Cosmic Zoom


Cosmic Zoom (1968) is a short, semi-animated film by Eva Szasz, one of the many great shorts financed by the National Film Board of Canada. When I wrote about this in 2006 there was only a low-res version available for viewing on the NFB site while Powers of Ten (1977), a very similar film by Charles and Ray Eames, could be seen on YouTube. Three years on and Powers of Ten has disappeared behind a registration wall but Cosmic Zoom can now be seen in higher quality on the newly relaunched NFB site. A shame about the annoyingly obtrusive onscreen logo but it’s worth browsing the site for more of their excellent animations, not least the work of Norman McLaren. The time when these shorts would regularly turn up on UK TV are long gone so it’s good to know that they’re now available for viewing any time we wish.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Norman McLaren
Cosmic Zooms

Norman McLaren


Pas de Deux (1968).

News of a theatre piece celebrating the creativity of Norman McLaren, the pioneering Scots (and gay) animator and film-maker, had me searching YouTube again for his work. His short film Neighbours (1952) is very well-known, oft-cited and imitated for its pixillated character movement. No surprise to see it there, then, along with other works such as Boogie Doodle (1941), Fiddle Dee Dee (1947), A Phantasy (1952), Blinkety Blank (1955) and several others.

Less well-known is a favourite film of mine which hadn’t been YouTubed last time I looked but which is now there in two parts, Pas de Deux (1968). This is a black and white film of a simple ballet performance transformed by its presentation to yield something that could only exist on film. Careful lighting, an atmospheric score, judicious use of slow motion and the stunning application of optical printing to multiply and mirror the figures makes one of the best ballet films I’ve ever seen; it was also one of McLaren’s personal favourites among his many films. He used slow motion again for two more dance works, Ballet Adagio (1972) and Narcissus (1983), one of his final films which impresses for its overt homoerotics but is less striking than its predecessor. The only version of the latter on YouTube is this scratch version with the visuals set to more recent music.


Narcissus (1983).

The best way to see McLaren’s incredible films is at a decent resolution, of course, and the National Film Board of Canada have made them available on a seven-DVD box set.


The theatre work mentioned above is Norman by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon which is at Macrobert, Stirling, from 17–19 April, 2008 then the Theatre Royal, Brighton from 6–10 May, 2008.

In an improbable act of theatrical alchemy, dancer/choreographer Peter Trosztmer literally inhabits McLaren’s cinematic universe. He dances, weaves, converses and interacts with the animator’s pulsing images and leaping figures, set loose in a riotous ballet of line, light and movement.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Reflections of Narcissus

Cosmic zooms


Cosmic Zoom was a short animated film by made by Eva Szasz in 1968 for the National Film Board of Canada.

This film probes the infinite magnitude of space, and its reverse, the ultimate minuteness of matter. Animation art and animation camera achieve this journey to the farthest conceivable point of the universe and then into the tiniest particle of existence—an atom of a living human cell—with a freshness and clarity that would seem impossible with other means of exposition. Film without words.

The film zooms out from a boy rowing a boat across a lake, into the farthest reaches of space, then back down to earth again to focus on a mosquito on the boy’s arm, then further down into cells and atoms.

A similar film called Powers of Ten (from which the still above is borrowed) was made in 1977 by Charles and Ray Eames. The Eames’ film is a lot more detailed and with a running commentary full of scientific information. You can see it on YouTube here.

The ultimate Eamesian expression of systems and connections, Powers of Ten explores the relative size of things from the microscopic to the cosmic. The 1977 film travels from an aerial view of a man in a Chicago park to the outer limits of the universe directly above him and back down into the microscopic world contained in the man’s hand. Powers of Ten illustrates the universe as an arena of both continuity and change, of everyday picnics and cosmic mystery. The film also demonstrates the Eameses’ ability to make science both fascinating and accessible.

Just to show the persistence of a fascinating idea, there’s a nice java animation here.

View the Milky Way at 10 million light years from the Earth. Then move through space towards the Earth in successive orders of magnitude until you reach a tall oak tree just outside the buildings of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida. After that, begin to move from the actual size of a leaf into a microscopic world that reveals leaf cell walls, the cell nucleus, chromatin, DNA and finally, into the subatomic universe of electrons and protons.