Parker, Claire (1906–1981)

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Parker, Claire (1906–1981)

American pioneer film animator who, with husband Alexander Alexeieff, co-invented the "pin screen" method, involving the illumination of thousands of pinheads to produce a printlike effect in animated films. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1906 (some sources cite 1907); died in 1981; attended Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania; also studied in Austria and France; married Alexander Alexeieff (an animator), in 1941.

Selected filmography:

Night on Bald Mountain (1933); Étude sur L'Harmonie des Lignes (1934); Rubens (1935); En Passant (1942); The Nose (1963); Pictures at an Exhibition (1972); Three Moods (Trois Thèmes, 1980).

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1906, Claire Parker studied art at Bryn Mawr College and in Europe, where she met and fell in love with Russian-born animator Alexander Alexeieff in 1931. They immediately became collaborators and in 1932 began work on an animated interpretation of composer Modest Mussorgsky''s Night on Bald Mountain (1933). One of Parker's major contributions to the film was the coordination of music and image, a difficult task at the time, since the music track could not be transferred to tape. The film, now considered a classic, is included in nearly every film library in the Western world. In 1935, Parker produced Rubens, based on an exhibition at Paris' Orangerie and one of the first films of its kind. During the '30s and '50s, the couple also made a number of innovative advertising films, including Étude Sur L'Harmonie des Lignes (Exercise in Line Harmony), which Parker directed in 1934.

The "pin screen" technique that the couple co-invented has been likened to the pointillism technique used by painter Georges Seurat (1859–1891). Parker detailed the procedure in a 1961 article:

The pinboard is a black-and-white technique somewhat analogous to the half-tone process: the picture is made up of a very large number of very small black elements on a white ground. The darkness of a tone corresponds to the individual size of each black element on a given portion of the white ground…. The further forward a pin is pushed, the longer its shadow becomes. As there are a million pins on a board, we never consider the pins individually, but always as a group, like paint on a brush.

Parker and Alexeieff married in 1941, and moved to the United States that same year, but they returned to France in 1947. They continued to make animated films until 1980, including the interpretation of another Mussorgsky composition, Pictures at an Exhibition (1972). Alexeieff, who had the more prominent name in animation at the time, was always generous in acknowledging Parker's contribution to their collaboration. "If there had been no Claire Parker," he once said, "I would have never done animation. I would never have been capable of doing it alone."


Acker, Ally. Reel Women. NY: Continuum, 1991.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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