Lotte Reiniger
Charlotte "Lotte" Reiniger (June 2, 1899 – June 19, 1981) was a German silhouette
Silhouette animation
Silhouette animation is animation in which the characters are only visible as black silhouettes. This is usually accomplished by backlighting articulated cardboard cut-outs, though other methods exist...

Animation is the rapid display of a sequence of images of 2-D or 3-D artwork or model positions in order to create an illusion of movement. The effect is an optical illusion of motion due to the phenomenon of persistence of vision, and can be created and demonstrated in several ways...

 and film director
Film director
A film director is a person who directs the actors and film crew in filmmaking. They control a film's artistic and dramatic nathan roach, while guiding the technical crew and actors.-Responsibilities:...


Early life

Lotte Reiniger was born in Berlin-Charlottenburg
Charlottenburg is a locality of Berlin within the borough of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, named after Queen consort Sophia Charlotte...

, German Empire
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

, on June 2, 1899. As a child, she was fascinated with the Chinese art of silhouette puppet
A puppet is an inanimate object or representational figure animated or manipulated by an entertainer, who is called a puppeteer. It is used in puppetry, a play or a presentation that is a very ancient form of theatre....

ry, even building her own puppet theater so she could put on shows for her family and friends.

As a teenager, Reiniger fell in love with cinema, first with the films of Georges Méliès
Georges Méliès
Georges Méliès , full name Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès, was a French filmmaker famous for leading many technical and narrative developments in the earliest cinema. He was very innovative in the use of special effects...

 for their special effect
Special effect
The illusions used in the film, television, theatre, or entertainment industries to simulate the imagined events in a story are traditionally called special effects ....

s, then the films of actor and director Paul Wegener
Paul Wegener
Paul Wegener was a German actor, writer and film director known for his pioneering role in German expressionist cinema.-Stage and early film career:...

, known today for The Golem
The Golem: How He Came Into the World
The Golem: How He Came Into the World is a 1920 silent horror film by Paul Wegener. It was directed by Carl Boese and Wegener, written by Wegener and Henrik Galeen, and starred Wegener as the golem. The script was adapted from the 1915 novel The Golem by Gustav Meyrink...

(1920). In 1915, the young woman attended a lecture by Wegener that focused on the fantastic possibilities of animation.

After a bit of persuasion, she convinced her parents to enroll her in the acting group Wegener belonged to, the Theater of Max Reinhardt
Max Reinhardt
----Max Reinhardt was an Austrian theater and film director and actor.-Biography:...

. In an attempt to attract the attention of her distant and very-busy hero, she started making silhouette portraits of the various actors around her. This had its desired effect, and soon she was making elaborate title cards for Wegener's films, many of which featured silhouettes.

Adulthood and success

In 1918, Reiniger animated wooden rats and created the animated intertitles for Wegener's Der Rattenfänger von Hameln (The Pied Piper of Hamelin). The success of this work got her admitted into the Institut für Kulturforschung (Institute for Cultural Research), an experimental animation studio. It was here that she met her future creative partner and husband (from 1921), Carl Koch, as well as other avant-garde artists such as Hans Curlis, Berthold Brecht, Berthold Bartosch
Berthold Bartosch
Berthold Bartosch was a film-maker, born in Bohemia .He moved to Berlin in 1920 and collaborated with Lotte Reiniger on her paper silhouette animations:*The Ornament of the Loving Heart...

, and others.

The first film Reiniger directed was Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens (The Ornament of the Enamoured Heart, 1919), a short piece involving two lovers and an ornament that reflected their moods. The film was very well received. She made six short films during the following few years, all produced and photographed by her husband. These were interspersed with advertising films (the Julius Pinschewer advertising agency invented ad films and sponsored a large number of abstract animators during the Weimar period
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

) and special effects for various feature films – most famously a silhouette falcon for a dream sequence in Part One of Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang
Friedrich Christian Anton "Fritz" Lang was an Austrian-American filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor. One of the best known émigrés from Germany's school of Expressionism, he was dubbed the "Master of Darkness" by the British Film Institute...

's Die Nibelungen
Die Nibelungen
Die Nibelungen is a series of two silent fantasy films created by Austrian director Fritz Lang in 1924: Die Nibelungen: Siegfried and Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild's Revenge....

). During this period she became the center of a large group of ambitious German animators, such as Bartosch, Hans Richter
Hans Richter
Hans Richter may refer to:*Hans Richter , Austrian conductor*Hans Richter , designer of the Volksbühne in Berlin and villa Heller in Ústí nad Labem...

, Walter Ruttmann
Walter Ruttmann
Walter Ruttmann was a German film director and along with Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling was an early German practitioner of experimental film....

, and Oskar Fischinger
Oskar Fischinger
Oskar Fischinger was a German-American abstract animator, filmmaker, and painter. He made over 50 short animated films, and painted c. 800 canvases, many of which are in museums, galleries and collections worldwide. Among his film works is Motion Painting No. 1 , which is now listed on the...


In 1923, a unique opportunity came her way. She was approaced by Louis Hagen, who had bought a large quantity of raw film stock as an investment to fight the spiraling inflation of the period, who asked her to do a feature length animated film. The result was The Adventures of Prince Achmed
The Adventures of Prince Achmed
The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a 1926 German animated fairytale film by Lotte Reiniger. It is the oldest surviving animated feature film; two earlier ones were made in Argentina by Quirino Cristiani, but they are considered lost...

, completed in 1926, the oldest surviving animated feature film, with a plot that is a pastiche of stories from One Thousand and One Nights. Although it failed to a find a distributor for almost a year, once premiered at the Cannes Film Festival
Cannes Film Festival
The Cannes International Film Festival , is an annual film festival held in Cannes, France, which previews new films of all genres including documentaries from around the world. Founded in 1946, it is among the world's most prestigious and publicized film festivals...

 (thanks to the support of Jean Renoir
Jean Renoir
Jean Renoir was a French film director, screenwriter, actor, producer and author. As a film director and actor, he made more than forty films from the silent era to the end of the 1960s...

), it then became a critical and popular success. Reiniger anticipated Walt Disney
Walt Disney
Walter Elias "Walt" Disney was an American film producer, director, screenwriter, voice actor, animator, entrepreneur, entertainer, international icon, and philanthropist, well-known for his influence in the field of entertainment during the 20th century. Along with his brother Roy O...

 and Ub Iwerks
Ub Iwerks
Ub Iwerks, A.S.C. was a two-time Academy Award winning American animator, cartoonist, character designer, inventor, creator of Mickey Mouse, and special effects technician, who was famous for his work for Walt Disney....

 by a decade by devising the first multi-plane camera for certain effects. In addition to Reiniger's silhouette actors, Prince Achmed boasted dream-like backgrounds by Walter Ruttmann
Walter Ruttmann
Walter Ruttmann was a German film director and along with Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling was an early German practitioner of experimental film....

 (her partner in the Die Nibelungen sequence) and a symphonic score by Wolfgang Zeller
Wolfgang Zeller
Wolfgang Zeller was a German composer noted for his complex film music.-Early life:Born in Biesenrode, Germany, Zeller was the son of a vicar. As a child, he studied violin and showed an aptitude for composition...

. Additional effects were added by Carl Koch and Berthold Bartosch
Berthold Bartosch
Berthold Bartosch was a film-maker, born in Bohemia .He moved to Berlin in 1920 and collaborated with Lotte Reiniger on her paper silhouette animations:*The Ornament of the Loving Heart...


The success of Prince Achmed meant that Lotte Reiniger would not need a stroke of luck to make a second feature. Doktor Dolittle und seine Tiere (Doctor Dolittle
Doctor Dolittle
Doctor John Dolittle is the central character of a series of children's books by Hugh Lofting starting with the 1920 The Story of Doctor Dolittle. He is a doctor who shuns human patients in favour of animals, with whom he can speak in their own languages...

 and His Animals
, 1928) was based on the first of the English children's books by Hugh Lofting
Hugh Lofting
Hugh John Lofting was a British author, trained as a civil engineer, who created the character of Doctor Dolittle — one of the classics of children's literature.-Personal life:...

. The score this time was composed by Kurt Weill
Kurt Weill
Kurt Julian Weill was a German-Jewish composer, active from the 1920s, and in his later years in the United States. He was a leading composer for the stage who was best known for his fruitful collaborations with Bertolt Brecht...

, Paul Hindemith
Paul Hindemith
Paul Hindemith was a German composer, violist, violinist, teacher, music theorist and conductor.- Biography :Born in Hanau, near Frankfurt, Hindemith was taught the violin as a child...

 and Paul Dessau. A year later, Reiniger co-directed her first live-action film with Rochus Gliese, Die Jagd nach dem Glück (The Pursuit of Happiness, 1929), a tale about a shadow-puppet troupe. The film starred Jean Renoir
Jean Renoir
Jean Renoir was a French film director, screenwriter, actor, producer and author. As a film director and actor, he made more than forty films from the silent era to the end of the 1960s...

 and Bertold Bartosch and included a 20-minute silhouette performance by Reiniger. Unfortunately, the film was completed just as sound came to Germany, and release of the film was delayed until 1930 to dub in voices by different actors – the result being so unsuccessful as to ruin any enjoyment of the film. Reiniger also attempted to make a third animated feature, based on Maurice Ravel
Maurice Ravel
Joseph-Maurice Ravel was a French composer known especially for his melodies, orchestral and instrumental textures and effects...

's opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

 L'enfant et les sortilèges
L'enfant et les sortilèges
L'enfant et les sortilèges: Fantaisie lyrique en deux parties is an opera in one act, with music by Maurice Ravel to a libretto by Colette. It is Ravel's second opera, his first being L'heure espagnole...

(The Child and the Bewitched Things, 1925), but found herself unable to clear the rights for the music with an unexpected number of copyright
Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time...

 holders. She worked with British poet, critic, and musician Eric Walter White on several films, and he wrote the early book-length essay on her work – Walking Shadows: An Essay on Lotte Reiniger's Silhouette Films, (London: Leonard and Virginia Woolf, 1931).

Flight from Germany and later life

With the rise of the Nazi Party, Reiniger and Koch decided to emigrate (both were involved in left-wing politics
Left-wing politics
In politics, Left, left-wing and leftist generally refer to support for social change to create a more egalitarian society...

), but found that no other country would give them permanent visas. As a result, the couple spent the years 1933–1939 moving from country to country, staying as long as travel visas would allow. When they couldn't get a travel visa, they were forced to stay in Germany. Somehow, they still managed to make 12 films during this period, the best-known being Carmen (1933) and Papageno (1935), both based on popular operas (Bizet
Georges Bizet
Georges Bizet formally Alexandre César Léopold Bizet, was a French composer, mainly of operas. In a career cut short by his early death, he achieved few successes before his final work, Carmen, became one of the most popular and frequently performed works in the entire opera repertory.During a...

's Carmen
Carmen is a French opéra comique by Georges Bizet. The libretto is by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on the novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée, first published in 1845, itself possibly influenced by the narrative poem The Gypsies by Alexander Pushkin...

and Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart , was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music...

's Die Zauberflöte
The Magic Flute
The Magic Flute is an opera in two acts composed in 1791 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to a German libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. The work is in the form of a Singspiel, a popular form that included both singing and spoken dialogue....

). When World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 commenced, they were forced to stay in Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...


In 1949, Reiniger and Koch were finally able to move to London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. She made a few short advertising films for the General Post Office
General Post Office
General Post Office is the name of the British postal system from 1660 until 1969.General Post Office may also refer to:* General Post Office, Perth* General Post Office, Sydney* General Post Office, Melbourne* General Post Office, Brisbane...

. Whilst Reiniger was living in London in the early 1950s she befriended "Freddie" Bloom who was the first director of the National Deaf Children's Society
National Deaf Children's Society
'The National Deaf Children's Society' is the only British charity solely dedicated to providing support, information and advice for deaf children and young people, their families and professionals working with them....

. She asked her to design a logo for the new charity. Reiniger responded by cutting out 4 children running up a hill. Freddie was amazed at her skill with a scissors. In a few moments she created about four different silhouettes of the children from black paper. The logo was used until the 1990s when a design company was invited to revamp the design. The result was a very minor modification but the new design was also dropped a few years later.

In 1955, Louis Hagen, Jr. of Primrose Productions obtained a commission from Telecasting America for Lotte Reiniger to create a series of short animation films based on some Grimm's Fairy Tales
Grimm's Fairy Tales
Children's and Household Tales is a collection of German origin fairy tales first published in 1812 by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the Brothers Grimm. The collection is commonly known today as Grimms' Fairy Tales .-Composition:...

. Reiniger also provided illustrations for the 1953 book King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table
King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table
King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table is a children's novel written by Roger Lancelyn Green. It was first published in Puffin Books in 1953 and has been frequently reprinted. In 2008 it was reissued in the Puffin Classics series. This edition has an introduction by David Almond and...

by Roger Lancelyn Green.

Reiniger was awarded the Filmband in Gold of the Deutscher Filmpreis
Deutscher Filmpreis
The Deutscher Filmpreis is the highest German movie award. From 1951 to 2004 it was awarded by a commission, since 2005 the award has been given by the Deutsche Filmakademie...

 in 1972; in 1979 she received the Great Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Reiniger died in Dettenhausen
Dettenhausen is a municipality in the district of Tübingen in Baden-Württemberg in Germany.Dettenhausen is a village in the administrative district of Tübingen, in the Schönbuch Nature Park. It is located 11 km north of Tübingen, and about 25 km south of Stuttgart, the capital of...

, Germany, on June 19, 1981, at the age of 82.


  • Although all subsequent makers of animated fairy tales could be said to have been influenced by Reiniger, Bruno J. Böttge is probably the one who has made the most explicit references to her work.
  • Michel Ocelot
    Michel Ocelot
    Michel Ocelot is a French writer, character designer, storyboard artist and director of animated films and television programs and a former president of the International Animated Film Association...

     employs many of the techniques devolved by Reiniger, along with others of his own invention, in his silhouette film Princes et princesses
    Princes et princesses
    Ciné si is a 1989 French silhouette animation television series conceived, written and directed by Michel Ocelot and realised at La Fabrique, consisting of short fairy tale and retro-future stories performed by the same animated "actors." A critical success but commercial failure at the time, no...

  • The silhouette books of illustrator Jan Pieńkowski
    Jan Pienkowski
    Jan Michel Pieńkowski is a Polish-born British illustrator and author of children's books.Pieńkowski illustrated his first book at the age of eight, as a present for his father. During World War II, Pieńkowski's family moved about Europe, finally settling in Herefordshire, England in 1946...

     are reminiscent of Reiniger and Hans Christian Andersen
    Hans Christian Andersen
    Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish author, fairy tale writer, and poet noted for his children's stories. These include "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," "The Snow Queen," "The Little Mermaid," "Thumbelina," "The Little Match Girl," and "The Ugly Duckling."...

     in their coloured backgrounds and complex arrangements.
  • Be-PaPas' TV series Revolutionary Girl Utena
    Revolutionary Girl Utena
    is a manga by Chiho Saito and anime directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. The manga serial began in the June 1996 issue of Ciao and the anime was first broadcast in 1997. The anime and manga were created simultaneously, but, despite some similarities, they progressed in different directions. A movie, was...

    frequently references silhouette paintings, shadow puppets, flying horses and the European fairy tale tradition – all icons of Reiniger's films – but there is no known official confirmation of her influence.
  • The ending credits of the film 300
    300 (film)
    300 is a 2007 American fantasy action film based on the 1998 comic series of the same name by Frank Miller. It is a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae. The film was directed by Zack Snyder, while Miller served as executive producer and consultant...

     (2007) depict a battle in silhouette, and the source-material graphic novel by Frank Miller
    Frank Miller (comics)
    Frank Miller is an American comic book artist, writer and film director best known for his dark, film noir-style comic book stories and graphic novels Ronin, Daredevil: Born Again, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City and 300...

     features extensive use of stylised silhouettes.
  • Experimental animation artist, filmmaker and activist Helen Hill
    Helen Hill
    Helen Hill was an American animation filmmaker and social activist who lived in New Orleans, Louisiana.In the pre-dawn hours of January 4, 2007, Hill was murdered by a random intruder in her New Orleans home...

     drew inspiration from the cut-out silhouettes of Lotte Reiniger and went on to incorporate stop motion
    Stop motion
    Stop motion is an animation technique to make a physically manipulated object appear to move on its own. The object is moved in small increments between individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames is played as a continuous sequence...

    , puppetry, cycles, and drawing on film in her own award-winning animation.
  • Further influences can be seen in many music videos, including "Annie, Let's Not Wait" – Guillemots (Dir: Corin Hardy), "Bench Sleeping" – My Little Problem & "Ladybug" – The Presidents Of The United States of America
    The Presidents of the United States of America (band)
    The Presidents of the United States of America, commonly referred to as Pot USA or "PUSA" or The Presidents, are a twice Grammy-nominated American alternative rock band. The band formed in Seattle, USA, in 1993. The three-piece group currently comprises vocalist and "basitarist" Chris Ballew,...

    ' (both Dir: Moog).
  • Film director Henry Selick
    Henry Selick
    Henry Selick is an American stop motion director, producer and writer who is best known for directing The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach and Coraline...

     was influenced by Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed
    The Adventures of Prince Achmed
    The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a 1926 German animated fairytale film by Lotte Reiniger. It is the oldest surviving animated feature film; two earlier ones were made in Argentina by Quirino Cristiani, but they are considered lost...


Filmography (as director)

  • The Rose and the Ring (1979 short)
  • Aucassin and Nicolette (1975 short)
  • The Frog Prince (1961 short)
  • Hansel and Gretel (1955 short)
  • Jack and the Beanstalk (1955 short)
  • Aladdin and the Magic Lamp (1954 short)
  • Caliph Storch (1954 short)
  • Cinderella (1954 short)
  • Puss in Boots (1954 short)
  • Snow White and Rose Red (1954 short)
  • The Frog Prince (1954 short)
  • The Gallant Little Tailor (1954 short)
  • The Grasshopper and the Ant (1954 short)
  • The Little Chimney Sweep (1954 short)
  • The Sleeping Beauty (1954 short)
  • The Three Wishes (1954 short)
  • Thumbelina (1954 short)
  • The Magic Horse (1953 short)
  • Mary's Birthday (1951)
  • The Goose That Lays the Golden Eggs (1944 short)
  • The HPO - Heavenly Post Office (1938 short)
  • Daughter (1937)
  • The Tocher (1937 short)
  • Silhouetten (1936 animation scenes)
  • Puss in Boots (1936)
  • Der kleine Schornsteinfeger (1935 short)
  • Galathea: Das lebende Marmorbild (1935 short)
  • Kalif Storch (1935)
  • Papageno (1935 short)
  • Das gestohlene Herz (1934 short)
  • Carmen (1933 short)
  • Sissi (1932)
  • Harlekin (1931 short)
  • Zehn Minuten Mozart (1930 short)
  • Der scheintote Chinese (1928 short)
  • Dr. Dolittle and His Animals (1928 short)
  • The Chinese Nightingale (1927)
  • The Adventures of Prince Achmed
    The Adventures of Prince Achmed
    The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a 1926 German animated fairytale film by Lotte Reiniger. It is the oldest surviving animated feature film; two earlier ones were made in Argentina by Quirino Cristiani, but they are considered lost...

  • Aschenputtel (1922 short)
  • Das Geheimnis der Marquisin (1922 short)
  • The Flying Koffer (1922 short)
  • Sleeping Beauty (1922)
  • The Star of Bethlehem (1921)
  • The Ornament of the Lovestruck Heart (1919)

External links

  • "Born to Be Wild", a biographical excerpt from Women and Animation, a Compendium (edited by Jayne Pilling) focusing on Reiniger's childhood; part of the British Film Institute's "Drawn to be Wild" website
  • "Lotte Reiniger's Silhouettes" by Abhijit Ghosh Dasitidar
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