Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lotte Reiniger (1899-1981)

Today is the birthday of the brightest shining female animation pioneer in motion picture history - Lotte Reiniger. She was also a director, in collaboration with her husband, and most of her films were based on famous children tales.

Lotte Reiniger was born in Berlin, Germany, June 2, 1899. As a child, a fascination for the Chinese art of puppetry commenced - a fascination that would colour the rest of her life. As a teenager the works of the technical film pioneer George Méliès and Der Golem director Paul Wegener would enchant her even more, that lead Lotte to convince her parents to register her in the theatre group Wegener belonged to - the Theatre of Max Reinhardt.
Her fascination for Paul Wegener developed into something more like a devotion, and attracting the attention of her busy hero was not the easiest task. She succeeded by starting to make silhouette portrait of the actors of the group, showing her natural talent ofr handling paper and scissors. She soon got the job of creating title cards of Wegener's films.

In 1918 the 19 year old Lotte Reiniger impressed with her work of making wooden rats for Wegener's The Pied Piper from Hamelin (Der Rattenfänger von Hameln, 1918), and was admitted to the Institut für Kulturforschung (Institute of Cultural Discovery), an experimental animation studio. There she met her future husband and co-worker Carl Koch.

Lotte's first work as a director resulted in a short animation film called The Ornament of the Love Struck Heart (Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens, 1919), a film involving two lovers and ornaments that reflect their moods. The film was very well recieved, and over the next few years Lotte mad six more animated films, all produced and photographed by her husband. She also worked with Fritz Lang, making the silhouette falcon for a dream sequence in Die Niebelungen: Sigfried (Sigfried's Death, 1924).

Lotte Reiniger made a Cinderella animation in 1922, Cinderella (Aschenputtel), and in 1954 the text was replaced with an English narration. Here is the latter version:

In 1923 Lotte's big breakthrough came along. With the help of a banker, who had Lotte as his protegée and his children's Art Teacher, Lotte Reiniger worked hard for three years with an animated film, which would result in The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Die Abenteuerdes Prinzen Achmed, 1926). The plot is put together by pieces from "The Book of One Thousand and One Nights", and by the support of her friend Jean Renoir the film became a huge success when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

Even though many people think that the first feature-length animated film was Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), The Adventures of Prince Achmed really is the oldest surviving animated feature film. Lotte Reiniger was also well over a decade before both Walt Disney and his special effect favourite Ub Iwerks when it came to the use of multiplane camera for certain effects.

Working with the first multiplane camera on the Prince Ahmed project. The multiplane camera was used to be able to animate different types of actions at the same time.

After the success with The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Lotte could now continue with animation without having to worry about being noticed. She soon came up with a Dr. Doolittle and His Animals (Dr. Doolittle und seine Tiere, 1928), and also co-directed her first live-action film with husband Carl Koch and Rochus Gliese. The film was called The Pursuit of Happiness (Die Jagd nach dem Glück, 1930) and starred earlier mentioned Jean Renoir. It told the story about a shadow-puppet troup, and included a 20 minute animated sequence by Lotte Reiniger. The film did however finish just as the sound film arrived to Germany, so the film was delayed for a year to add dubbed-in voices of other actors - of course with the result of ruining the film and making it unsuccessful.

Working with Prince Achmed and his magic horse. Look at that lulu haircut!

When the Nazi Party started taking a grip on Germany, Lotte and Carl Koch (who were Leftists) tried to move out of the country. They spent 1933-1939 travelling from country to country, staying as long as their travel visas allowed them. Even if they had to move all the time, they still managed to make animated films such as Carmen (1933) and Papageno (1939) , based on famous operas.

Lotte Reiniger also made a few short advertising films for the General Post Office. Here you can see the four minute long The HPO - Heavenly Post Office from 1938.

When World War II started they had to stay in Berlin, and somehow they managed not to upset the regime. In 1949 the couple finally was able to move to London and become British citizens. In 1955 she got the commission from Telecasting America to make animated shorts of the Grimms' fairy tales, thus resulting in Hansel and Gretel (1955) and Jack and the Beanstalk (1955).

Hansel and Gretel (1955). The squirrel the children follow is a perfect example of Reiniger's expertise.

Carl Koch passed away in 1962, and Lotte Reiniger died at the age of 82 in Germany, 1981.


Elizabeth said...

Wow! It sounds like she made some really fascinatinge films! I'll have to go look her up!

Lolita said...

I actually thought about you when writing about Lotte - seemed like a person you would be interested in! ;)

retroliving said...

She is amazing I am so intrigued by her thank you for posting this.


Lolita said...

Thanks for your kind words!

Meredith said...

that was fascinating! i love silhouettes, or whatever the proper term would be, so i really admire her work from what you've laid out here. thanks for bringing this interesting lady to our attention!

Lolita said...

I actually found her just the other day! I've read about her a bit when I read about film history some years ago, so one can say that I re-discovered her. But I'm glad for your reaction, just as I hoped for!