From Lotte Reiniger to Walt Disney

Hola amigos!  A few days ago, I talked about how Walt Disney revolted the animation industry by the creation of the Multiplane Camera and mention that Disney’s invention had had preceding experiences in Europe.

In the popular culture, it had been said  that Walt Disney’s Snow White was the first animation featured film;  however, Snow White was the first colored one. This merit is for Quirino Cristiani in The Apostle (1917), which celluloid ended transformed on a comb as storing the films was not a habit then. Lotte Reiniger’s Die Geschichte des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed, 1926) is the first animated film which is conserved.

Lotte Reiniger was born in the German Empire in 1899, where she got her interest about cinema thought George Melies films. Being only a child, she got involved in  the Theatre of Max Reinhard. Nevertheless, she had a special talent for free-handed silhouettes, which took Paul Wegener’s eye, who was part of Reinhard’s theater group as well. This director, famous for The Golem (1920),  invited Lotte to make silhouettes for the intertitles in some of his films and introduced her into the Berliner Institut für Kulturforschung, an experimental animation studio where she met up Carl Roch, her future husband.

In 1921, she married Carl Roch which became the photography director and producer of Reiniger’s early filmography. With the help of the jew Berliner banker Louis Hage, they could start working in The Adventures of Prince Achmed, released three years after.

This film was an important reference point for Walt Disney, whom studios designed the Multiplane Camera from Lotte’s workflow. In some occasions, she was asked about Disney’s work and stated: “Walt Disney’s films are hypertechnical. The technique is not essential, but It is the creativity of using simple tools to discover new ways and silhouettes are, because of their simplicity, a good school”.

Lotte Reiniger opened an alternative way between shadow theater and cartoons: the silhouettes theater, where the stop-motion techniques were used by filming frame-by-frame these silhouettes, adding small changes to create the motion illusion. “Inspired by Chinese shadows theater, the silhouettes theater has a very precise technique, It only needs scissors, black cardboard, tracing paper, yarn or wire, some lead, a camera, light bulbs, a glass plate, wood to build a table photography and … patience . ” (Lotte Reiniger)

While not demonstrating the sophistication of later multiplane cameras, the film definitely shows overlaying animation on multiple levels. Her assistant Berthold Bartosch expanded on the multiplane techniques in his film “L’Idée” (The Idea– 1932), using up to four levels of animation and up to eighteen cam06.gifera super-impositions in some scenes (The Big Cartoon Data Base).

In the photograph, Carl Koch on camera, Walter Tück animating the upper layer and Lotte Reiniger moving the silhouettes.

The foreshortening is one of the most evident lacks of Reiniger’s filmography comparing to Disney, but plain figures over a well illuminated colored acetate layer were enough to create this marvelous world.

I strongly recommend these fragments of Lotte’s work: The first, The Adventures of Prince Achmed; the second, which techniques are more developed, Cinderella.

Ub Iwerks made his contribution to the multiplane camera too; between 1919 and 1930, Iwerks worked drawing with Walt Disney in the Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists company, which he left to create his own company in 1930, when Disney was about to develop his camera.

When Iwerks knew about the creation which Walt was working on, Iwerk enclosed himself in his basement and created his own multiplane camera by using his old Chevrolette pieces. The main difference is that Iwerk’s camera was still horizontal, apart from a major simplicity on the mechanism and less layers. Nevertheless, Ub Iwerks performed his first film using this camera, Don Quixote (1934), four years before Snow White and the seven Dwarfs. 



Isaacs, John. The Art of Lotte Reiniger (1953-1971). Available in Daily Motion. (Accessed in 23/11/2015)

The Big Cartoon Data Base. Did Walt Disney created the first multiplane camera (2012), The Big Cartoon News (Accessed in 24/11/2015)

Asher, Alexandria N. Lotte Reiniger’s Career in Animation and Her First Full-length Animated Film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (2014), University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Kempt, Philip. Reiniger, Lotte (1899-1981) (2014), Screenonline: The Definitive guide to Britain’s film and Tv history (Acceded in 27/11/2015)

Tellez, María José. Perfil: Lotte Reiniger, la exquisitez de las películas de siluetas (2004) . CHC: Cómo hacer cine. (Acceded in 27/11/2015)

Moritz, William. Lotte Reiniger. AWN Expert Blogs (Acceded in 25/11/2015)

Martinez-Salanova Sánchez, Enrique. Lotte Reiniger: Pionera del cine de animación. Universidad de Huelva. (Acceded in 25/11/2015)

Lorenzo, María. Lotte Reiniger: Luces y sombras de la alemania de entreguerras (2013). Mujeres para la historia. 


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