You have to admit the world would be a lot more boring without the magic and intrigue of animated movies. Growing up, I remember being glued to the screen whenever my mum put on Disney classics like The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast to keep me occupied while she got some work done around the house. Movies like these spark a child’s imagination, the importance of which is something that is unfortunately overlooked by many parents in our society. But that is a discussion for another time.
Before Walt Disney gave us the magic of… well, Disney, Lotte Reiniger was busy entertaining children with the visually stunning art of silhouette puppetry. Born in Berlin 1899, the underrated film-maker would’ve turned 117 today, and her incredible work should be remembered. Together with her husband Carl Koch, who worked the camera on most of her films, Reiniger produced one of the world’s first feature-length animation films, The Adventures of Prince Achmed.
Reiniger first began experimenting with her craft while still at school, making shadow puppets to entertain her classmates. After attending Max Reinhardt’s theatre school, she began on intertitles for Paul Wegener. Her designs were mainly made of hand-cut silhouettes. It was here that she developed the technique she eventually used to create a complete animated silhouette film. To give you a better idea of what her work was like, here’s Reiniger’s adaptation of Hansel and Gretel.
Reiniger’s style involved using thousands of photos of hand-cut silhouettes organized to tell a tale. Akin to present-day stop motion videos, these productions were a pain to make. Yet, it never deterred Reiniger from her passion. Most of the time she drew inspiration for her work from fairy tales, adapting classics like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. This probably had to do with her love for children. “I love working for children, because they are a very critical and very thankful public”, she once said.
Later Work and Legacy
Reiniger took a decade-long hiatus after her husband’s death in 1963. Following which, she produced her two final films, Aucassin and Nicolette (1975) and The Rose and the Ring (1979). Reiniger passed away in Dettenhausen, Germany, on 19 June 1981 at the age of 82, but left the world with over 40 tediously-made and expertly-shot animated films to remember her by. The Stadtmuseum Tübingen also displays much of her original materials in a permanent exhibit called “The World in Light and Shadow”, should you want to learn more about her work.
Rest in peace Lotte Reiniger, and thank you for inspiring generations of animators like yourself.