Pulp Magic

JUNE 14, 2016

Old Style + New Tech = Timeless Magic

I love the doodles that Google puts on its search page to mark a holiday or special event, but recently I saw one that I didn’t recognize.  It was a silhouette of an older lady cutting intricate designs in paper.  The doodle told a charming little story – all in a unique silhouetted style.  It turns out the Google doodle was marking the 117th birthday of Lotte Reiniger, a pioneering film animator.

When I probed further I found some of Reiniger’s magical films from the 1920s such as The Adventures of Price Achmed and Cinderella. They’re hauntingly beautiful and convey a human touch that looks old fashioned and yet totally new to 21st century eyes.

How she made the films is a remarkable story itself.  Reiniger cut each figure laboriously by hand with scissors and paper in an extravagantly complex style that appeals to the Maker aesthetic.  And every limb is joined by tiny pivots strong enough to withstand constant movement but delicate enough to be invisible on film.  The paper figures move and morph with fluidity that seems almost futuristic.

How could I have not heard of her before?

Reiniger’s work is full of contradictions.  It’s a painstakingly manual process just to make the figures, but the film technology she used to record her art was cutting edge for her time.  The figures are reminiscent of ancient shadow puppets, but the look and feel of her films are mid-century modern.

Reiniger worked in paper and celluloid film – a combination of old and new technology that reminds me of today’s paper/digital partnerships.

Do you remember the brief animated story in the penultimate film from the Harry Potter franchise, Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows: Part 1?  That story was rendered in Reiniger’s style but updated to match the three dimensions of the rest of the film.  Not an easy task, according to the animator, Bill Hibon, in an interview with the Animation World Network, an insider’s blog:

“. . . we refined the look with (the) illustrators and made it work with the tools we needed to use because obviously the floating camera through layers of paper and transposing shadows and having 360-degree cameras became quite a challenge.”

And it works perfectly.  Old style plus new tech equals magic.  See for yourself: