The Influence of Lotte Reiniger

Lotte Reiniger (1899 – 1981) was a German animator who should be more widely remembered for her influence on art and animation. Reiniger was a pioneer of silhouette animation. She made over sixty films. Eleven are considered lost and fifty have survived.

Lotte Reiniger invented the first multiplane camera. If you make use of layers in digital software today, you’re making use of an idea derived from the multiplane camera. As explained in the clip above, Walt Disney really liked this idea, made a more expensive one, patented it then called it his own. Remember that next time you see Disney file a copyright suit against someone else for making money out of “Disney” content.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs -- the Disney advertisement, using Lotte Reiniger's multiplane invention as part of their advertising.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — the Disney advertisement, using Lotte Reiniger’s multiplane invention as part of their advertising.

I wonder if Lotte herself were influenced by Japanese art. The following woodblock print is from the 1910s.

by Shoda Kaho (1871-1946), Mother and Baby in the Rain

Reiniger was also an illustrator. She did the artwork Tales of King Arthur by Roger Lancelyn Greene. Penguin have kept Reiniger’s artwork to this day.

The following stills are examples of her animation style.

DIE ABENTEUER DES PRINZEN ACHMED (1926) Lotte Reineger
DIE ABENTEUER DES PRINZEN ACHMED (1926) Lotte Reineger
DIE ABENTEUER DES PRINZEN ACHMED (1926) Lotte Reineger
DIE ABENTEUER DES PRINZEN ACHMED (1926) Lotte Reineger
DIE ABENTEUER DES PRINZEN ACHMED (1926) Lotte Reineger
DIE ABENTEUER DES PRINZEN ACHMED (1926) Lotte Reineger
DIE ABENTEUER DES PRINZEN ACHMED (1926) Lotte Reineger
DIE ABENTEUER DES PRINZEN ACHMED (1926) Lotte Reineger
DIE ABENTEUER DES PRINZEN ACHMED (1926) Lotte Reineger
DIE ABENTEUER DES PRINZEN ACHMED (1926) Lotte Reineger
DIE ABENTEUER DES PRINZEN ACHMED (1926) Lotte Reineger
DIE ABENTEUER DES PRINZEN ACHMED (1926) Lotte Reineger

Throughout the 50’s and 60’s in Britain, BBC TV used to screen her work in the children’s slot in the early evening. Her work is still available on the British Film Institute, for those who have geographical access to it.

Influence on other artists

The animations and illustrations below are descendants of a style pioneered by Lotte Reiniger. Where animated humans move clearly like puppets, this may be an homage to Reiniger. Look out also for aerial perspective achieved by foregrounding flat black images against one or two more muted colours serving as background (and middle ground).

Cover design and illustration by Georgette & Benjamin Harris, 1931
Cover design and illustration by Georgette & Benjamin Harris, 1931
The rounded shoulder sockets and movement are most reminiscent of Lotte Reiniger in this short film.
Directed and designed by Jeremy Bidgood, the influence of Lotte Reiniger is clear.
The silhouette style gave this popular app an easily recognisable art style.
Little Inferno is by the makers of World of Goo
Vasilisa the Beautiful about to bump into everyone’s favorite Russian Grandma by Jan Pienkowski 1975
This book cover retains the three colours typical of Lotte Reiniger.
The influence here is more subtle but evident in the flat silhouette main character in the foreground contrasting against a more (in fact highly) detailed background.
Too Noisy by Malachy Doyle and Ed Vere
Too Noisy by Malachy Doyle and Ed Vere

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Disney has consistently downplayed (and erased) the influential roles of women over its history. Another example is Millicent Patrick.

In 1953, Patrick designed the Gill-man creature for the film The Creature from the Black Lagoon. During promotion for the film Patrick was sent on a press tour, dubbed “The Beauty Who Created the Beast”, to discuss the creation of the creature. This was quickly changed by Westmore to “The Beauty Who Lives With the Beast”, to avoid citing Patrick as the creator of the Gill-man. When she returned to Los Angeles from the press tour Patrick was informed that she no longer worked for Universal Studios, having been let go due to Westmore’s jealousy over Patrick being associated with the creation of the Gill-man.

After leaving Universal, Patrick never worked behind the scenes again and returned to small acting roles. The creation of the Gill-man was credited to Westmore, until recent research, most notably by Mallory O’Meara in her 2019 book The Lady From the Black Lagoon, revealed Patrick to be the designer. Although Forrest J Ackerman in the 1970’s did an 8 page article documenting this and her work on other monster films In Famous Monster’s Magazine in an effort to give her proper credit as he knew her.

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