Monthly Archives: February 2010

#5 Lotte Reiniger’s Scissors

After watching Prince Achmed by Lotte Reiniger last week in class I was eager to learn more about this fascinating film.  Luckily I found that the British Film Institute had released it in DVD as a part of their Milestone Collection.  The work of Lotte Reinger was also highlighted in a bonus documentary.  The final film that was so work intensive to make shows an amazing delicacy in the movement of its characters.

Lotte Reiniger saw herself as an entertainer instead of an artist.  Her addiction to silhouette making was something that started at an early age.  By the age of 14 she  had her first shadow puppet theater.  Her creativity lead to the creation of the first full length animated movie Prince Achmed which was done with silhouette figures on color backgrounds.

This endeavor kept Lotte at her light board for three years.  The camera work was done with a multi-plane camera that captured 300,000 separate frames.  Since the height of the attic workroom was not very high, most of the frames were set up at floor level.  After filming the movements were synchronized to the score that was written by Wolfgang Zeller.  The film opened to mixed reviews.  Audiences were not accustomed to serious animation.  Financially it was a disaster — it took 50 years for it to show a profit.

My fascination in watching the film for a second and third time was the movement of the characters’ hands.  Of course the hands of the sorcerer and witch were undeniably powerful and wicked as they set about casting their spells.  But, I was amazed at the emotion Reiniger showed in the control and placement of the hands of her characters in non-violent action .  The following  screen capture shows the expressive hand gesture of my favorite scene when Prince Achmed closes his hand in a defiant fist as the sorcerer struggles with his sister Dinarsade.

Later in the film the picture of Aladdin as he reaches to hold Dinarsade’s hand conveys such a tender moment with its fluid movement.

I was able to find pictures on the web that were taken during the creation of some of Reiniger’s silhouette films … they help us understand the painstaking work it took to bring this first animation into being.

There there are always those who like to add their spin to a work of art.  I found this on a chinese website!


The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Lotte Reiniger, DVD, Milestone Collection, British Film Institute

Documentary: Lotte Reiniger: Homage to the Inventor of the Silhouette Film, DVD, Milestone Collection, British Film Institute.

I have commented on the blogs of Erica LoMonaco and Brenda Webber.



Filed under History

#4 Betty Boop – Evolution and Censorship

During the 1930’s the Fleischer Studios had a collection of characters that were considered competition for Disney.  These included Popeye, Superman and Betty Boop. When sound was introduced Fleischer studio created the Talkertoon series.  Betty Boop became one of the audience’s favorite characters.  The evolution of Betty Boop’s adorable but sexy personality put her in the middle of the 1930’s censorship  controversy.

Betty Boop started out as the girlfriend of the character Bimbo in Dizzie Dish’s.  She was originally drawn by Grimm Natwick to portraying a little dog character with feminine legs and spit curls.  By 1932 she had acquired her name and in the episode Any Rags she became human.

Betty Boop’s cartoons as they evolved were considered risque by many.

During the 1930’s the film industry was going through a censorship period that would last well into the 1960’s.  Hollywood adopted a movie code in their quest to keep Hollywood films free of age restrictions and open to world wide markets.  The Motion Picture Produces and Distributors of America (MPPDA) , known as the Hays Office after it’s  president William H. Hays, analyzed every script, story line, and film that was produced.  This censorship system attempted to prevent moral and politically  questionable material from reaching the movie screen.

All of the major Hollywood studios fought against the censorship of they Hays Office, since it kept them from making realistic films.  After the mid-1930’s most films were altered to make them more inline with the conservative outlook of censors.  During this time Paramount requested that the Fleischer’s tone down Betty Boop’s sexual characteristics.  This was a big change for Betty — her character lost much of her personality as her skirt was lengthened.  The addition of the Grampy character did give the cartoon storyline some venue for social statements as the audiences laughed at his wacky inventions.


The Great Animation Studios:  The Fleischer Studios, DVD

Hollywood Censored by Gregor D. Black, Publisher: Cambridge (1996)

I have commented on the blogs of  Christopher DeMarco and Cory Finch


Filed under Controversy

#3 – 1960’s Space – The Jetsons

In the early 1960’s the world became enamored with a new vision.  President Kennedy countered the Soviet Union’s space exploration program with the challenge  “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning hine safely to the earth.”  Kennedy’s address to Congress on May 21, 1961 started our fascination with space.

Even though the general population was intrigued by the American and Soviet space programs and astronauts . .  the entertainment industry was slow to embrace the “astro-obsession”, but quickly caught up in the mid to late 1960’s. One of the first prime time shows to jump on the space craze bandwagon was the animated show The Jetsons which debuted in the Fall of 1962.

The Jetsons was produced by Hanna Barbera, one of the first animation studios to produce cartoons for televison.  Their success with The Flintstones on ABC was an original concept when television cartoons were usually reruns of cartoons shown in theaters.

The original Jetsons program ran from September 1963 to March 1964 with 24 episodes.  As you can see from the following ABC promotional credit clip that the adventures of The Jetsons predicted what our lives would be like in 2062.

The science of the space age, of course, has brought about some of the gadgets and inventions that we see in many of the early space television shows such as The Jetsons and Star Trek (1966-1969).  I think some of the apprehension’s people had  in the 1960’s regarding where science might lead us can be seen in the way robotics were portrayed in The Jetsons.  Rosie the robot maid was portrayed as slow and not very bright.  In the episode The Coming of Astro, an animated guard dog was show as overly competent and having no loyal attributes.

A second season was added to The Jetsons series in 1985.  With the beginnings of computer technology for personal use, this new season of 30 episodes, added a few new characers, including George’s work computer R.U.D.I.  This was aother link to the space science that started in the 1960’s.

We still have a way to go before we have the ‘pop-up bed’ or the ‘flying car’ that George had, but we can find the traveling walkways at many of our airports and a 3-D television is in its experimental stage!

If you would like to see some model sheets and/or concept art for The Jetsons series you may want to take a look at this blog dedicated to Irving Spector, Animator.

I have commented on the blogs of David Dennison and Bonnie Hansen.

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Post #2 – Live Action/Animated Films

There are many types of live action/animated films — everything from The Muppets to Night at the Museum.  The best definition I have found for live action/animated film is — ” a motion picture that features a combination of real actors or elements: live action and animated elements, typically interacting.” The combination of live action and the traditionally drawn animation has had a long evolution.

Windsor McCay is credited with being the first to use this interaction with his lovable dinosaur Gertie in 1914.  Today we have the state of the art performance capture animation of James Cameron’s Avatar (2009).  Between these two there have been a progression of films that have explored child and adult themes.

In the 1940’s Jerry Mouse danced with Gene Kelly to everyone’s entertainment in the film Anchors Aweigh.  Donald Duck danced The Cactus Dance with Carmen Molina in Walt Disney’s animated The Three Caballeros.  These two movies showed opposite types of incorporating animation and live action.

Disney continued to incorporate live action/animation in his children’s movies of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Two of the most popular were Mary Poppins (1964) which shows Dick Van Dyke dancing with cartoon penguins in an animated setting and Pete’s Dragon (1977) which placed the animated dragon, Elliott, into the live action film.

Adult themes were explored in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and Cool World (1992) as technological advances in animation allowed a more realistic relationship between the live actors and their animated counterparts.

Today we see James Cameron’s fine tuning of live action/animation with performance capture animation and 3-D in Avatar.  With the new technology he has brought to the film industry the future should be bright for this genre of film.

I have commented on the blogs of Courtney Webber and Nicole Aarestad.

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