Animator Biographies
syllabus | schedule | topics | projects | class notes | resources | timeline | bios | students | ARTC courses

Len Lye
July 5, 1901 - May 15, 1980
New Zealand/United States

Len Lye was born Leonard Charles Huia Lye in Christchruch, New Zealand in 1901 and at the age of 15, decided to be a kinetic artist. Len Lye’s earliest works did not revolve around animation yet he relied on painting, sculpture and experimental writing. His early years were spent studying the Maori and other aboriginal people and their art forms. His sculptures are perhaps his most well known, playing off of the illusion of movement and off the reality of movment. Beginning his career as a kinetic artist around the age of 60, Lye’s body of work is relatively small but nonetheless impressive. Lye’s tangible motion sculptures were fist shown in 1961. He believed his kinetic sculpture were not “objects in motion” but rather “pure figures of motion.”

Lye has been described as a eccentricity among the artist world, and his contributions to animation may be describe similar. Lye’s fascination with motion probably is what led him into animation. He made use of colored films and stop motion in his animations. He also brought the appearance of his kinetic sculptures in to many of his films by playing with lines and shapes and even puppetry. Lye felt that animators should embrace the art form and not stick to any one idea. He was one of the first to work with “direct animation”, scratching and painting directly on the flim.

His first animation film was Tusalav in 1929. Within his films Another film, Colour Box in 1935 received wide praise in 2005 when the Annecy Film Festival ranked it among the top ten most influential animations of all time. Colour Box is a hand-painted film synchronized to music to create a pleasing visual dance. Another of Lye’s films, Free Radicals, placed in the top fifty, is a black and white film consisting of scratches and lines synchronized to African tribal music.

Most of Lye’s work is now housed at the Govett-Brewster Art gallery in New Plymouth, New Zealand.

Online Links:

Animations Produced:
  • Tusalava, 1929
  • Kaleidoscope, 1935
  • A Colour Box, 1935
  • Rainbow Dance, 1936
  • Birth of a Robot, 1936
  • Trade Tattoo, 1937
  • Full Fathom Five, 1937
  • Colour Flight , 1937
  • North or Northwest? (N or NW?), 1938
  • Swinging the Lambeth Walk, 1940
  • Musical Poster Number One , 1940
  • When the Pie Was Opened, 1941
  • Kill or Be Killed, 1942
  • EColour Cry, 1952
  • Rhythm, 1957
  • Free Radicals, 1958 revised 1979
  • Particles in Space, 1986
  • Tal Farlow, completed posthumously, 1980


Submitted by: Ashlea Schneider
as part of ARTC 400, Principles of Animation
Bowling Green State University
Prof. Bonnie Mitchell