Survey of Animation: Lotte Reiniger

Lotte Reiniger was one of many different artist who used stop motion animation to create work that would not have been able to be portrayed in a similar manner in both live action filming or traditional animation. Reiniger’s style makes the upmost use of extremely intricate cut-out figures, objects and backgrounds. That’s not to say that this shadow puppetry is the only thing holding her work afloat. The animation, not just for the time, is quite fluid and holds life consistently well even in her more cartoony/abstract figures.

Reiniger’s film Cinderella (1922) illustrates a good example of the strong character animation, and it does so with more simplistic scenes, settings, and characters. Then around halfway into the film Cinderella receives her more elegant dress and the settings become a bit more intricate. Reiniger’s more intricate style really comes forth later and is essentially put on display in her 1935 film, Papageno.

There is an immediate difference in the presentation between Papageno and Cinderella. Scenes are no longer “boxed-in” with decorated edges allowing for more of a world to be set up around the story and characters. This allows for more of the character, and even more characters, animals, and flora to be shown in each shot. And the new open space is taken advantage of immediately.

Many of Reiniger’s films after Cinderella seem to also take place in more of a forest setting; as both The Magic Horse (1953), and Hansel and Gretel (1955). This seems to be almost an excuse for her to make exceedingly intricate scenes with many individual trees, bushes, leaves, and blades of grass. A forest or jungle setting sets up for details and Reiniger provides. And this is all without mentioning the direction that Reiniger also takes with her backgrounds in her films after Cinderella.

There is a huge jump from Reiniger putting essentially all objects in a scene only in the foreground. With Papageno she begins making elaborate greyscale backgrounds for her films that seem to just get more detailed with each of her films. The backgrounds in Papageno are sort of hazy, but become more clear and defined in The Magic Horse, and then even more so in Hansel and Gretel where there is not just forest to work with but huts and buildings too.

Overall, it is the sharpness and cleanness of the edges of everything that Reiniger cuts out for her films is on a level that traditional animation might not allow to move as freely as it does in her work. And something similar can be said for live action film; there is more of a graininess to the motion and capture of movement and detail in a live action film.

The fact that her work is close to the lens of the camera, like traditional animation, but also made of something that feels more organic or of something we could feel the texture of out of the film is really the true accomplishment of her works.

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