Who’s Lotte Reiniger and why Walt Disney was only her follower?
When it comes to examining what was the oldest thing — feature, artefact or the short video itself — made in animation, most of the people somehow automatically would say that “it is probably something that has been made by Walt Disney or at least one of the animators in his team”. However, Lotte Reiniger – was an animation genius way before Disney.
Ahhh…We don’t mean to question the greatness of Walt Disney nor his team (we actually wrote on 12 principles of animation and what it has to do with the professionals in this team, if you haven’t read it yet, dig in :)), but the oldest surviving animated feature has nothing to do with an American artist. Or artists, at this point.
The Adventures of Prince Achmed that was filmed in 1926 by a German puppeteer Lotte Reiniger, is the most early-ish animated thing we happen to know about.
What was her story? How did she affect the generation of animators or maybe animation as a genre? We are going to immerse ourselves into her spectacular achievement through life’s circumstances that only now are coming in the proper lighting and details.
Becoming an artist
Lotte Reiniger was born in Berlin on 2 June 1899, when the art of animation was still far ahead of these years. It was the time that indicates the appearance of the cinema, but not cartoons as the world will know it later. She actually was among the first generation that grow up with the cinema.
As a child, Lotte quickly found herself gravitating towards various forms of art — for example, her fascination with the Chinese arts of paper cutting of silhouette puppetry led her to her first artistic expression. She would build a puppet theatre, write stories and play it with the puppets for friends and family. Well,
It is easy to make too much of this sign of affiliation, but equally to overlook it, in an artist for whom silhouettes have always been important.
As a teenager, Reiniger moved further. She found herself very fond of moving pictures – cinema, at first.
Having loved the Georges Méliès movies for their effects, she also was continuously learning about the possibilities of animation. Apparently, she managed to see something that no one at the time has been able to find.
Later she would join the acting group and began making costumes for the actors. Working backstage led her to rethink the silhouette portraits. Thus, she would make the silhouettes of her fellow actors, evaluating its powerful shape that seemed to her a proper form of art.
A few years ago the BBC made this short video about Lotte Reiniger explaining who she was briefly.
Influence and references
Reiniger’s art invention — black silhouettes — had a fate to become a famous aesthetic trick and visual quote in many films and art years later after her life. Even today you can glance here or they’re a part of her heritage so generously given to animators of many generations.
There are hundreds of animators that turned to her work in order to take inspiration and make reference to Lotter’s films. Let’s take a look at some of their results in cartoons and movies.
- Disney uses her style in a number of scenes, both classic ones and rather modern. For example, in “Fantasia” we can see a very clear reference at the beginning of the scene where Mickey Mouse is in the same frame as the live-action musicians.
- Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” included a short silhouetted scene in the beginning.
- One of the most famous animated series of the last decades, South Park uses a paper cut-out style that reminds us of Lotte Reiniger.
- Another popular cartoon show Steven Universe made a whole episode (the Answer) in Reiniger’s films style.
“I wonder what would be with animation without her contribution to the whole thing. We, animators, even working with some super-modern styles of visual, quite often look up for inspiration in the older masters. So, every time I watch her movies I can’t help but think whether we would have the same abundance of animated styles today without Lotte Reiniger”.
How did she start making animation?
So, Reiniger started with stable pictures on her way to the process of making moving pictures – in other words, she started with photographs. She would shoot her paper puppets in frames, one by one.
After this, she would make the illusion of movement for these pictures. Of course, during these years, her works often address political issues.
In any case, animation was an art form for her. A way to express her artistic aspirations was firstly embodied through an adaptation of “The Arabian Nights”. By the way, that was the first full-length animated movie ever made.
Another film, influenced by Lotte Reiniger works
Reiniger saw the value of animation not in the pictures themselves. For her, pictures were one of the languages that helped perform imaginative storytelling. She neatly encapsulates her own position, extremely new at the time.
It is a conception of the medium that sits at a vast distance from the notions we used to: animation as entertainment, a vehicle of personal expression, a window on the world. Lotte Reiniger animation genius went further.
In 1923, having received an opportunity from a private investor named Louis Hagen, she made the first animated feature ever known.
As you know already, she chose to adapt a part of the story from One Thousand and One Nights.
It is more than worth mentioning how extremely productive she was. Reiniger used to edit more than 250,000 frames; together with the team, they would use just over 100,000 in the film. Incredible, huh?
Reviewing her “Cinderella” for The New York Times in 1928, critic Charles Morgan was amazed by the emotional impact of her work on the audience: “The small black shapes laugh at you from a world of their own into which naturalism makes no laborious entry!”
The invention of movies for the younger audience
We call Lotte Reiniger an animation genius as she played a pivotal role in establishing animation as a leading genre for children.
Besides her feature projects, Lotte animated a great deal of shorts for children, including advertising films. In a 1969 interview, she confessed: “I love working for children because they are a very critical and very thankful public.”
Thus, she made lots of adaptations for the younger audience including classic fairy tales and live shadow-puppet performances in England. She also wrote a book about Silhouettes.
How many animation movies did she make?
Lotte Reiniger became famous a decade before Walt Disney Productions started its way in animation.
Even having been shadowed by Walt Disney productions, Reiniger’s filmmaking career took almost 60 years. It was enough to create more than 70 silhouette animation films. What are these?
- “Cinderella”, made especially for the theatre in Coventry;
- “Puss in Boots”;
- “Hansel and Gretel”;
- “Doktor Dolittle und seine Tiere”, 65-minute feature after Hugh Lofting’s novel;
- “Don Quixote” – a short animated silhouette for the opening sequence where Don Quixote reads a book about his adventures.
- “The King’s Breakfast”, the poem by A.A.Milne.
- Several advertising films in London;
- Mary’s Birthday Black silhouettes were performed with coloured backgrounds.
Out of darkness
For a while now she was pretty much like her own characters — dim, left with nothing but a silhouette. It has a lot to do with several facts.
- First, the years of war were cruel to her. She had to move over countries, escaping Nazis, so it was impossible to make some art in such circumstances.
- Second, her animation gave a great lift to other animators who didn’t have such life obstacles as she had. Walt Disney, for instance, happened to create and run the whole industry. Yes, he was her follower, absorbed her influences and combined it with other private views on art, he managed to put a real shadow on many artists at that time.
- Third, she was a woman. That’s easy, right. So her art could and was overlooked. It is easy to call here now a great undiscovered figure of the art.
- Fourth, it is not that easy to see all of her works. A part of it is already impossible to discover. When Reiniger fled to England in the 1930s, she simply couldn’t take her original negatives with her.
“The Adventures of Prince Achmed”
Today we can say that all of her works together is a treasure trove still unexhausted and call Lotte Reiniger – an animation genius of all times. At least, in its possible impact on the animator’s thought and vision. No one yet delivered a comprehensive biography of the poet, the first of its kind in any language. The task of those who would take on it remains extremely difficult, due to the obscurity in which Lotte Reiniger operated throughout much of her life.
Each year one animator receives a special prize that has the name, Lotte Reiniger. It is a Lifetime Achievement Award that rewards an individual for the lifetime contribution to the art of animation in any of its spheres: producing, directing, animating, design, writing, voice acting, sound and sound effects, technical work, music, professional teaching, or “for other endeavours which exhibit an outstanding contribution to excellence in animation”.
Without a doubt, that is a great way to honour the artist that gave shape to animation and helped the beloved sphere to take its first steps. Cause Lotte Reiniger is an animation genius that changed the generation of animators totally.
Would you like to immerse your audience into the imaginative and curious world of your product? We know exactly how to make an animation that will help you enchant the viewer and make him fall in love with the company. Contact us right now!
You may also be interested in: