Silhouette animation
Silhouette animation is animation
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...

 in which the characters are only visible as black silhouette
A silhouette is the image of a person, an object or scene consisting of the outline and a basically featureless interior, with the silhouetted object usually being black. Although the art form has been popular since the mid-18th century, the term “silhouette” was seldom used until the early decades...

s. This is usually accomplished by backlighting
Backlighting (lighting design)
Backlighting refers to the process of illuminating the subject from the back. In other words, the lighting instrument and the viewer are facing towards each other, with the subject in between. This causes the edges of the subject to glow, while the other areas remain darker. The backlight can be a...

 articulated cardboard
Paperboard is a thick paper based material. While there is no rigid differentiation between paper and paperboard, paperboard is generally thicker than paper. According to ISO standards, paperboard is a paper with a basis weight above 224 g/m2, but there are exceptions. Paperboard can be single...

Cutout animation
Cutout animation is a technique for producing animations using flat characters, props and backgrounds cut from materials such as paper, card, stiff fabric or even photographs...

, though other methods exist. It is partially inspired by, but for a number of reasons technically distinct from, shadow play
Shadow play
Shadow play or shadow puppetry Shadow puppets have a long history in China, India, Turkey and Java, and as a popular form of entertainment for both children and adults in many countries around the world. A shadow puppet is a cut-out figure held between a source of light and a translucent screen...



Inspired by both European shadow play (ombres chinoises) and European silhouette cutting (Etienne de Silhouette
Étienne de Silhouette
Étienne de Silhouette was a French Controller-General of Finances under Louis XV.He was born in Limoges where his father Arnaud de Silhouette was sent....

 and Johanna Casper Lavater), the medium of silhouette animation in film seems to have invented independently by several people at around the same time, the earliest known being the short subject
Short subject
A short film is any film not long enough to be considered a feature film. No consensus exists as to where that boundary is drawn: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines a short film as "an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all...

 The Sporting Mice (1909) by British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

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:...

 Charles Armstrong
Charles Armstrong (disambiguation)
Charles Armstrong may refer to:*Charles Armstrong , British ethnographer and technologist*Charles Armstrong , American rower who won a medal at the 1904 Summer Olympics...

. The first to have survived is the same director's The Clown and His Donkey (1910). This, and at least one other of Armstrong's films (some stills of which have survived by being reproduced in a book by Georges Sadoul
Georges Sadoul
Georges Sadoul was a French journalist and cinema writer.Once a surrealist, he became a communist in 1932. He was a journalist of the Lettres Françaises....

), is in white silhouette on a plain black background. It is, however, most likely that neither the German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

An animator is an artist who creates multiple images that give an illusion of movement called animation when displayed in rapid sequence; the images are called frames and key frames. Animators can work in a variety of fields including film, television, video games, and the internet. Usually, an...

 Lotte Reiniger
Lotte Reiniger
Charlotte "Lotte" Reiniger was a German silhouette animator and film director.- Early life :Lotte Reiniger was born in Berlin-Charlottenburg, German Empire, on June 2, 1899...

 nor the American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

A puppeteer is a person who manipulates an inanimate object, such as a puppet, in real time to create the illusion of life. The puppeteer may be visible to or hidden from the audience. A puppeteer can operate a puppet indirectly by the use of strings, rods, wires, electronics or directly by his or...

 Tony Sarg
Tony Sarg
Anthony Frederick Sarg , known professionally as Tony Sarg, was a German American puppeteer and illustrator. He was described as "America's Puppet Master", and in his biography as the father of modern puppetry in North America.Sarg was born in Cobán, Guatemala, to Francis Charles Sarg and his...

 knew of his work, and it was Reiniger who first established many of what are now the standard practices of the formant with her first film, Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens (The Ornament of the Enamoured Heart, 1919). Her feature film
Feature film
In the film industry, a feature film is a film production made for initial distribution in theaters and being the main attraction of the screening, rather than a short film screened before it; a full length movie...

 Die Geschichte des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed, 1926) – one of the oldest of all animated features – coincided with a revival of interest in silhouettes and sparked off several imitators. Her influence is evident as far away as Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, with Toshio Suzuki's Yonjunin no Tozoku (Forty Burglars, 1928), and as early as 1924, with Hidehiko Okuda, Tomu Uchida
Tomu Uchida
was a Japanese film director. Tomu Uchida, whose name translates to “spit out dreams” is considered one of the less well known masters of Japanese cinema in the West, whose films are rarely screened and not widely available on DVD...

 and Hakuzan Kimura's Kanimanji Engi (The Tale of Crab Temple). A few silhouette films have also been produced by the National Film Board of Canada
National Film Board of Canada
The National Film Board of Canada is Canada's twelve-time Academy Award-winning public film producer and distributor. An agency of the Government of Canada, the NFB produces and distributes documentary, animation, alternative drama and digital media productions...


Today, pure silhouette films made professionally are rare, and fewer still are animators who work primarily within its confines. However, sequences of digital and drawn silhouette animation can be seen, for example, in South Park
South Park
South Park is an American animated television series created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone for the Comedy Central television network. Intended for mature audiences, the show has become famous for its crude language, surreal, satirical, and dark humor that lampoons a wide range of topics...

when the lights are turned off, in an episode of Mona the Vampire
Mona the Vampire
Mona the Vampire is a Canadian animated television series based on the series Robyn le Vampire, directed by Louis Piché and Jean Caillon, originally based on the short stories created and written Sonia Holleyman and later written by Hiawyn Oram. It is mainly shown on YTV, Radio-Canada, VRAK.TV and...

(1999) and intermittently in the animation of Sayonara Zetsubō-Sensei
Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei
is a Japanese manga by Kōji Kumeta, serialized in Weekly Shōnen Magazine. It is a comedy about a teacher who takes all aspects of life, word and culture in the most negative light possible. It satirizes politics, media, and Japanese society...



Traditional silhouette animation as invented by Reiniger is subdivision of cutout animation
Cutout animation
Cutout animation is a technique for producing animations using flat characters, props and backgrounds cut from materials such as paper, card, stiff fabric or even photographs...

 (itself one of the many forms of 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...

). It utilises figures cut out of paperboard
Paperboard is a thick paper based material. While there is no rigid differentiation between paper and paperboard, paperboard is generally thicker than paper. According to ISO standards, paperboard is a paper with a basis weight above 224 g/m2, but there are exceptions. Paperboard can be single...

, sometimes reinforced with thin metal sheets, and tied together at their joints with thread or wire
A wire is a single, usually cylindrical, flexible strand or rod of metal. Wires are used to bear mechanical loads and to carry electricity and telecommunications signals. Wire is commonly formed by drawing the metal through a hole in a die or draw plate. Standard sizes are determined by various...

 (usually substituted by plastic or metal paper fasteners
Brass fastener
A brass fastener, brad, or split pin is a stationery item used for securing multiple sheets of paper together.The fastener is inserted into punched holes in the stack of paper and the leaves, or tines, of the legs are separated and bent over to secure the paper. This holds the pin in place and the...

 in contemporary productions) which are then moved frame-by-frame on an animation stand
Animation stand
An animation stand is a device assembled for the filming of any kind of animation that is placed on a flat surface, including cel animation, graphic animation, clay animation, and silhouette animation....

 and filmed top-down with a rostrum camera
Rostrum camera
A rostrum camera is a specially designed camera used in television production and filmmaking to animate a still picture or object. It consists of a moving lower platform on which the article to be filmed is placed, while the camera is placed above on a column. Many visual effects can be created...

 – such techniques were used, albeit with stylistic changes, by such practitioners as Noburō Ōfuji in the 1940s and Bruno J. Böttge in the 1970s. Michel Ocelot's television series Ciné si (Cinema If, 1989) was a little different, combining cutouts and cel
A cel, short for celluloid, is a transparent sheet on which objects are drawn or painted for traditional, hand-drawn animation. Actual celluloid was used during the first half of the 20th century, but since it was flammable and dimensionally unstable it was largely replaced by cellulose acetate...

s and also, more occasionally, live-action and clay animation
Clay animation
Clay animation or claymation is one of many forms of stop motion animation. Each animated piece, either character or background, is "deformable"—made of a malleable substance, usually Plasticine clay....

 (this series is better known as Princes et princesses, the feature film version mentioned below). This was also the first silhouette animation to successfully make characters appear to speak for themselves (traditionally, either intertitle
In motion pictures, an intertitle is a piece of filmed, printed text edited into the midst of the photographed action, at various points, generally to convey character dialogue, or descriptive narrative material related to, but not necessarily covered by, the material photographed.Intertitles...

s or voice-over
Voice-over is a production technique where a voice which is not part of the narrative is used in a radio, television production, filmmaking, theatre, or other presentations...

 narration had been used) as the mixed medium
Mixed media
Mixed media, in visual art, refers to an artwork in the making of which more than one medium has been employed.There is an important distinction between "mixed-media" artworks and "multimedia art". Mixed media tends to refer to a work of visual art that combines various traditionally distinct...

 made accurate lip sync
Lip sync
Lip sync, lip-sync, lip-synch is a technical term for matching lip movements with sung or spoken vocals...

ing possible. Traditional animation
Traditional animation
Traditional animation, is an animation technique where each frame is drawn by hand...

 can also be used to imitate silhouette animation, as seen regularly in Be-PaPas' Shōjo Kakumei 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...

(Revolutionary Girl Utena, 1997).

Most recently, several CGI
Computer animation
Computer animation is the process used for generating animated images by using computer graphics. The more general term computer generated imagery encompasses both static scenes and dynamic images, while computer animation only refers to moving images....

 silhouette films have been made, which demonstrate different approaches to the technique – Jossie Malis' use already 2D, vector animation, Michel Ocelot's "Earth Intruders
Earth Intruders
"Earth Intruders" is a song written and recorded by Icelandic singer Björk. The song was released as the first single from her sixth full-length studio album, Volta. The single was released digitally in the USA on 9 April and 21 April 2007 and in Europe on 28 April 2007. It is produced by R&B...

" (2007) and a scene in Azur et Asmar (Azur & Asmar, 2006) use 3D figures rendered
Rendering (computer graphics)
Rendering is the process of generating an image from a model , by means of computer programs. A scene file contains objects in a strictly defined language or data structure; it would contain geometry, viewpoint, texture, lighting, and shading information as a description of the virtual scene...

 as silhouettes, while Anthony Lucas' Academy Award-nominated The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello
The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello
The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello is a 2005 Australian short film. The first episode is labeled Jasper Morello and the Lost Airship.- Story :The First Voyage - Jasper Morello and the Lost Airship...

(2005) mixes 2D characters and 3D backgrounds, both of which are combination of live action and CGI. Computer animation has also been used to make more explicit reference to shadow theatre – particularly of the Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia, South-East Asia, South East Asia or Southeastern Asia is a subregion of Asia, consisting of the countries that are geographically south of China, east of India, west of New Guinea and north of Australia. The region lies on the intersection of geological plates, with heavy seismic...

n wayang
Wayang is a Javanese word for theatre . When the term is used to refer to kinds of puppet theatre, sometimes the puppet itself is referred to as wayang...

style – by adding visible rods to the characters which appear to be operating them (ironically, in CGI, it is the other way round). This was used in Jan Koester's Our Man in Nirvana (2006) and the opening of the Disney
The Walt Disney Company
The Walt Disney Company is the largest media conglomerate in the world in terms of revenue. Founded on October 16, 1923, by Walt and Roy Disney as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, Walt Disney Productions established itself as a leader in the American animation industry before diversifying into...

 feature The Jungle Book 2
The Jungle Book 2
The Jungle Book 2 is a 2003 American animated film produced by the DisneyToons studio in Sydney, Australia and released by Walt Disney Pictures and Buena Vista Distribution. The theatrical version of the film was released in France on February 5, 2003, and released in the United States on February...

(2003). Michel Ocelot's television series Bergères et dragons (Shepherdesses and Dragons), which, as of March 2008, is still in development, uses a mixture of 2D and 3D computer animation to simulate the look of his earlier, analogue silhouette animation.

However, traditional, cutout silhouette animation is still practised to this day by such people as Edward S. de Leon and Reza Ben Gajra, where it is often combined with other forms of 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...

 animation such as Lumage
John Korty
John Korty is an American film director and animator, best known for the television film The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and the documentary Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?, as well as the theatrical animated feature Twice Upon a Time...


Use of colour

Silhouette films are traditionally monochrome, with the foreground solid black and the background being various shades of grey – the more distant an elements in intended to be, the paler the shade of grey, thus creating an illusion of depth
Stereopsis refers to impression of depth that is perceived when a scene is viewed with both eyes by someone with normal binocular vision. Binocular viewing of a scene creates two slightly different images of the scene in the two eyes due the the eyes' different positions on the head...

. In Die Geschichte des Prinzen Achmed, different scenes were tinted
Film tinting
Film tinting is the process of adding color to black-and-white film, usually by means of soaking the film in dye and staining the film emulsion...

 in different all-over colours, as was the standard practice among features of the time. Das Geheimnis der Marquisin (The Marquise's Secret, 1922) is a reversed, white-on-black silhouette film. Jack and the Beanstalk (1955), which Reiniger was forced to shoot in colour, uses full-colour painted backgrounds with the black silhouettes, some of which are inlaid with translucent, coloured, "sweet wrapper" material for a stained glass
Stained glass
The term stained glass can refer to coloured glass as a material or to works produced from it. Throughout its thousand-year history, the term has been applied almost exclusively to the windows of churches and other significant buildings...

 effect. Though she seems to have made the most of this expanded format, she disapproved if it herself and went back to monochrome films for most of her remaining career, perhaps finding an acceptable middle ground with Aucassin et Nicolette (Aucassin and Nicolette, 1976), which used a more restrained colour palette for its backgrounds (which were built out of pieces of translucent plastic
A plastic material is any of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic solids used in the manufacture of industrial products. Plastics are typically polymers of high molecular mass, and may contain other substances to improve performance and/or reduce production costs...


Among other, later filmmakers, the dominant method of shooting silhouette films in colour has been to imitate the tinted look of Prinzen Achmed by using backgrounds with many different tones of one colour, or sometimes two close or complementary colours. Full-colour cutout animation in which the characters are mainly seen in profile is sometimes described as colour silhouette film, though this is dependent on one's definition of a silhouette, as opposed to profile or side-on viewpoints in general.

List of feature-length silhouette films

  • Die Geschichte des Prinzen 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...

    (The Adventures of Prince Achmed, 1926) by Lotte Reiniger
    Lotte Reiniger
    Charlotte "Lotte" Reiniger was a German silhouette animator and film director.- Early life :Lotte Reiniger was born in Berlin-Charlottenburg, German Empire, on June 2, 1899...

  • 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) by Lotte Reiniger
  • Pinocchio
    The Adventures of Pinocchio is a novel for children by Italian author Carlo Collodi, written in Florence. The first half was originally a serial between 1881 and 1883, and then later completed as a book for children in February 1883. It is about the mischievous adventures of Pinocchio , an...

    (1930) by Ugo Amadoro
  • Shaka no Shōgai (1961) by Noburō Ōfuji
    Noburō Ōfuji
    was a Japanese film director and animator. One of the most notable auteurs of anime of the first half of the 20th century , he worked primarily with cutout and silhouette animation...

  • 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...

    (Princes and Princesses, 2000) by 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...

Note: Ōfuji's and Ocelot's features are compilations
Compilation movie
Film historian Jay Leyda discussed the origins of the compilation film in his work Films Beget Films.-Anime:A compilation movie, or compilation film, a term used by reviewers of Japanese anime, is a feature film that is mostly composed of footage from a television serial...

of earlier series of shorts.
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