“Even with primitive materials, one can work small wonders” 06 Sep 2006
17 comments Latest by Carlos N. Molina
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.”
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.
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.