Sm[art]: The Sillhouette Animation of Lotte Reiniger


Over 80 years ago, the first feature-length animated movie was produced, not by a bunch of dudes and their rodent-obsessed leader, but by a German woman named Lotte Reiniger.  Reiniger created her own style of animation, called sihouette animation, by taking what she loved about shadow puppet theatre—namely the cut-out puppets and backgrounds—and with her husband as cameraman, adapted them to the screen.  Acting as director, animator, paper cutter, writer, and one-woman art department, Reiniger worked on over 70 films. 


The silhouette animation that Reiniger pioneered allowed her to give movement to two-dimensional characters that was so natural, it's hard to tell they're paper cutouts. Reiniger drew illustrations of each of her characters before turning them into silhouettes and cutting them out by hand. Her backgrounds were also hand-drawn and cut out. She would lay her characters out on a table and move them frame-by-frame while her husband manned the camera. Reiniger got her big break when a wealthy family caught wind of her unique style of animation and brought her and her husband to their home to tutor their kids. The family offered to finance their first feature-length film, and three years later, in 1926, The Adventures of Prince Achmed was born.

Lotte's favorite audience was children, of which she said, "I love working for children, because they are a very critical and very thankful public."  Some of her films treaded in feminist waters.  According to this article by film historian William Moritz, in her retelling of Carmen, Reiniger turned the title character into an independent woman who was stronger than the men who pursued her.

Unfortunately, Reiniger's leftist politics didn't mix so well with the Nazis who were taking over her country. She and her husband decided that they had to get out of Germany, but could only get short-term visas to the other European countries where they tried to live. All of this bouncing around was bad news for the original copies of Reiniger's films, most of which are lost. The work of hers that exists, while still striking, is a copy of a copy, leaving the backgrounds looking washed out. 

Here's Lotte cutting out one of her characters:

And here she is animating:

Here's a video talking about her animation style:

And here's her version of Jack and the Beanstalk:

by Danny Hayes
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1 Comment Has Been Posted

Lotte rocks my socks!

I discovered Reiniger's work a few years ago and I've been hooked on it ever since. I stumbled upon The Adventures of Prince Achmed DVD at the now defunct Tower Records and was absolutely blown away by the sheer vivacity of the animation and narrative. There's more passion in that one film than there is in most of Disney's flicks. I wish I could see more of her work. Thank you for posting this! Hopefully more people will be inclined to seek out Prince Achmed on DVD.

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