Artist Spotlight: Lotte Reiniger

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Monday, July 6th, 2015

Charlotte “Lotte” Reiniger, one of the pioneers of animation film, took the ancient Chinese art of silhouette puppetry and adapted it to cinema. She made over 60 films, of which 40 have survived, over her career, all using using her signature technique.

As a child, Lotte built her own puppet theatre so that she could perform shows with her hand-cut paper silhouettes for her family and friends. Initially she planned to be an actress, and she studied theatre with Max Reinhardt. Her skill at silhouette portraiture attracted the attention of the film director Paul Wegener.

Wegener introduced Reiniger to a group of cinematographers who were setting up an experimental animation studio, the Berliner Institut für Kulturforschung. In 1919, she made her own first film for the institute, Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens (The Ornament of a Loving Heart). One member of the group was the film historian Carl Koch, whom she married in 1921.

Lotte Reiniger portrait by Michele Henry

After the Nazis came into power Reiniger left Germany, “because I didn’t like this whole Hitler thing and because I had many Jewish friends whom I was no longer allowed to call friends.” After the war, she and her husband settled in London and she began the most prolific period of her career. In two years she created a dozen films for American television, all adapted from classic fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm Hauff, Hans Christian Andersen and from the One Thousand and One Nights.

Facts about Lotte Reiniger

Born: 1899, Berlin-Charlottenburg, German Empire

Died: 1981

Famous work: Her film The Adventurers of Prince Achmed


  • As a child Lotte was inspired by the Chinese art of silhouette puppetry.
  • She started working by making silhouette portraits of various actors, and making elaborate tittle cards for films.
  • The first film she directed was Das Ornament des verlieberten Herzens (The Ornament of the Enamoured Heart, 1919).
  • In 1923 she was approached by Louis Hagen, to create the first feature-length animated film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, which was completed in 1926. The plot is a pastiche of stories from One Thousand and One Nights.
  • Reiniger anticipated Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks by a decade by devising the first multi-plane camera for certain effects. Her films also boasted dream-like backgrounds, and symphonic scores.
  • Altogether Reiniger made nearly 60 films over her career.