If you think Walt Disney was the first person to create a feature length animated film you’re wrong. The first person to do it was a woman – Lotte Reiniger. See more about how her silhouette stop motion worked.
The amazing animated paper cut films by Lotte Reiniger
90 years ago, in 1926, the first animated feature film appeard in the cinemas preceding Walt Disney’s Snow White by more than a decade. It was Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Ahmed) by Lotte Reiniger, employing motifs from One Thousand and One Nights. She used figures cut out of black cardboard placed on a translucent glass plate and had gathered experience with this technique called silhouette animation making short films since 1918. Numerous fairy tales were filmed that way, including Aschenputtel (Cinderella) from 1922.
Lotte Reiniger left Germany after the Nazis came to power, traveling through the world as long as countries allowed her to stay. During a stay in Italy in 1935, she managed to film a beautiful rendition of the adventures of Papageno, the main character of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Magic Flute.
Reiniger’s most prosperous time was in the early 1950s when she lived with her husband in London. Although she never acquired funding to produce feature films, she was able to render, amongst others, the fairy tales Thumbelina, Puss in Boots, and Hansel and Gretel.
In 1955, her first colour film came out, featuring the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. Only three more films appeared until she died in 1981, partially owed to the death of her essential co-worker and husband Carl Koch. She focused on producing still paper cut scenes from Mozarts’s operas.
Lotter Reiniger died in 1981, two years after moving back to Germany.
We were sitting in the writers room breaking the story for The Answer. The story became more and more fairytale like, and I recall Rebecca coming up with the idea that the episode could look like a story book. I did these quick roughs in marker which eventually became the foundation for the look of “The Answer”. I did these on the spot while we were still figuring out the story, so the events in these drawings don’t specifically line up to anything in the final… but I guess some of the concepts ended up getting used.
After seeing them, Rebecca brought up the works of Lotte Reineger, the german animator. This fit perfectly, we had both studied The Adventures of Prince Achmed and her other films in college and Lotte Reineger is a huge inspiration. Not only are her films hauntingly beautiful, she created the first ever animated feature film and the first multi-plane camera way before Walt Disney did. She’s an unsung animation pioneer.
I originally thought the whole thing would be in silhouette but we allowed the main characters to have interior detail with limited palettes. I love limited palettes!!! Rebecca oversaw the resulting design process with our art director Jasmin Lai and I really think it came together great. In the final episode, the Shadow Puppet section is boarded by Lamar Abrams and he completely made the whole thing work which was not an easy feat. There’s some really inventive stuff in there.
Really really honored to have done the Google Doodle today for one of my animation heroes Lotte Reiniger! She made the oldest surviving feature length animation, and created the predecessor to the multiplane camera, predating disney. Her films still hold up as extremely beautiful and witty fairy tales.
I’m really thankful to my team, who trusted me when I said I was going to build my own rig and puppets and film a 90 second short in a few months.
Thursday’s Google Doodle is a short, wordless animated tribute to the one of the first female trailblazers in film, Lotte Reiniger. Born 117 years ago June 2, Reiniger’s animations were laborious works of art, consisting of hand-cut pieces of card and air. Watch Google’s tribute and her original work.
The evil step-sister fools the Prince by hacking off part of her foot to fit the slipper. (A scene left out of a lot of tellings). He gets halfway back to the castle with her before the birds come and tell him he’s been tricked and the real Cinderella has been locked in the cellar. He goes back to find her.
‘Isn’t it wonderful that you’ve had such a great career, when you had no right to have a career at all?’— Telegram from Katherine Hepburn read out during the Director’s Guild of America tribute to Dorothy Arzner, 1975
Currently trying to prioritise watching more films directed by women and consequently will be adding to this as I watch more. 1 film per director.
Falling Leaves (dir. Alice Guy-Blaché, 1912)
Suspense (dir. Lois Weber, 1913)
The Smiling Madam Beudet (dir. Germaine Dulac, 1922)
The Adventures of Prince Achmed (dir. Lotte Reiniger, 1926)
Fieldwork Footage (dir. Zora Neale Hurston, 1928)
Merrily We Go to Hell (dir. Dorothy Arzner, 1932)
Meshes of the Afternoon (dir. Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943)
Introspection (dir. Sara Kathryn Arledge, 1946)
Begone Dull Care (dir. Evelyn Lambart and Norman McLaren, 1949)
Love Letter (dir. Kinuyo Tanaka, 1953)
A Portrait of Ga (dir. Margaret Tait, 1955)
Cléo from 5 to 7 (dir. Agnès Varda, 1962)
The House is Black (dir. Forough Farrokhzad, 1963)
Bad Girls Go to Hell (dir. Doris Wishman, 1965)
Daisies (dir. Věra Chytilová, 1966)
Lights (dir. Marie Menken, 1966)
Fuses (dir. Carolee Schneemann, 1967)
Reason Over Passion (dir. Joyce Wieland, 1969)
The Student Nurses (dir. Stephanie Rothman, 1970)
Wanda (dir. Barbara Loden, 1970)
Kaldalon (dir. Dore O, 1971)
The Other Side of the Underneath (dir. Jane Arden, 1972)
Sambizanga (dir. Sarah Maldoror, 1972)
Love and Anarchy (dir. Lina Wertmüller, 1973)
Messiah of Evil (dir. Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, 1973)
Dyketactics (dir. Barbara Hammer, 1974)
Film About a Woman Who… (dir. Yvonne Rainer, 1974)
For Lotte Reiniger’s birthday Google Doodle created this short animated film done in her style by Olivia Huynh.
Reiniger was a German animator and director who was responsible for creating the first feature length animated film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, in 1926, using images cut out with cardboard paper.