Thursday, 22 March 2012

Unit 5: Animation - Animator Profile - Lotte Reiniger 1899 - 1981

Figure 1. Lotte Reiniger

Reiniger saw the silhouette of a person as a doorway to convey a story. All on screen motion is dynamic with even the subtlest footstep showing character development and gesture. One cannot help but be inspired when one considers that greats such as Disney’s “Aladdin” would not exist had it not been for this talented animator.

Best known for:

•Her unique Silhouette Animation
•Animated Short “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” (Inspired Disney’s Aladdin)
•Animated Short “Cinderella”
•Animated Short “Sleeping Beauty”

Figure 2. The Adventures of Prince Achmed

While it is at times difficult to differentiate the true origin of an idea, it only takes one to truly drive it past the words on the page to show it as a visual art form, Reiniger was such a talent. Every on screen situation of Reiniger’s work is readable & tugs at the heart strings. Many people will recognise working names on her roster which have become much more thanks to studios such as Walt Disney. If anything Reiniger’s style shows the entire world that one only needs vision to visualise a great story, the aesthetics we take for granted are not needed, you can convey a story with the basics if you have the vision. Profiler E. H. Larson observes:
“Even her later films, produced for television in the 1950s and noticably less sophisticated than her early work, possess a pure cinematic magic that is present in the work of very few animators. In all likelihood, there will never be a silhouette animator who will match Reiniger's skill, vision, and patience, and her films may well remain a unique testament to the potential achievements of the art form”. (Larson: 1999)
There is no diminishing Reiniger’s style especially when one considers the attention to detail taken with each on screen moment. The camera cuts & zooms to illustrate key signifiers such as Cinderella & the ugly sisters trying on a slipper. Even tragedy is conveyed through gesture. Let us consider the highly popular “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” the action is dynamic & the evil traveller is most certainly fiendish. The sadness conveyed when the prince’s castle floats away is truly staggering almost as if these pieces of paper have come to life.

Figure 3. Cinderella

In reflection let us take this chance to assess Reiniger’s style which primarily consisted of her ability to be able to cut forms from paper & cardboard. The drawn image was not needed for her pictures as she best conveyed her story’s through silhouette animation. If a character needed to move from point A to point B she would remove, add or stage a second leg. The principles of cell drawn animation applied but to physical shapes as opposed to page after page of drawn images. Effectively one could see this approach saving ones time but Reiniger’s attention to detail was what truly made her stand out as an animator of note. Abhijit Dasitidar of Frontier India summarises Reiniger’s style:
“Using tracing paper and cardboard, Reiniger used scissors to cut her figures, and breathe life into inanimate paper.The cutting strokes provided the figures with characters. As the gaunt sorcerer, the plump good natured witch, and the obese, power conscious emperor are caught in motion, against a background of light and shadow, assigned roles lucidity emerge.” (Dasitidar: 2000)
One could argue that Reiniger’s approach taught animators that a silhouette character can look marginally the same, be they obese or are wearing a jacket or robe. If there gesture is different or if they speak differently they are considered a completely different person regardless of proportion of shape. One could not help but notice the similarities between some of Reiniger’s more complex forms such as delicate female features or rugged guards brittle chins. The theme of the story also helps shape the audience’s viewpoint for example if Achmed in “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” is being chased by numerous guards we are focused on the action of the characters to notice the similarities of the characters if any.

Figure 4. The Sleeping Beauty

In this context one could conclude that Reiniger gave as much to the form of animation as greats such as Walt Disney & Windsor McCay. One could argue that her form of animation was more gestural, a form of animated sculpting as opposed to drawn sketches but that cannot take away from her contribution to the world of animation. One would even have to consider that Walt Disney would not have been able to take his ideas to where they were had it not been for the work of Reiniger, this would eventually mean we would have no Pixar & thus no history of great western fairytales. Paul Shapera of The steam punk opera observes:
“It is also worth mentioning that anyone who tells you Walt Disney made the first feature length animated film, with Snow White in 1937, they are wrong. Ms. Reiniger did it first 14 years earlier. (Disney made the first feature animated film using cels. You can say that.).” (Shapera: 2012)
We cannot honestly say that Disney took his entire influence of the animation medium from Reiniger but what we can say is her stories were taken further and made into a billion dollar industry. If it wasn’t enough she also founded a great form of gestural animation through silhouette. One could even argue that this style found its way to shows such as “South Park” which were originally built the same way through cut up construction paper. These mediums are robust & still have tonnes of potential even in today’s modern media, consider Michel Gagne’s “insanely twisted shadow puppets” built from the theme of digital silhouette. Reiniger is as important today as she ever was - an animation icon.


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Lotte Reiniger. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 21/03/12)

Figure 2. The Adventures of Prince Achmed. (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on: 21/03/12)

Figure 3. Cinderella. (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on: 21/03/12)

Figure 4. The Sleeping Beauty. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 21/03/12)



Larson, E.H. (1999) Silent Era Personalities. At:
(Accessed on: 21/03/12)

Dasitidar, Abhijit. (2000) Lotte Reinigers Silhouettes. At: (Accessed on: 21/03/12)

Shapera,Paul. (2012) The Silhouette Animation of Lotte Reiniger. At: (Accessed on: 21/03/12)

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