Anyone who has ever seen the animated film "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" is not likely to forget it. Forget Walt Disney, forget Pixar, and even forget Warner Bros. "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" is an example of an animation art form too rarely attempted and too beautiful to fail on a big scale. Everything is told in silhouettes; these profiles represent a courageous milestone in animation.
The filmmaker at the center of silhouette animation's history is Lotte Reiniger. Not only was Reiniger a revolutionary figure in the world of animation, but in the entire world of filmmaking. Few women hold the position of innovator and creative genius the way Reiniger does in the world of animation. This is not to say other filmmakers had not attempted to do what "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" does. Cutouts of profiled silhouettes had been utilized in animated films before she came along and introduced the world to her prince, but it was Reiniger who really brought the art form to its peak.
If you could compare Reiniger to any one figure in the history of cinema, it would likely be Walt Disney. Except where Disney relied on the talents of others to make animation in a feature-length art form possibility, when it comes to silhouette animation, Reiniger was more than a studio figurehead. Take a look at early hand-drawn animation and sometimes you will notice sheer artistry in the method by which men and a few women took brush to paint and created still images that would become moving images thanks to the miracle of motion pictures.
Now imagine a woman taking hold of sheets of black paper and scissors and creating art just as beautiful and amazing. Not only did Reiniger show that you could become a master animator with nothing more than paper and scissors, but she revolutionized the way animation was filmed. She and her husband Carl Koch invented, along with Walter Ruttman and Bertold Bartosch, something called a trick table.
The table was made of glass and lit from beneath with the camera placed above the table. That camera could be adjusted both vertically and horizontally. Reiniger manipulated its sublime simplicity to create magnificently complex animation featuring nothing but her little cutouts.
The future of silhouette animation in the form perfected by Reiniger looks not nearly as promising as the future of 3D animation. That is a genuine shame because, at its best, silhouette animation can make you lose your breath in a way 3D never has.
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