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. The art of cinema was 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 of human figures from paper and then shift them picture by picture to create the illusion of movement. Her figures were fully articulated at the joints but could only display a limited range of facial expressions, so Reiniger endowed her characters with personality and emotion through their body movements, which she had learned when taking acting lessons.
As Kemp pointed out, “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 (which 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. The story in the film is an adaptation from the tales of the Arabian Nights.
The film was produced at the time of silent cinema and Lotte started working with the composer Wolfgang Zeller to make the music for the movie, developing the synchronization techniques between music and images.
Since then, Lotte kept on mastering and developing animation techniques and matured into a recognised 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 in fact 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 earned her living through her artistic abilities, 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) always displayed an artistic personality. At a tender age she was already enthusiastic about Chinese shadow puppetry to create theatre pieces. She taught herself to cut paper silhouettes and used 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), whom she deeply admired. She was intensely impressed by his films, like The Golem, as well as by 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 from 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 created animations of rat figures 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 up 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 and Carl Koch.
In 1919, aged 20, she produced her first short film, The Ornament of the Loving Heart, which involved the movement of puppets in front of the camera but did not rely on stop-frame animation yet.³
In the next few years, from 1920 to 1925, she made six short silhouette films and experimented with different techniques in each of them. These films are based on folk tales or fairy tale stories such as Cinderella (1922) or Sleeping Beauty (1922). The films´ producer and camera operator was Carl Koch, who became Lotte’s husband 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 was released: 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 countless pieces of paper to create the jointed silhouettes that were employed. The story was a pastiche of pieces taken from The Arabian Nights; 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
At the Paris premiere of the film Lotte and Carl met and became friends with Jean Renoir, with whom they collaborated in a series of movie. It became a lifelong friendship.
During the following years, as Kemp states, “[a]fter 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 At the end of the 1920s and during the 1930s Lotte´s films became more skilful and showed an ever greater ability to coordinate the movements of the silhouettes with music. The titles include Dr. Doolittle and his animals (1928), Carmen (1933), and Papageno (1935).³ In the 1930s “[h]er technique, already amazingly accomplished in Prince Achmed, gained yet further in subtlety and balletic grace.”³
In 1936, Lotte and Carl left Germany 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 them. Together they produced films such as La Tosca (1941), but had to keep moving from place to place as they were unable to secure their visas in any country until the end of the war, when they finally settled in London.
In 1953, Louis Hagen founded the Primrose Productions studio in London, where Lotte Reiniger made a number of animated movies in the ensuing decade: 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
When colour arrived in the movie world Lotte Reiniger started to experiment 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 areas, 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 given awards and honoured by several film academies. In 1974, the National Film Board of Canada invited her to work with them, a 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).
Interview for USC School of Cinematic Arts (1976), Deutsches Filminstitut.
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.)
SELECTION OF WORKS BY LOTTE REIGNER
Cinderella (1922) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kku75vGDD_0
The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) https://vimeo.com/36268204
Papageno (1935) (Uses original music from The magic Flute Mozart´s opera in 1791) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4uUchB429M
Aladdin and The Magic Lamp (1954) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1A38fUONi_o
Hansel and Gretel (1955) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AB6T686opdg
Thumbelina (1955) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4uUchB429M
Aucassin and Nicolette (1975) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEGmXUO6z9Y
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).