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Biography: Lotte Reiniger

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Birth: 2 June 1899 Berlin


Animator, Film Director, Writer, Filmmaker.

Bio Summary

Lotte Reinger spent much of her life creating unique and often amazing silhouette animation. Between 1923 and 1926, Rieniger and Koch, with assistance from animators Walter Rutmann, Bertolt Bartosch, and Alex Kardan, created The Adventures of Prince Achmed. One of the world’s first feature-length animated films, The Adventures of Prince Achmed displayed Reiniger’s ability to create captivating characters through intricate design and an amazingly graceful sense of movement. The film remains unsurpassed as a demonstration of animated art.

Early Life/Family

Lotte Reiniger was born in Berlin-Charlottenburg, German Empire, on June 2, 1899. As a child, she was fascinated with the Chinese art of silhouette puppetry, even building her own puppet theater so she could put on shows for her family and friends.The only daughter of a banker and a homemaker, Reiniger set great stock by her birth in the last year of the nineteenth century. Except for the fact that she worked in film, her techniques and sensibilities reflected the earlier century more than her own. She described her childhood as “extraordinarily” happy, her artistic interests celebrated and encouraged by both her parents. Theater captured her imagination early on, but after her first film, she was hooked; she had in the meantime discovered her “unsettling gift” for making silhouettes. In 1921, Reiniger married Carl Koch, who served as her producer and camera operator for the next 40 years.


1916–17—attended Max Reinhardt theater school, Berlin. After a short period of at Max Rienhardt’s studio, Reiniger began working on intertitle design for Paul Wegener’s films at the age of sixteen. Her titles were made of hand-cut silhouettes, and in 1919 she developed this technique to create a complete animated silhouette film.

Career Outline

Although she worked with some of the pioneers of German experimental abstract film, her work was strongly narrative, taking its stories from fairy tales, opera, and A Thousand and One Nights. Her films are characterised by a mannered style that combines subtle acting with a rather frozen bloodless quality, and realism with elements of cartoon. The look developed out of a childhood enthusiasm for shadow puppets, and is usually designed in shades of grey and black on a white background. Her feature film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Germany, 1926), made between 1923 and 1926, was a huge popular and critical success.

Comments On Style

Lotte Reiniger developed a distinctive method of animating with cut-out paper silhouettes. She was also a pioneer of the multiplane, where layers of glass under the camera allow the animator to add depth and complexity to two-dimensional animation.Prominent among Reiniger’s talents was her transcendence of the inherent flatness and awkwardness of silhouette animation through her dramatic mise en scène and her balletic movements. Her female characters are especially lively and original, displaying wit, sensuousness, and self-awareness rarely found in animated cartoons.



Lotte Reiniger loved kids. She has rewarded her youthful audience with challenging interpretations of classic fairy tales, new stories and some operatic motifs–all of which played successfully in cinemas and on television in the early years before ratings and commercial demands made children’s TV a branch of the toy industry. Lotte also performed with live shadow-puppet performances in England, and wrote a definitive book about Silhouettes. Lotte Reiniger herself is the prime genius behind all of her films. She had an astonishing facility with cutting.


If you ask the average person what the first feature-length animated film was, just about everyone will answer Walt Disney’s “Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs”. But Disney’s film wasn’t the first animated feature by a longshot. Arguably, that honor belongs to Lotte Reiniger’s “Adventures of Prince Achmed”


Interview quotes:
Reiniger: “I love working for children, because they are a very critical and very thankful public.”
Reiniger: “I believe in the truth of fairy-tales more than I believe in the truth in the newspaper.”
“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.”
She rather modestly noted that, “even with primitive materials, one can work small wonders.”
” Paul Wegener saw me cutting silhouettes behind the stage in Reinhardts’s theater, and he became interested. He liked my silhouettes; he thought they showed a rare sense of movement. He therefore introduced me to a group of young artists who had started a new trick (animation) film studio. Here, I first began to photograph my silhouette figures, just as drawings are photographed for the cartoon film, and I was successful in making a film with my shadow figures.
This was in 1919, and the work was so interesting that from that time I have rarely done anything else. In the meantime I married one of the artists and we started working together as we have continued to do till the present time. That is my story.”


Rübezahls Hochzeit (Rumpelstilskin’s Wedding). Live-action feature directed by Paul Wegener. LR does silhouette cut-outs for the dialogue-titles.

Die schöne Prinzessin von China (The Beautiful Chinese Princess). Live-action silhouette film, actors only seen as shadows on screen, directed by Rochus Gliese. LR does costumes, sets, special effects, etc.

Apokalypse (Apocalypse). Live-action short directed by Rochus Gliese. LR’s silhouettes depict the horrors of war.

Der Rattenfänger von Hameln (The Pied Piper of Hamelin). Live-action feature directed by Paul Wegener. LR made silhouettes for dialogue titles, and animated model rats.

Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens (The Ornament of the Heart in Love). First animated silhouette short by Reiniger.

Der verlorene Schatten (The Lost Shadow). Live-action feature directed by Rochus Gliese. LR animated a sequence in which the musician has no shadow, but the shadow of his violin is seen moving on the wall as he plays his instrument.

Amor und das standhafte Liebespaar (Cupid and the steadfast lovers). Silhouette animation short with one live actor who interacts with the cutouts.

Several advertising films for Julius Pinschewer agency, including: Das Geheimnis der Marquise (The Marquise’s Secret) for Nivea skin cream and Die Barcarole (The Barcarole) for Pralinés Mauxion dessert. Also a commercial for ink.

Der fliegende Koffer (The Flying Trunk), based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale.

Der Stern von Bethlehem (The Star of Bethlehem).

Aschenputtel (Cinderella), from the Brothers Grimm.

Dornröschen (Sleeping Beauty), advertising film.

Lotte Reiniger makes a complex silhouette figure of a falcon for a dream sequence in Fritz Lang’s feature Die Niebelungen. Walter Ruttmann (who is working on Reiniger’s Prince Achmed at the time) completes the dream with various painted images, and it becomes known as Ruttmann’s sequence.

Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed), 90-minute silhouette feature, from episodes in The Arabian Nights. Completed film submitted to censorship board January 15, 1926, press screening May 2, 1926, Paris premiere July 1926, Berlin first run September 1926. Original musical score by Wolfgang Zeller.

Der scheintote Chinese (The Seemingly-Dead Chinaman). Originally a 13-minute episode in Prince Achmed, cut by the German censor, as well as French and German distributors in the interest of keeping the film within the attention span of children. Released as a short in 1928.

Heut’ tanzt Mariette (Today Marietta Dances). Live-action feature directed by Friedrich Zelnik. Silhouette effects by LR.

Doktor Dolittle und seine Tiere (Dr. Dolittle and His Animals), 65-minute feature after Hugh Loftings novel. At the Berlin premiere, December 15, 1928, Paul Dessau conducted a score with music by Kurt Weill, Paul Hindemith and himself.

Die Jagd nach dem Glück (The Pursuit of Happiness), live-action feature co-directed by Rochus Gliese and Lotte Reiniger. Tale of people who run a shadow-puppet theater in a carnival. Includes a 20-minute silhouette animation by Reiniger to represent one of the theater performances. Stars Jean Renoir, Catherine Hessling and Bertold Bartosch. Premiere (with voices added by other actors): May 1930.

Zehn Minuten Mozart (10 Minutes of Mozart).

Harlekin (Harlequin), 24 minutes, to baroque music.

Sissi, 10 minute silhouette animation prepared to be shown during a scene change of the Fritz Kreisler operetta Sissi.

Don Quixote. Live-action feature directed by G.W. Pabst. LR animated silhouettes for opening sequence in which Don Quixote reads a book about knights’ adventures.

Carmen, based on the Bizet opera.

Das rollende Rad (The Rolling Wheel). Traces society through the changing role of wheels from antiquity to the present.

Der Graf von Carabas (Puss-in-Boots), from the Brothers Grimm.

Das gestohlene Herz (The Stolen Heart), from a fable by Ernst Keienburg.

Der Kleine Schornsteinfeger (The Little Chimneysweep), from a tale by Eric Walter White

Galathea, from the classic fable.


Galathea, 1935
Courtesy of William Mortiz

Papageno, scenes from Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute.

The King’s Breakfast, from the poem by A.A.Milne.

The Tocher (Scottish dialect for “The Dowry”), advertising film for the General Post Office.

La Marseillaise Live-action feature directed by Jean Renoir. LR prepared a sequence of a shadow-puppet theatre performance depicting the need for the French Revolution.

Dream Circus, after Stravinsky’s Pulcinella (unfinished by the beginning of the war).

L’Elisir D’Amore, after Donizetti’s opera.

Die goldene Gans (The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs), after the Brothers Grimm. (Unfinished.)

Greetings Telegram. Ad for General Post Office.

Post Early for Christmas, ad for G.P.O.

Radio License, ad for G.P.O.

Several advertising films for Crown Film Unit in London, including Wool Ballet.

Mary’s Birthday Black silhouettes over colored backgrounds.


The Magic Horse, from Arabian Nights. (Much of the footage from this film and Aladdin seem to have been culled from Prince Achmed.)

Snow White and Rose Red, from the Brothers Grimm.

The Three Wishes, from the Brothers Grimm.

The Grasshopper and the Ant, from LaFontaine’s fable.

The Gallant Little Tailor, from the Brothers Grimm.

The Sleeping Beauty, from the Brothers Grimm.

The Frog Prince, from the Brothers Grimms.

Caliph Stork, from the fairy tale by Wilhelm Hauff.

Cinderella, from the Brothers Grimms.

Hansel and Gretel, from the Brothers Grimms.

Thumbelina, from Hans Christian Andersen.

Jack and the Beanstalk, from the Brothers Grimm. Color backgrounds.

The Star of Bethlehem. Color backgrounds.

Helen La Belle, after Offenbach’s operetta, La Belle Hélène. Color figures and backgrounds.

The Seraglio, after Mozart’s opera, Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Color figures and backgrounds.

The Pied Piper of Hamelim. Made for the Christmas Pantomime at the Coventry Theatre, where it played between acts. Figures and backgrounds in color.

The Frog Prince, for Coventry Theatre Christmas Pantomime. Figures and backgrounds in color.

Wee Sandy Intermission piece for Glasgow Theatre production.

Cinderella Made for the Coventry Theatre Christmas Pantomime. Figures and backgrounds in color.

Aucassin and Nicolette, after the medieval cantefable. Produced at the National Film Board of Canada, with black figures and color backgrounds.

The Rose and the Ring, after W.M. Thackery’s tale. In color.


Silver Dolphin, Venice Biennale, for Gallant Little Tailor, 1955; Filmband in Gold, West Germany, for service to German cinema, 1972; Verdienst Kreuz, West Germany, 1978.

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Bibliographic References


Contributors To This Listing

Karina Gazizova

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