Work Biography


Caroline Leaf's animated films are renowned for their emotional content and graphic style, which evolves from the innovative handcrafted animation techniques that she has invented. Her art is tied to storytelling and to exploring the unusual materials that she uses for drawing and making movement. At different times, this has been beach sand manipulated on a lightbox, watercolor and gouache fingerpainting on glass, and images made by scratching in the soft emulsion of exposed color 35mm and 70mm film stock.

Leaf began to make animated films while she was a student at Radcliffe College, Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It was 1968 and 16mm film technology was becoming relatively cheap. Processing labs were proliferating. The craft of filmmaking was more widely accessible than ever before. Liberal arts colleges and universities were starting to teach filmmaking. Harvard offered a class in animation taught by Derek Lamb. Leaf’s first film, ‘Sand or Peter and the Wolf’, was made with a jar of local beach sand poured out onto a light box. Lit from below and manipulated with her fingers, the film’s black and white silhouetted sand figures move in a fluid and shadowy world. The camera was fixed to the wall above the lightbox.  From these beginnings, Leaf developed a style of animating that was an ongoing process of drawing, shooting and redrawing the images to create a sense of movement.  Her subsequent films are refinements and extensions of this handmade straight ahead under-the-camera technique.

Caroline Leaf and Mary Beams discuss their early animation work with
Robert Gardner in his TV broadcast program Screening Room:

In 1972 Leaf moved to Montreal at the invitation of the National Film Board of Canada, a publicly funded Canadian production center which allows it’s filmmakers considerable creative freedom. It is famous for it’s animation productions. Leaf worked there as a staff animator/director until 1991. She also became a naturalized Canadian citizen.

caroline at camera

In the camera room

Her major animated films from the Montreal years are:

The Owl Who Married a Goose (1974) an adaptation of an Inuit legend,
The Street (1976) adapted from a short story by Mordecai Richler,  which received an Academy Award
            nomination and was voted 2nd best animation film of all time by the Olympiad of Animation
            Los Angeles 1984,
The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa (1977) adapted from Franz Kafka's story 'The Metamorphosis' and
            begun with a grant from the American Film Institute,
Interview (1979) an autobiographical collaboration with director Veronika Soul,
Two Sisters/Entre Deux Soeurs (1990) an original story etched in the layers of 70mm film emulsion.

owl who married a goose

The Owl Who Married
a Goose


The Street

2 sisters

Two Sisters


To watch the following films at the NFB on-line screening room:

to view
The Street
to view La Rue
to view Two Sisters
CLICK HERE to view Le Mariage du Hibou/The Owl Who Married a Goose

In 1984, the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences organized a mammoth event with 50 critic and filmmaker judges from all over the world. All animated films ever made were judged in this international ‘Olympic' competition, and Caroline Leaf's film ‘The Street' came in second, winning comfortably over Disney and all other commercial productions'. John Canemaker This event was organized to coincide with the 1984 Olympic Games which were held in Los Angeles. First place went to Yuri Norstein's film Tale of Tales.

The Street


The Street


The Street


Leaf’s under-the-camera techniques were necessarily solo work. They did not allow for teamwork as was possible in traditional cel or computor drawn styles of animation studio production. Leaf was director and animator for all of her films, as well as designer, story adaptor and/or scriptwriter, and she worked closely on the sound tracks and editing of her films. The films were initially distributed in 16mm film format for educational purposes to Canadian audiences. Because of the National Film Board’s worldwide distribution system and the network of animation film festivals that were springing up, Leaf’s films also became known to a world audience interested in animation.


Leaf has made a small number of commercial animations. In Montreal, she worked for Pascal Blais Productions. She has been affiliated with Acme Filmworks in Los Angeles.  With Acme she made a 4 minute film commissioned by the Underground Railroad National Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.


Mammy & daughter

© National Underground Railroad Freedom Center



Honors include being a jury member for international animation festivals in Cracow, Poland, Annecy France, Varna Bulgaria, and Ottawa Canada. She had a Cineprobe retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art, has been a guest of the Israel Film Archive and Cinemateque in Jerusalem, and in 1985 was a guest of the Union of Soviet Filmmakers, touring the former Soviet Union with her films. She and her films were featured at the American Film Institute Lanz Seminar of Animation in Los Angeles, and her films were shown for 2 weeks at the Film Forum in New York.

film for two

She was honored with a Guardian Lecture at the National Film Theater in London. Her work was displayed in the Museum of the Moving Image, London Southbank. 

photo by Marion Walter

In 1996 she received a Life Achievement Award from the Zagreb International Animation Festival. CLICK HERE TO READ


The Street
Academy Award Nomination (1977), Grand Prix at the Ottawa International Animation Festival (1976), named 2nd best film of all time in the world by the Olympiad of Animation in Los Angeles (1984),

The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa
Grand Prix at the International Festival of Short Films Cracow, Poland (1978),

Grand Prix at Melbourne (1980),

Two Sisters
Grand Prix at the 4th Los Angeles International Animation Celebration (1991), Grand Prix at Ottawa International Animation Festival  (1992).


Loeb Grant, Harvard University Fellowship, 1970

American Film Institute Independent Filmmakers’ Grant, 1970

Member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts

Nomination to the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, London, 1976

Wendy Michner Award, Canadian Film Awards, 1976

Canada Council Production Grant, 1983

Norman McLaren Award, Ottawa 1994

Life Achievement Award, 12th World Festival of Animated Films Zagreb, 1996

Doctor of Fine Arts, College for Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan, 2003

Master of Arts, The Surrey Institute of Art and Design, University College, Farnham, 2003

Masterworks Award for 'The Street', AV Preservation Trust, Ottawa, Canada 2004

Life Achievement Award Luna de Valencia, Valencia, Spain 2004

Life Achievement Award Prix Klingsor 2006, the Bienale animacie Bratislava, Bratislava, Slovakia 2006

Voted member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills, CA 2008

The Caroline Leaf Collection established at the Harvard Film Archive, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, 2008. Address: 24 Quincy Street, Cambridge, Mass. 02138, USA


International Festival of Short Films, Cracow, Poland, 1979

International Festival of Animation, Annecy, France, 1979

Athens Film Festival, Athens, Ohio, 1979

The Artists’ Foundation, Fellowship Program for State Grants in Film, Boston, Mass.

International Animated Film Festival Varna ‘81, Varna, Bulgaria, 1981

Canadian Independent Short Film showcase of the Canada Council, Toronto, Ontario, 1982

Concordia University Student Film Festival, Montreal, 1983

Cinanima ‘84, Espinho, Portugal, 1984

Selection Committee Concordia University of head of Animation Dept, Montreal,

Ottawa ‘88 International Animation Festival, Ottawa, 1988

International Festival of Short Films, Bilbao, Spain, 1999

BAFTA animation awards, London, England, 1999

BAA (British Animation Awards), London, England, 1999

Chiavari Animation Festival, Chiavari, Italy 2004

BAA (British Animation Awards), London, England 2008

Zagreb World Festival of Animated Film - Animafest main jury, Zagreb 2008

Fantoche International Film Festival, Baden, Switzerland 2009



Leaf travels widely showing her films, teaching, and giving workshops. Her teaching experience includes a workshop for children at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and an 8 week course in her animation techniques at the Queensland College of Art in Brisbane, Australia. From 1996 - '98 she was the instructor of animation at Harvard University. She was a part-time instructor in animation at Konstfack in Sweden from 2003 – 2005, and from 2005 – 2008 was a part-time senior tutor at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield outside London.


Full time lecturer in animation, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. 1996 - 1998

Part time animation instructor, Konstfack, Sweden  2002 - 2005

Part time senior tutor in animation at the National Film and Television School, Beaconsfield, near London 2005 - 2009


Two week animation workshop, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1977

One week animation workshop at Filmex, Los Angeles, California, 1978

Atlantic Film Coop, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1979

One week animation workshop at Macomb County Library, Mount Clemens, Michigan, 1979

Sound workshop with members of Mobius Theater, Boston, Mass., with one performance, 1979

Participant in Directors’ Workshop w Marushka Stankova, National Film Board, Montreal, 1980

One week animation workshop at University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1981

Two days pixillation workshop at Oxbow High School, (7th graders), Bradford, Vermont, 1983

Three days pixillation workshop with children, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minn., 1984

Participant as performer in one week bouffon theater with Grant Heisler, Montreal, 1985

Three days pixillation & storytelling workshop, Cambridge, England, 1985

Three day animation workshop, INCINE, Managua, Nicaragua, 1985

Four day animation workshop, VII Semaine du Dessin Anime, Bruxelles, Belgium, 1988

Eight week course in under-the-camera animation techniques, Queensland College of Art, Brisbane, Australia, 1994

Two day workshop for Brisbane Independent Filmmakers, Brisbane, Australia, 1994

Scratch animation workshop, 2nd Irish Animation Festival, Dublin, Ireland, 1994

Royal College of Art, London, England, June 1997

University College of Wales, Newport, Gwent, June 1997

One week workshop Pro Helvetia, Cracow, Poland, June 1998

Universidad del Pais Vasco, Bilbao, Spain, November 1999

One week scratch and sound workshop, National Film School, London, England 2000

Visiting Lecturer, Surrey Institute of Art and Design, Farnham, England 2002

4 day under-the-camera workshop, National Film and Television School, London, '02,'03,'04

Under-the-camera animation, Academy of Media Arts, Cologne, Germany November 2001, 2004

One week sand and scratch workshop Volda, Norway, April 2005

3 day sand workshops at University of the Balearic Islands and Sa Taronja, Majorca, June 2007

3 days sand workshop Tokyo University of the Arts, Yokohama, Japan, October 2011


Filmex, Los Angeles, California, 1977

Center Screen, Carpenter Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., 1978

McGill University, Montreal, 1978

Philadelphia College of Art, 1979

New School for Social Research, New York, N.Y., 1979

Museum of Modern Art, Cineprobe retrospective, New York, N.Y., 1979

Port Washington Public Library, Port Washington, N.Y., 1979

South Carolina Arts Commission Independent American Filmmakers Southern Circuit, 1980

Chicago Art Institute, Chicago, Illinois, 1980

Concordia University, Montreal, 1979,1981,1983,1985,1987

Champlain College, Montreal, 1979

John Abbot College, Montreal, 1982

Donnell Library, New York, N.Y., 1982

Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design & the Israel Film Archives and Cinemateque, Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Haifa, (Dept of External Affairs Speakers’Program Travel Assistance),1982

Canadian Embassy in Rome, Rome, Italy, 1982

Sheldon Film Theater, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1983

New Cinema Cooperative, Omaha, Nebraska, 1983

Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, 1983

State University of New York (SUNY), Purchase, N.Y., 1983

The Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, 1983

Film School of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark, 1983

Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, R.I., 1985

Cambridge Animation Festival, Cambridge, England, 1985

Guardian Lecture, National Film Theater, London, England, 1985

Union of Soviet Filmmakers guest,  Moscow,Yerevan, Tblissi, Kiev, USSR, 1985

Cinema Femme, Festival of Women’s Films, Montreal, 1986

The School of the Arts Institute, Chicago, Illinois, 1987

VII Semaine du Dessin Anime, Bruxelles, Belgium, 1988

La Cinemateque Quebecoise, Montreal, screening and Carte Blanche, 1988

American Film Institute Lanz Seminar on Animation, Los Angeles, 1988

Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, 1988

The Film Forum, New York City, 6 - 19 May, 1992

Cinemateque Quebecoise, Montreal, 1992

Chapter Arts Center, Cardiff, Wales, 1992

Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1992

Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., 1992

Port Washington Public Library, Port Washington, N.Y., 1993

16th Norwegian Short Film Festival, Grimstadt, Norway, 1993

Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia, 1994

Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia, 1994

The Film Centre, 2nd Irish Animation Festival, dublin, Ireland, 1994

Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., 1995

Cal Arts, USC, Dreamworks, Los Angeles, 1996

Folimage, Valence, France, 1997

Harvard Film Studies Center, Cambridge, Mass., 1997

Museum of the Moving Image, South Bank, Waterloo, London, England, 1997

Surrey Institute of Art and Design, Farnham, England, 1997

ANIMA MUNDI ‘97, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1997

The University of the Arts, Philadelphia, 1998

Universidad del Pais Vasco, Bilbao, Spain, 1999

Filme in Schloss, Weisbaden, Germany, 2000

Academy of Media Arts, Cologne, Germany, 2001

Royal College of Art, London, England 2002

Art and Animation Symposium, Tate Modern and National Film Theater, London, England 2002

Rencontres Internationales, Bretagne, France, 2002

Zagreb International Animation Festival, Zagreb, Croatia, 2002

Forum des Images, Paris, France 2003

Creativity Panel, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire 2004

National Film Theater, London, participant in symposium 'Textures of Memory', February 2005

Ensad, Paris, March 2005

BAFICI screenings Buenos Aires, Neuquen, and Cordoba, Argentina, April 2005

Norwich International Animation Festival, symposium participant, October 2005

The Arts Institute at Bournmouth, March 2006

The National Film School in IADT, Dublin, Ireland, March 2006

Wuhan Animation Salon, symposium participant, Wuhan, China, November 2006

Beijing Film Academy, November 2006

La Caixa, Palma, Majorca, June 2007

Participant in the Marc Davis Lecture, Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences, Los Angeles, October 2007

Zagreb World Festival of Animated Film, Zagreb, June 2008

Regina Public Library, Regina, Saskatchewan, February 2009

International Animation, Comics & Games Forum, symposium participant, Jilin, China 2009

Cinematheque Quebecoise, Montreal, Canada 2009

Goteborg International Film Festival, Animator in Focus, Goteborg, Sweden, 2010

Poznan International Animated Film Festival, Poznan, Poland, July 2010

Ottawa International Animation Festival, masterclass, Ottawa, October 2010

Tricky Women, Vienna, Austria 2011

Accademia di Belle Arti, Palermo, Italy, June 2011

The Barbican Centre, masterclass, London, England, July 2011

Tokyo University of the Arts, Yokohama, Japan, October 2011



During her years at the National Film Board, Leaf made a documentary film about the singer songwriter sisters Kate and Anna McGarrigle and a short fiction film called Equal Opportunity.


She experimented with liveaction and puppet movement with rear projection in three short films: The Owl and the Pussycat, the Fox and the Tiger, and a Dog’s Tale.  She made several set designs for Bouffon de Bouillon, a Montreal theater company.

cocoon          madsonville


After leaving the National Film Board, when she was no longer animating full time, Leaf became interested in a different kind of movement: the movement of wind caught in fabric. She constructed large wind blown sculptures and called them wind balloons. They are grounded and glorious windsocks, made of ripstop nylon and welded steel or titanium. The mechanisms are designed with bushings to turn on a dime, catching the slightest breezes.  Situated in windy places, they are continuously in motion.



Gradually, it became satisfying to explore complex pictorial structures that were not possible with images designed to move.  Leaf moved into painting and drawing. At first, storytelling and working from memory of things seen in daily life were an inspiration.  Images functioned like daily diary entries. Over time, the figurative element has become less important, and concerns about mark making, perceptions of space and depth, and the composition of the 2d surface have come to the forefront. A thread running though all of Leaf’s work, animation and painting, is a sense of spontaneity and the importance of handcrafted materials. Leaf is drawn to materials that are infinitely malleable: sand and wet paint, chalks, pencils and erasers, oil paint.

orange painting           big onion

Since 2001, Leaf has lived in London, England, where she maintains a studio  and works primarily in oils and mixed media on paper.

Leaf has participated in group shows at:

The Leper Chapel, Cambridge, England 2008
The Shop Gallery, Vallance Road, London 2006
The Corridor Gallery, London 2004
Krakow Animation Festival, Krakow, Poland 1998
Zagreb International Animation Festival, Zagreb Croatia 1996

Interview with Caroline Leaf discussing her studio work with Sharon Katz on the awn website: