KEYWORDS: Biography, Arts, Cinema, Animation, Animated film pioneer, Silhouette animation, Germany, 20th century.
SHE THOUGHT IT
Lotte (Charlotte) Reiniger was a German filmmaker who started to work in movie making in the first decades of the twentieth century. This art was still evolving and taking its first steps when Lotte started writing, producing and creating her magical films.
It was the dawn of animation techniques (for example recording puppets controlled by a hidden hand) and Lotte developed some of these techniques, but her real breakthrough was the creation of animated films that functioned by a stop-frame technique that created the sense of animation through twenty four pictures per second. Her inspiration came from Asian puppet theatre and Chinese shadow theatre. Lotte Reiniger would cut the silhouettes, which were articulated (human figures cutted from paper with movement possibilities), and then shift them picture by picture to create the illusion of movement. Her figures were full of articulations. Being the face expressions impossible to show she gave her characters personality and emotion through their body movement which she had learned when taking acting lessons.
“Reiniger linked the tradition for the first time to the making of motion pictures when it was still a new art form, and invented new techniques and effects to animate her exquisitely cut and jointed black characters which played against scenery made from tracing paper shaded from black to grey. The puppets were made of card, paper and thin lead jointed with wire, and were arranged flat on a glass table lit from below with a stills camera above, all the scenes animated frame by frame by hand. Twenty-four frames were shot for one second of action, often with only Reiniger herself to animate the scenery and the many characters, and to arrange the lighting effects. The technique involved considerable planning, versatility, concentration and talent for understanding the movement of the characters.”³
In 1926 the first feature-length animated film (title that Disney later claimed for himself with Snow White)⁴ saw the light: The Adventures of Prince Achmed. Lotte and her team had worked on it for three years before the premiere. This film used and modified tales of the Arabian Nights.
The film was produced in the time of silent movies and Lotte started working with the composer Wolfgang Zeller to make the music for the movie, evolving the synchronization techniques between music and images.
Since then, Lotte kept on mastering and developing animation techniques maturing into a recognized pioneer in animation and the creator of silhouette animation films. But as we know, women´s achievements tend to be overlooked in history and nowadays history remembers Disney’s Snow White as the first feature-length animated film when it was preceded by more than a decade by Lotte Reiniger´s The Adventures of Prince Achmed.
She is one of the faces of German female emancipation as she was earning a living through her artistic abilities, and a pioneer in animated movie techniques as well as the creator of silhouette animation movies.
Born in Berlin-Charlottenburg to Carl Reiniger and Eleonore Lina Wilhelmine Rakette, Lotte (Charlotte) had always an artistic character, already at a tender age she was enthusiastic about Chinese shadow puppetry to create theatre pieces. She taught herself to cut paper silhouettes and use them in her own homemade shadow stage. She would perform before her school friends and parents, playing, for example, scenes from Shakespeare.¹
As a teenager, Lotte decided to become an actress and work with Paul Wegener (film actor and director) who she deeply admired. She was intensely impressed by his films, like The Golem, as well as Georges Méliè´s ones because of his special effects artistry. With these passions in mind she started taking acting lessons with Max Reinhardt at the Deutsches Theater Berlin in 1916.³ Wegener also belonged to this group, and was enchanted when he discovered her ability to cut figures in paper. Therefore, he asked her to make silhouettes for the intertitles to his films Rübezahls Hochzeit (Old Nip’s Wedding) (1916) and Der Rattenfänger von Hameln (The Pied Piper of Hamelin) (1918).² In this last one, not only did she make silhouettes for the intertitles but also animated some rats and so her working in animation began.
Wegener gave her not only her first job in the film animation world, but introduced her to a group of artists setting an experimental animation studio: the Berliner Institut für Kulturforschung. She started working with the group which was headed by Hans Cürlis and included avant garde artists such as Bertolt Bretcht, Berthol Bartosch, Walter Ruttman or Carl Koch.
In 1919, aged 20, she produced her first short film The Ornament of the Loving Heart, in which stop frame animation was not yet involved but the articulation of puppets in front of the camera.³
In the next few years, from 1920 to 1925 she made six short silhouette films which involved experimenting different techniques in each of them. In these films they explored folklore tales or fairy tale stories such as Cinderella (1922) or Sleeping Beauty (1922). The films´ producer and camera operator was Carl Koch. He and Lotte got married in 1921 and continued to work with her until his death in 1963.² Lotte would also work with other filmmakers like Fritz Lang, designing sets and costumes.
In 1926 her most acclaimed film saw the light, The adventures of Prince Achmed. This film was a stop-frame 66 minutes animated film which she made in collaboration with Carl Koch, Berthol Bartosch and Walther Ruttmann. They worked on the film for three years and Lotte had to cut pieces and pieces of paper to create the articulated silhouettes that were employed. The story was a pastiche of pieces taken from the Arabian tale The Arabian Nights, and as the Deutsches Filminstitut would later state: “Artistic cinematic ambition and great manual dexterity are united in this film fairytale, whose filigree figures and imaginative décor enchant us”.¹
In the Paris Premiere Lotte and Carl met and became friends with Jean Renoir with whom they collaborated in a series of movies and vice versa. It became a lifelong friendship.
During the following years, and as Kemp states: “After completing Prince Achmed while still in her twenties, Reiniger never again attempted a feature-length animated film; for the rest of her sixty-year career she concentrated on shorts.”² Lotte´s films during the end of the 1920s and the decade of 1930 became more skilful and they showed a great merit in the mixing of music with the movements of the silhouettes. The titles include Dr. Doolittle and his animals (1928), Carmen (1933) or Papageno (1935) etc.³ “Her technique, already amazingly accomplished in Prince Achmed, gained yet further in subtlety and balletic grace during the Thirties”³
Throughout the Nazi occupation the couple self-exiled. They left Germany in 1936 for England and went to the GPO Film Unit where they co-operated in various films, like The King’s Breakfast (1936) directed by John Grierson.²
In 1940 Carl Koch started working with Renoir in Italy and Lotte left England to join with them. Together they produced films such as La Tosca (1941). But, because they were unable to secure their visa in any country they had to keep moving from place to place until the end of the war when they settled in London.
In 1953 Louis Hagen founded a studio in London called Primrose Productions where Lotte Reiniger made a dozen animated movies in a decade time like Snow white and Rose Red, The Magic Horse, The Three Wishes, The Grasshopper and the Ant, The Little Chimney Sweep, Hansel and Gretel, Thumbelina and Jack and the Beanstalk.³
Colour had arrived to the movie world and Lotte Reiniger started to experience with it in films like The Seraglio (1958).
In 1963 “Koch died and Lotte lost not only a beloved husband but also half of her production unit.”³ She stopped making movies but she continued working in different disciplines, such as illustrating children’s books, giving lectures, and writing “an excellent book on her filming techniques and shadow puppet styles, Shadow Theatres and Shadow Films.”²
In the 1970s she was awarded and honoured by several film academies. In 1974 the National Film Board of Canada invited her to work with them, collaboration that culminated in the last films made by this artist: Aucassin and Nicolette (1975) and The Rose and the Ring (1979). In 1980 she returned to Germany and produced a final film, a brief short called The Four Seasons (1980) made for The Filmmuseum Düsseldorf. She died in West Germany six years later.
SHE SAID IT
“I believe in the truth of fairy-tales more than I believe
in the truth in the newspaper.”
Interview for USC School of Cinematic Arts (1976).
“I love working for children, because they are a very critical and very thankful public.”
Wolfgram Evans, Noell K. (1973) Animators of film and television, McFarland & Company Inc.
THEY SAID IT
“She was born with magic hands”
Jean Renoir, cited in: Wolfgram Evans,Noell K. (1973) Animators of film and television, McFarland & Company Inc. (p. 115)
“No one else has taken a specific animation technique and made it so utterly her own.”
Phillip Kemp British Film Institute.(2003) “Reiniger, Lotte (1899-1981)” BFI screenonline.
“The thing about Lotte is that she was the first-before Walt. She created a feature film that was so beautiful, unique and riveting and I just wish that she’d had the marketing machine behind her film that Disney had.”
Brenda Chapman (director-writer of The prince of Egypt and Brave), Lotte Reiniger: Pioneer of Film Animation by Whitney Grace.
“Artistic cinematic ambition and great manual dexterity are united in this film fairytale, whose filigree figures and imaginative décor enchant us.” (About The Adventures of Prince Achmed)
PRIZES, ACHIEVEMENTS, HONOURS
1954: Silver Dolphin, Venice Festival.
1972: Deutscher Filmpreis.
1979: Great Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.
2017: European Animation Award (EAA) created a new annual award the “Lotte Reiniger Lifetime Achievement Award”.
June 2 (2016), Google made a Doodle celebrating her 117th birthday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkgirvbPJnw
Permanent exhibition, Filmmuseum Düsseldorf.
Permanent exhibition, “The World in Light and Shadow: Silhouette, shadow theatre, silhouette film”, Municipal Museum in Tübingen.
June 2 (2016), Google made a Doodle celebrating her 117th birthday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkgirvbPJnw
Ocelot, Michel (2011) Les Contes de la Nuit, Nord-Ouest Films, Studio O, StudioCanal. (Computer Silhouette Animation inspired in Lotte Reiniger´s work) Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4u1Ny3tkl4g
Ocelot,Michel (2006) Azur and Asmar, Nord-Ouest Production.
Ocelot, Michel (2000) Princes et Princesses, Canal+, Centre national de la cinématographie (CNC), La Fabrique, Les Armateurs, Salud Productions, Studio 0.
Sugar, Rebecca, “The answer”, episode from TV series Steven Universe. (Specific references to Lotte Reiniger´s animation style.)
Raganelli, Katja (1999) Lotte Reiniger: Homage to the inventor of the Silhouette Film, Diorama Film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1N2UeEsa2qA
Reiniger, Lotte (1970) Shadow Theatres and Shadow Films. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd.
Bendazzi, Giannalberto (2001) Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation. trans. Anna Taraboletti-Segre. Indiana University Press.
Grace, Whitney (2017) Lotte Reiniger: Pioneer of Film Animation, McFarland & Company Inc.
Isaacs, John (1970) The Art of Lotte Reiniger, Primrose Productions: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4wc6s
Reiniger, Lotte (1976) “Lotte Reiniger Recording” USC School of Cinematic Arts, Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive. Interview online: <http://uschefnerarchive.com/project/lotte-reiniger-recording/ >
- Wrydra, Kristina (2012) “The Adventures of Lotte Reiniger – the early years of film animation in Germany” Alumniportal Deutschland. Online:<https://www.alumniportal-deutschland.org/en/germany/culture/film-animation-lotte-reiniger/ > (Last accessed 6 Feb. 2018)
- Kemp, Philip (2003) “Reiniger, Lotte (1899-1981)” BFI screenonline. Online: <http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/528134/ > (Last accessed 6 Feb. 2018)
- Phillips, Jane (2013) “Lotte Reiniger” World Encyclopedia of Puppetry Arts. Online: <https://wepa.unima.org/en/lotte-reiniger/ > (last accessed 7 Feb. 2018)
- The Big Cartoon Database, “Snow White was the first animated feature” Online: http://blog.bcdb.com/lies-disney-told/snow-white-animated-feature/ (last accessed 16 Feb. 2018).