Universe (1960 film)

Directed by Roman Kroitor
Colin Low
Produced by Tom Daly
Written by Roman Kroitor
Starring Donald MacRae
Narrated by Douglas Rain
Music by Eldon Rathburn
Cinematography Wolf Koenig
Edited by Tom Daly
Distributed by NFB
Release dates
May 1960
Running time
29 min.
Country Canada
Language English

Universe is a black-and-white short animated documentary made in 1960 by the National Film Board of Canada. It "creates on the screen a vast, awe-inspiring picture of the universe as it would appear to a voyager through space. Realistic animation takes you into far regions of space, beyond the reach of the strongest telescope, past Moon, Sun, and Milky Way into galaxies yet unfathomed."

This visualization is grounded in the nightly work of Dr. Donald MacRae, an astronomer at the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill, Ontario, a facility formerly owned and operated by the University of Toronto, Canada, and now operated by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Using the technology of his era, MacRae prepares his largely manually operated equipment and then photographs, by long exposure, one star. He actually strikes an arc between iron electrodes and makes a simultaneous exposure, which he can compare to the star's spectrum to determine its movement relative to Earth.

The film was a nominee at the 33rd Academy Awards in the category of Best Documentary Short Subject in 1961.[1]

Douglas Rain did the narration for the English version; the French version was titled Notre univers with narration by Gilles Pelletier. Eldon Rathburn composed the musical score.[2]

Influence on 2001

After this work, co-director Colin Low worked with Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey. His work on this short may have influenced Kubrick to begin his project. Kubrick chose Universe narrator Douglas Rain as the voice of the HAL 9000 computer and also hired Wally Gentleman, who did optical effects for the NFB documentary, to work on 2001.[3][4][5]

According to Kubrick biographer Vincent Lobrutto:

As the film unspooled, Kubrick watched the screen with rapt attention while a panorama of the galaxies swirled by, achieving the standard of dynamic visionary realism that he was looking for. These images were not flawed by the shoddy matte work, obvious animation and poor miniatures typically found in science fiction films. Universe proved that the camera could be a telescope to the heavens. As the credits rolled, Kubrick studied the names of the magicians who created the images: Colin Low, Sidney Goldsmith, and Wally Gentleman.[5]


NASA alone ordered over 300 prints of the film. By 1976, the NFB had sold over 3100 copies of the film, and it was one of the most widely distributed educational films ever made.[4]


Academy Awards Best Documentary Short Subject - nomination; Canadian Film Awards – Film of the Year, Theatrical Short; BAFTA – Animated Short; Cannes Film Festival – Jury Prize for Animation.


  1. "IMDb.com: Universe". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
  2. "Universe". Collection. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 20 December 2010.
  3. Ohayon, Albert. "The 1960s: An Explosion of Creativity". NFB.ca. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2 June 2010.
  4. 1 2 Colombo, John Robert (June 2001). 1000 Questions About Canada. Dundurn Group. p. 326. ISBN 0-88882-232-4.
  5. 1 2 Lacey, Liam (11 March 2016). "Colin Low: A gentleman genius of documentary cinema". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
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