“Even with primitive materials, one can work small wonders” Matt 06 Sep 2006

17 comments Latest by Carlos N. Molina

Achmed 1

Ten years before Walt Disney gave the world Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, German filmmaker Lotte Reiniger and her collaborators created The Adventures of Prince Achmed, a gorgeous animated feature that uses cut out silhouettes and dramatic backgrounds to tell its story.

“The paper animations of Lotte Reiniger” gives some insight into the process.

Using scissors and masses of black paper, she fabricated paper silhouettes of extraordinary delicacy and subtlety, each as graceful as a little black dress. Her use of silhouette capitalized on both the strength and fragility of paper, but more important, Reiniger made paper move…Walter Schobert, curator of the German Film Museum in Frankfurt, numbers it among the “greatest films of the 20th century”…

Though inspired by shadow theater, Reiniger’s figures appear to have none of the stiffness of their non-film predecessors. “Film is movement,” she noted, often comparing filmmaking to ballet. “It’s the combination of curves and diagonals that gives ballet and animation their sweet tenderness and their striking directness.” While using literal light and shadow, Reiniger also relied on the shadings of music: the fine variations in her animations often parallel the tone and stress of musical notes rather than the hiccoughs of flip-book style animating techniques. She rather modestly noted that, “even with primitive materials, one can work small wonders.”

Achmed 2

The Achmed film offers a striking contrast to the computer animations coming from studios today, as this reviewer notes:

These characters are often more fun to watch than those found in the most finely detailed computer animation from Pixar. Especially good is the African Sorcerer, whose insectile body goes through incredible contortions as he scuttles through the scenery or transforms into various terrifying creatures.

Reiniger’s film also offers stunningly dramatic visuals that make very effective use of background color. In one notable scene, the prince watches Peri Banu and her maidens as they shed their magic flying cloaks to bathe in a lake. This enchanting interlude is heart-stopping in its ethereal black-on-blue beauty.

For a modern taste of paper craftsmanship, check out Peter Callesen’s magic A4 papercut series. It’s further proof that great ideas glow even when tools and materials are basic.

I find this materialization of a flat piece of paper into a 3D form almost as a magic process - or maybe one could call it obvious magic, because the process is obvious and the figures still stick to their origin, without the possibility of escaping.




17 comments so far (Jump to latest)

condor 06 Sep 06

you can see a clip from The Adventures of Prince Achmed … http://youtube.com/watch?v=Q7FVvqC__Oc . . impressive detail

Dan Boland 06 Sep 06

Hell, even South Park started out as crude construction paper cutouts. I’ll have to check this out.

Andrew 06 Sep 06

There’s also Kara Walker, who uses the black paper silhouette technique (though not animation) to create narratives about race and racism, allegory, and identity.

Don Schenck 06 Sep 06

I’m in the middle of building a paper clock … What a great inspiration!

Sandy 06 Sep 06

How does this apply to 37 signal’s work?

Is a finely crafted paper-based communication system as good or better than the digital?

Peter Cooper 06 Sep 06

This reminds me of one of Michel Gondry’s (he of infinite music video and movie fame) first music videos called “Bolide” for the band Oui Oui. It’s a car race and police chase through a city built out of paper. For some reason YouTube doesn’t have it, but it’s on the Michel Gondry DVD set.

ML 06 Sep 06

How does this apply to 37 signal�s work?

Well, not every post here has to directly apply to 37s work…but…we talk a lot about embracing restraints and these are good examples of how others create more with “less.” See also: Warning: May Contain Non-Design Content.

MrBlank 06 Sep 06

I have a neat paper related art link:

Last weekend I had a chance to attend �First Fridays� in KC Mo. and found a gem among all the arty rough. Juniper Tangpuz creates amazing interactive paper sculptures that include fantasy animals, pop-up books and working machines. You have to watch the videos on his site to understand how well-built and intricate his work is. Plus, he�s a cool guy too!

Harry 06 Sep 06


BT 06 Sep 06

Another film that uses cut out silhouettes The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello

patricia miranda 14 Sep 06

lindoooooooo wonderful
in some way it remember me the middle age illustration

Carlos N. Molina 26 Sep 06

Notice that there are a few links about paper art/sculpture. Thought someone my enjoy looking at my paper work at


Carlos N. Molina 26 Sep 06

I am including an image of my paper work, Utopian Garden. Originally the piece was made of white paper. I added color digitally to create a “new” pieces - from paper sculpture to digital photography.