Silhouettes, shadow puppets and paper cutting have long histories and appear in the folk traditions of many different cultures around the world. They are used to tell stories, as decorative pieces for special occasions and to preserve a portrait of a loved one. For instance, in Germany, the art of paper cutting is called scherenschnitte and is used as a decorative art. In Mexico, the cut (perforated) tissue paper flags used at celebrations are known as papel picado.
Although not always made of paper, shadow puppets are basically silhouettes and can be articulated for greater animation. This ancient folk art was used to tell stories in Thailand (Wayang) and China, for instance. Shadow puppetry became a source of inspiration for one innovative film artist, Lotte Reiniger. As a child, she would put on shadow puppet plays in a small theater that she built.
Her interests turned to film and her first project was working with animation for a film, based on The Pied Piper of Hamelin in 1918. Reiniger was then accepted into the Institute for Cultural Research which was an experimental animation and short film studio.
In 1926, she created one of the first feature-length animated films, The Adventures of Prince Achemed, based on a story from 1001 Arabian Nights (Genies, Meanies and Magic Rings for kids). Reiniger invented a technique in which she used cut cardboard characters and features and innovative techniques with the camera.
Lotte Reiniger was a pioneer in film animation and a progressive woman. Over her life time, she worked on, created and/ or produced over 40 animated films. Topeka Shawnee County Public Library has a DVD of her celebrated film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed. I highly recommend checking out this movie!
Reiniger is still an influence on up and coming artists today such as Angie Pickman whose animation and cut paper works are in our current exhibit, A Cut Above. Pickman will be giving a demonstration of stop-motion video techniques on Saturday, June 30th from 3-4:30 PM in Marvin Auditorium.