The woman who invented the first color animated film (before Walt Disney)

Lotte Reiniger was the first to create the first color feature-length animated movie.


Have you ever heard of Lotte Reiniger?

Probably not but, you are not alone. She is one of the most influential artists and pioneer of animated movies who never received public recognition.


Her debut

Lotte Reiniger was born on June 2nd, 1899. As a child, she was fascinated with the Chinese arts of paper cutting of silhouette puppetry, even building her own puppet theatre at home (cutting pieces out of her kitchen table!) so that she could put on shows for her family and friends.

Reiniger developed a love for cinema, first with the films of Georges Méliès for their special effects, then the films of the actor and director Paul Wegener, known today for The Golem (1920).

She began by working on the opening credits for his movies.

Due the difficulty of making real mice acting on stage in The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Wegener asked Reiniger to make animated wooden rats using a time-lapse sequence , known today as stop motion animation.

She was creating her unique and remarkable style.  

The success of this work got her admitted into the Institut für Kulturforschung, an experimental animation and short film studio for avant-garde animators and artists.  

It was here that she met her future creative partner and husband, Carl Koch.


Usurped by Walt Disney

Lotte made six short films over the next few years devising the predecessor to the first multiplane camera, developed from her early project of cutting pieces out of her kitchen table.

Above her animation table, a camera with a manual shutter was placed in order to achieve this.

She placed planes of glass to achieve a layered effect.

The setup was then backlit. This camera setup was later popular in Reiniger’s magical and dream-like animated movie, Prince Achmed.

Inspired by the distinct art style in her animations, Walt Disney ended up not only stealing her idea but also her place in the animated film industry.

Disney first developed and patented a more sophisticated version of Reingeir’s multiplane camera.

Then he produced Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which Hollywood considered to be the first full-length animated feature film in the history of animated feature film.

This is considered to be wrong, since Prince Achmed was made more than a decade before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.


The nazi regime

Her career was abruptly interrupted when Hitler came to power in Germany.

 In 1930s, with the rise of the Nazi Party, Reiniger and her husband Koch were forced to leave Germany. Her Anti-fascist stories were censured by the regime. As a result, the couple spent years moving from country to country since no one would give them permanent visas.

They moved back to Germany for a short time but under the rule of Hitler, they were forced to make propaganda films for Germany in order to survive.

After the war, Reiniger and Koch moved to London, where they finally started producing artistic movies again.

Over the next ten years, Lotte produced more than a dozen animated movies for kids for Primrose Productions. This was a studio founded by Louis Hagen Jr. a refugee of Nazi concentration camps and  the son of Reiniger’s financier of Prince Achmed.

Even after retiring, Lotte continued producing animated movies.

In 1970s she gained more success and started travelling the world to tell her story and create new animated movies. In 1980, one year before her death,  she produced The four season, the last of her 46 works. She was in Germany.

Because of Disney, her talent will be soon forgotten.

But people in the industry will always be inspired by her unique style from Aladdin to Fantasia.

Isn’t  it ironic?