will result in quicker movement!

Save Your Film: Once you're satisfied with your creation, it's time to share it with the world! Click the export icon in the upper right hand corner of the screen, and share it directly to Vimeo!

And it's that easy! If these two gals can do it, so can you.

The second technique workshop offered is called Synthetic Sound, and you can unlock the powers of this one for only $2.99. Synthetic Sound matches images with electronic sounds to create a motion-based, vibrant soundtrack.

The third and last technique workshop, also available for $2.99, is called Etching on Film. This is one of the styles McLaren was known best for, and it involves drawing, scratching, or painting directly onto film strips. This style does not involve a camera or photography at all; it simply requires some imagination, some tools, and film stock.

So, there you have it! Thanks to the NFB of Canada, we now have one more simple way to share animations to Vimeo. We can't wait to see what you guys whip up. For some ideas of what's possible with the app, check out a few examples currently on the site, from such all-stars as Don Hertzfeldt and David O'Reilly, amongst others:

Okay, bye! We can't wait to see your animations, you beautiful geniuses.


Sandiip Khanal

what about animators who use android? Though waiting for android app.

BK Tan

I am curious what you used for the animated gifs (is that correct)?

R Hill Plus

I programmed something I called the McLarenator a while back, it just makes the audio, not the animation. I made it after seeing Pen Point Percussion.

You can see an example of me playing with the McLarenator here and there's a download for the program:


ТВОРИТЬ ЧТО-ЛИБО - ЭТО ХОРОШО, а создать "шедевр" - это ГЕНИАЛЬНО!
Я - за гениальность! И это дорогого стоит.

David Roger

As a member of the small team behind this app, thanks for this walkthrough!


Este es el principio para rodar mi película en dos lenguas sobre la vida de juan el bautista.

Muchas gracias amigos de Vímeo y thanks too Don and David


Wow it looks like you guys had lots of fun there. Great app too!

Lyaisan Baibulova

"And it's that easy! If these two gals can do it, so can you." - that's sexist.

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