Shadows from the past

Intricate patterns. Delicate designs. Simple ingenuity.

These are just a few words that describe the work and art of German director and animator Lotte Reiniger.

My dear friend – a self-confessed ‘animation nerd’ – introduced me to the world of silhouette films just recently. Little did I know before then that a young woman in Germany with a creative passion for animation pioneered this style of cinema in 1919.

Fun fact: Lotte Reiniger is the creator of the oldest surviving animated feature film! The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) came well ahead of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)!

It’s crazy to think that this woman, who was so popular and highly respected by her creative peers, remains relatively unknown today; She even produced the Grimm’s Fairy Tale series for the BBC in the 1950s! Who among your friends doesn’t love a good BBC television series?

It was at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane that I had the opportunity to see five Reiniger films released in 1954: Puss in Boots, The Three Wishes, The Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Thumbelina.

Just awesome.

After getting a taste of silhouette films produced by the animation pioneer herself, I couldn’t help wonder why her work seemed all too familiar. Then it struck me. Do you remember the ‘Tale of the Three Brothers’ in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1)?

And then again, I also came across the video clip of Australian artist Lior’s I’ll Forget You (feat. Sia).

As original as these people may be, they’ve all been inspired by people before them.

It’s clear that the animators of the Harry Potter sequence and Lior’s video clip have been influenced by the work of Lotte Reiniger (whether they are aware of it or not). In turn, Lotte Reiniger was inspired by Chinese silhouette puppetry and her love of cinema to create something artistic and innovative.

The ‘flaws’ and imperfections found in Reiniger’s stop-motion animation sets her – and her Primrose Productions company – apart from other animation studios of her time.

Using the words of my friend: “Lotte Reiniger was the perfect bridge between animation and experimental.”

She was mainstream yet stylised at the same time, and you can see this by looking at the influence she’s had on modern animators.

I know there are a number of creative people nowadays with the ability to keep their artistic roots whilst appealing to mainstream audiences. At the top of my head, Tim Burton comes to mind.

How about you? Who comes across your mind? Who do you know to be so stylised yet can draw the attention of the masses. Could be a musician, a moviemaker or even someone you know. Let SO… know in the comments section below.

* From January 10 – March 30, The GoMA’s Australian Cinémathèque is showcasing a range of films relating to all things Fairytales and Fables. Free admission for everyone so take advantage Brisbane locals!

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