Long before Frozen and Zootopia topped the box offices, filmmaker Lotte Reiniger – commemorated in today’s Google Doodle – released the The Adventures of Prince Achmed in 1926, the first full-length animated film.
It was a version of The Arabian Nights; the 65-minute feature tells the story of a young prince who foils the plans of an evil sorcerer and falls in love with a beautiful princess to the backdrop of an epic battle between good and bad. Even in 1926, it was a time-old fairy tale – but one that marked a period of innovation in animated film.
Reiniger pioneered silhouette animation: Hand-making detailed black cardboard cutouts, put together with wire hinges, Reiniger would bring her puppets to life by capturing small movements frame-by-frame on a multi-plane camera with a strong backlight.
Ninety years later, Reiniger, who would have turned 117 years old today, still carries a strong legacy among animators, even in movies like Harry Potter.
Originally intending to become an actress when she was a drama student, Reiniger’s talents were quickly noticed.
Reiniger’s work had an immediate and direct influence on filmmakers around the world, also impacted by the time of war.
In the United States, with a vault full of wartime animation, Walt Disney studios announced their first feature length animation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1934, eight years after Reiniger’s film debuted.
“We knew it was going to be stylised, but not exactly how. The producers came along with the suggestion of creating something in the vein of Lotte Reiniger, an Austrian-born animator working in the 1930s and 50s doing silhouette style animations. What we got out of that was a certain simplicity and naivety. We knew it had to be told very graphically with bold silhouettes. But Ben and I were keen to make sure it wasn’t only that, that t was something else we could add.”