Pinscreen animation is not well-known among most animation fans, understandably: not very many films have been made using the painstaking medium to begin with, and even then they are far removed from standard mediums of animation aesthetically and thematically. But anyone who seeks the best of them out will be rewarded with surreal, often impressionistic gems that open up new possibilities for animated expression.
The pinscreen is a device consisting of several (as in, up to over a million) small pins in holes; with some effort, the pins can be pushed into and out of their holes. The screen is then lit from an angle such that the pins create varying shadows, depending on how much they protrude from the screen; taken together, the shadows can create images that resemble engravings, complete with chiaroscuro (striking use of light and dark shadings). As the images are viewed directly at the front of the screen, the pins themselves do not affect any one given image more than they do another, no matter how far out they stick.
There is one big problem, though: it is difficult and time-consuming to manipulate the pinscreen in order to create the desired images, let alone animate them. The device was created by Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker in the early 1930s, and they would create a number of interesting films over a span of several decades, two of the most notable being Night on Bald Mountain (set to Mussorgsky’s famous piece as arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov) and The Nose (from the Gogol short story of the same name). In 1972, the National Film Board of Canada acquired a pinscreen, and Alexeieff and Parker were invited to demonstrate the device to the animators there.
However, only UCLA-returned newcomer Jacques Drouin, who had been acquainted with pinscreen animation since seeing The Nose at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the 60s, would use the pinscreen regularly and explore its capabilities. Carrying on Alexeieff’s legacy, between 1974 and 2004 Drouin made six films at the NFBC using the pinscreen (one, Nightangel, in collaboration with Czech stop-motion animator Břetislav Pojar), as well as a segment for Kihachiro Kawamoto’s collaborative film Winter Days.
Perhaps his most well-known film, if not his masterpiece, is Mindscape, released in 1976.