The following writing was a critical response for my AHIS 333: Win Lose or Draw: Interplays of Theory, Practice and Technology class at Emily Carr based on a piece displayed in the 2008 summer art exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and about an artist who I think deserves to be mentioned more. This was previously posted on my myspace page, which I am removing in an effort to consolidate my pages.
Credit Long Due for an Animation Innovator
Intricately cut-out black paper figures, fading with age, with joints held together by tiny twisted wires seem inconspicuous under their glass display case at the Vancouver Art Gallery as part of the “Krazy! The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art” exhibit. It is hard to connect these fragile flat objects with the incredibly emotive animated characters in a movie playing on an adjacent screen. This is the work of German artist Lotte Reiniger, who directed and animated the feature length tale “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” (1926). In an industry that is still male-dominated, she not only stands out as the first notable female animation director, but she is credited with creating the first feature-length animated film, ten years before Disney came out with it’s hit success “Snow White” (1937). Additionally, for this film she utilized a multi-plane camera technique, in which several glass movable layers under the camera were used to separate the foreground from the background. It is remarkable to note that this technique was implemented years before the Fleischer Studios utilized a similar technique for their animated films such as “Poor Cinderella” (1934) and before Disney, who often takes the credit for its invention, used a multi-plane camera in their aforementioned first feature film. Arguably, the Disney Company’s device was far more developed, but Reiniger and her team of collaborators pioneered the concept and most likely inspired its creation.
With all of these compelling facts, I question why I have only recently heard of this artist after four years of Visual Arts study. Perhaps Reiniger’s lack of representation is due to the reality that she was a female director in a patriarchal time or perhaps due to how the United States and Canada has focused on their own home-grown talent. A further conclusion to her absence in the North American educational system or mass media could be to the onset preference and development of cell-animation techniques in the early 20th century. Cut-out animation at the time was considered inferior to this new technology.
One may question my interest in such an arcane form of animation given that my focus is on 3D animation. Yet, as the “Krazy” show co-curator and animation film director Tim Johnson has so succinctly explained “in spite of the very limited technique [in "The Adventures of Prince Achmed"]… you are as emotionally drawn to the story as you are to the most sophisticated contemporary computer-animated films” (100). In the end it comes down to the reality that 3d programs are just another medium to visually express an artist’s vision. The success of the end product created through this relatively new process depends on the imagination of the artist or group of artists. Similar to how the advent of photography into mainstream culture was received both with excitement and at the same time fear that painting was as a result dead, 3D computer animation has been equally praised for bringing animation to a new level as it has been criticized for destroying the art form.
This is related to the main over-arching theme of the “Krazy” exhibit. Where do we draw the line about what is considered art? Where do such forms as video games, comic books and anime fit in? Since computer animation is not created by hand and lacks a tactile response to the character or form that the animator is bringing to life, is it not a respectable form of animation?
I believe that the new medium of 3D programs used for animation functions to open up the realm of possibilities for visual expression and we are just seeing a glimpse of what it can offer. As the programs become more advanced and artist-friendly, it will be easier to match exactly what is envisioned. However, the practitioners of this medium can still learn from the great animation predecessors. As demonstrated in Reiniger’s films, a more focused style of characterization can be just as effective to express a story. At a time where the 3D art form is moving closer towards photo-realism, 3D animators should take a step back and consider if this a more effective way to realize their vision and tell their story.
Johnson, Tim. “Lotte Reinger.” Krazy!: the delirious world of anime + comics + video games + art. Vancouver: Douglas & MacIntyre Ltd., 2008
There are youtube videos that exist of her films, but they do not do her any justice and I highly recommend watching them on the big screen or from a DVD. You can order a copy from Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0000714B2?ie=UTF8&tag=karasflamenpa-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B0000714B2