Reiniger in 1939
2 June 1899
Berlin-Charlottenburg, German Empire
|Died||19 June 1981
Dettenhausen, West Germany
|Occupation||Silhouette animator, film director|
Charlotte "Lotte" Reiniger (2 June 1899 – 19 June 1981) was a German film director and the foremost pioneer of silhouette animation. Reiniger made more than 40 films over her career, all using her invention. Her best known films are The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) – the oldest surviving feature-length animated film, preceding Walt Disney's feature-length Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) by over ten years – and Papageno (1935), featuring music by Mozart. Reiniger is also noted for devising a predecessor to the first multiplane camera.
As a teenager, Reiniger fell in love with cinema, first with the films of Georges Méliès for their special effects, then the films of the actor and director Paul Wegener, known today for The Golem (1920). In 1915, she attended a lecture by Wegener that focused on the fantastic possibilities of animation.
Reiniger eventually convinced her parents to allow her to enroll in the acting group to which Wegener belonged, the Theatre of Max Reinhardt. She began by making costumes and props and working backstage. She started making silhouette portraits of the various actors around her, and soon she was making elaborate title cards for Wegener's films, many of which featured her silhouettes.
Adulthood and success
In 1918, Reiniger animated wooden rats and created the animated intertitles for Wegener's Der Rattenfänger von Hameln (The Pied Piper of Hamelin). The success of this work got her admitted into the Institut für Kulturforschung (Institute for Cultural Research), an experimental animation and shortfilm studio. It was here that she met her future creative partner and husband (from 1921), Carl Koch, as well as other avant-garde artists including Hans Cürlis, Bertolt Brecht, and Berthold Bartosch.
The first film Reiniger directed was Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens (The Ornament of the Enamoured Heart, 1919), a short piece involving two lovers and an ornament that reflects their moods. The film was very well received. It sold out in the United States, which was quite impressive for being only five minutes long. This film's success opened up many new connections for Reiniger in the animation industry.
She made six short films during the following few years, all produced and photographed by her husband. These were interspersed with advertising films (the Julius Pinschewer advertising agency innovated ad films and sponsored a large number of abstract animators during the Weimar period) and special effects for various feature films – most famously a silhouette falcon for a dream sequence in Part One of Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen (The Nibelungs). During this period she became the centre of a large group of ambitious German animators, including Bartosch, Hans Richter, Walter Ruttmann and Oskar Fischinger.
In 1923, she was approached by Louis Hagen, who had bought a large quantity of raw film stock as an investment to fight the spiraling inflation of the period, who asked her to do a feature-length animated film.There was some difficulty that came with doing this, however. Reiniger is quoted as saying "We had to think twice. This was a never heard of thing. Animated films were supposed to make people roar with laughter, and nobody had dared to entertain an audience with them for more than ten minutes. Everybody to whom we talked in the industry about the proposition was horrified." The result was The Adventures of Prince Achmed, completed in 1926, one of the first animated feature films, with a plot that is a pastiche of stories from One Thousand and One Nights. Although it failed to find a distributor for almost a year, once premiered in Paris (thanks to the support of Jean Renoir), it became a critical and popular success. Though because of this delay, The Adventures of Prince Achmed's expressionistic style did not quite fit with the realistic style of film that was becoming popular in 1926. Reiniger uses lines that can almost be called "colorful" to represent the exotic location that the film takes place in. Today, The Adventures of Prince Achmed is thought to be one of the oldest surviving feature-length animated films, if not the oldest. It is also considered to be the first avant-garde full-length animated feature.
Reiniger, in devising the predecessor to the first multiplane camera for certain effects, preceded Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks by a decade. Above her animation table, a camera with a manual shutter was placed in order to achieve this. She placed planes of glass to achieve a layered effect. The setup was then backlit. This camera setup was later popular in cel animation. In addition to Reiniger's silhouette actors, Prince Achmed boasted dream-like backgrounds by Walter Ruttmann (her partner in the Die Nibelungen sequence) and a symphonic score by Wolfgang Zeller. Additional effects were added by Carl Koch and Berthold Bartosch.
Following the success of Prince Achmed, Reiniger was able to make a second feature. Doktor Dolittle und seine Tiere (Doctor Dolittle and his Animals, 1928) was based on the first of the English children's books by Hugh Lofting. The film tells of the good Doctor's voyage to Africa to help heal sick animals. It is currently available only in a television version with new music, voice-over narration and the images playing at too many frames per second. The score of this three-part film was composed by Kurt Weill, Paul Hindemith and Paul Dessau.
A year later, Reiniger co-directed her first live-action film with Rochus Gliese, Die Jagd nach dem Glück (The Pursuit of Happiness, 1929), a tale about a shadow-puppet troupe. The film starred Jean Renoir and Berthold Bartosch and included a 20-minute silhouette performance by Reiniger. Unfortunately, the film was completed just as sound came to Germany and release of the film was delayed until 1930 to dub in voices by different actors – the result being disappointing.
Reiniger attempted to make a third animated feature, inspired by Maurice Ravel's opera L'enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Bewitched Things, 1925), but was unable to clear all of the individual rights to Ravel's music, the libretto (by the novelist Colette), and an unexpected number of copyright holders. When Ravel died in 1937 the clearance became even more complex and Lotte finally abandoned the project, although she had designed sequences and animated some scenes to convince potential backers and the rights-holders.
Reiniger worked on several films with British poet, critic, and musician Eric Walter White, who wrote an early book-length essay on her work.
Flight from Germany and later life
With the rise of the Nazi Party, Reiniger and Koch decided to emigrate (both were involved in left-wing politics), but found that no other country would give them permanent visas. As a result, the couple spent the years 1933–1944 moving from country to country, staying as long as visas would allow. With the release of sound film, Reiniger and her husband began to work with music in relation to animation. They worked with film-makers Jean Renoir in Paris and Luchino Visconti in Rome. They managed to make 12 films during this period, the best-known being Carmen (1933) and Papageno (1935), both based on popular operas (Bizet's Carmen and Mozart's Die Zauberflöte). When World War II commenced they stayed with Visconti in Rome until 1944, then moved back to Berlin to take care of Reiniger's sick mother. Under the rule of Hitler, Reiniger was forced to make propaganda films for Germany. One of these films is called Die goldene Gans (The Golden Goose 1944.) She had to work under stringent and limiting conditions to please the German state, which is why some of her work in this time period may appear creatively stifled.
In 1949, Reiniger and Koch moved to London, where she made a few short advertising films for John Grierson and his General Post Office Film Unit (later to be renamed the "Crown Film Unit"). While she was living in London in the early 1950s she became friends with "Freddie" Bloom, the first director of the National Deaf Children's Society, who asked her to design a logo for the new charity. Reiniger responded by cutting out silhouettes of four children running up a hill. Bloom was amazed at her skill with the scissors – in a few moments she created about four different silhouettes of the children from black paper. The logo was used until the 1990s, when a design company was invited to revamp it. The result was a very minor modification, but this new design was dropped a few years later.
With Louis Hagen Jr. (the son of Reiniger's financier of Prince Achmed in Potsdam), they founded Primrose Productions in 1953 and, over the next two years, produced more than a dozen short silhouette films based on Grimms' Fairy Tales for the BBC and Telecasting America. Reiniger also provided illustrations for the 1953 book King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green.
Reiniger was awarded the Filmband in Gold of the Deutscher Filmpreis in 1972; in 1979 she received the Great Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Reiniger died in Dettenhausen, Germany, on 19 June 1981, just after her 82nd birthday.
Reiniger had a distinct art style in her animations that was very different from other artists in the time period of the 1920s and the 1930s, particularly in terms of characters. In the 1920s especially, characters tended to rely on facial expressions to express emotions or action, while Reiniger's characters relied on gestures to display emotions or actions. She also utilized the technique of metamorphosis often in her animations. This focus on transformation greatly benefits her tendency to work with fairytale stories. Because of this, Reiniger's characters are not usually biologically correct, but they are able to express a fluidity which is very important to her style of expressionism. Although there are other animators in that time period that used these techniques, Reiniger stands out because she is able to accomplish this style using cutout animation. Reiniger's figures resemble stop-motion animation in the way that they move.
Although all subsequent makers of animated fairy tales could be said to have been influenced by Reiniger, Bruno J. Böttge is probably the one who has made the most explicit references to her work.
Starting with the silhouette format in the 1989 television series Ciné si, French animator Michel Ocelot employs many of the techniques created by Reiniger, along with others of his own invention, in his silhouette film Princes et princesses.
The municipal museum in Tübingen holds much of her original materials and hosts a permanent exhibition, "The World in Light and Shadow: Silhouette, shadow theatre, silhouette film". The Filmmuseum Düsseldorf also holds many materials of Lotte Reiniger's work including her animation table and a part of the permanent exhibition is dedicated to Reiniger. Another large archive of her work is held by the BFI National Archive.
- 1919 – The Ornament of the Lovestruck Heart
- 1920 – Amor and the Steady Loving Couple
- 1921 – The Star of Bethlehem
- 1922 – Sleeping Beauty
- 1922 – The Flying Suitcase
- 1922 – The Secret of the Marquise
- 1922 – Cinderella
- 1926 – The Adventures of Prince Achmed (feature)
- 1927 – The Chinese Nightingale
- 1928 – Dr. Dolittle and His Animals (3 parts: "The Journey to Africa", "The Monkey Bridge", "The Monkey Illness")
- 1928 – The Seemingly Dead Chinese
- 1930 – Chasing Fortune
- 1930 – Ten Minutes of Mozart
- 1931 – Harlekin
- 1932 – Sissi
- 1933 – Carmen
- 1934 – The Stolen Heart
- 1935 – The Little Chimney Sweep
- 1935 – Galathea: The Living Marblestatue
- 1935 – Kalif Storch
- 1935 – Papageno
- 1936 – Silhouettes (animation scenes)
- 1936 – Puss in Boots
- 1937 – The Tocher. Film Ballet
- 1938 – The HPO – Heavenly Post Office
- 1942 – Girl of the Golden West (writer)
- 1944 – The Goose That Lays the Golden Eggs
- 1951 – Mary's Birthday
- 1953 – The Magic Horse
- 1954 – Aladdin and the Magic Lamp
- 1954 – Caliph Storch
- 1954 – Cinderella
- 1954 – Puss in Boots
- 1954 – Snow White and Rose Red
- 1954 – The Frog Prince
- 1954 – The Gallant Little Tailor
- 1954 – The Grasshopper and the Ant
- 1954 – The Little Chimney Sweep
- 1954 – The Sleeping Beauty
- 1954 – The Three Wishes
- 1954 – Thumbelina
- 1955 – Hansel and Gretel
- 1955 – Jack and the Beanstalk
- 1961 – The Frog Prince
- 1975 – Aucassin and Nicolette
- 1979 – The Rose and the Ring
- on YouTube
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- Bendazzi, Giannalberto (Anna Taraboletti-Segre, translator). Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-20937-4 (reprint, paperback, 2001).
- Crafton, Donald. Before Mickey: The Animated Film, 1898–1928. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-11667-0 (2nd edition, paperback, 1993).
- Leslie, Esther. Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory and the Avant-Garde. London: Verso, 2002. Print.
- Reiniger, Lotte. Shadow Theatres and Shadow Films. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1970. Print.
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