Sunday, July 22, 2007

Beautiful Silhouettes, part 1

Most animators understand the importance of a strong silhouette, but how many push this concept to the point of creating a beautiful silhouette? As the image above from the 1926 animated feature film The Adventures of Prince Achmed by Lotte Reiniger demonstrates there is tremendous aesthetic potential in the silhouette. By the way, I did type that correctly, 1926, animated feature film, not by Walt Disney, but instead directed by a woman (*gasp*), some eleven years before Disney created the "first" feature length animation Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937.

I suggest that you sit for a moment and consider the cognitive dissonance in that last sentence... I'll wait.

Lotte Reiniger was inspired by the beauty of traditional Chinese and Balinese shadow plays. Just look at the beauty of these images from The Adventures of Prince Achmed or as it was originally titled in German Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed:

Her use of color which preceded technologies such as Technicolor is both simple an appealing. Notice the subtle details in the backgrounds of the images above. Animated in stop motion using paper cut-outs and captured in multiple planes, she managed to create a sense of depth throughout the film. Reiniger worked primarily with the help of her husband Carl Koch long before standard tools and techniques and were established.

For those who are interested here is a link to download an rather nicely constructed PDF press kit created by Carl R. Pidhagny, © 2001 Milestone Film & Video.

The PDF includes an essay titled "Scissors Make Films" by Lotte Reiniger herself explaining the making of the film, her synopsis of the story, as well as background history compiled by others on how Lotte and Carl invented the process necessary to make this production possible. For additional history about Lotte and Carl see this article at AWN written by William Moritz.

This beautiful film as well as a historical documentary about the director and her work are available on DVD. For those who believe in animation as an art form having rich aesthetic potential for telling stories, this is well worth the investment. Its also a fascinating slice of the history and development of animation.

The Adventures of Price Achmed DVD © 2001 Milestone Film & Video

Reiniger's work has inspired the animation of others who have followed her wake such as Michel Ocelot. Check back to see part 2 of this subject on animation aesthetics influenced by traditional Chinese and Balinese shadow plays, and the beauty of artful silhouettes.


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