Pinscreen animation makes use of a screen filled with movable pins, which can be moved in or out by pressing an object onto the screen.The screen is lit from the side so that the pins cast shadows. The technique has been used to create animated films with a range of textural effects difficult to achieve with traditional cel animation. The technique was developed by Alexandre Alexeieff and his wife Claire Parker who were often guests of the National Film Board of Canada. They made a total of 6 very short films with it, over a period of fifty years.
Despite their short running time and their monochrome nature they won numerous awards over the years.
The original pinscreen had 240,000 pins which were usually pressed with a small tool, one pin at a time or with other specialized instruments. The pin and frame assembly was built very solidly and mounted in a secure fashion to offer a stable image to the animation camera day after day, week after week as each image of the movie was painstakingly composed. Smaller, cheaper models have been made and a five by seven inch "play" version is sometimes sold in Science museums or through the Web and printed catalogs.
According to Claire Parker, the images created by the pinscreen made it possible to make an animated movie which escaped from the flat, "comic" aspect of cel animation and plunged instead into the dramatic and the poetic by the exploitation of chiaroscuro, or shading effects.
Many computer programs have been made with the goal of simulating the images generated by a physical pinscreen.