Lotte Reiniger

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Charlotte Reiniger

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Berlin-Charlottenburg, German Empire


Charlotte “Lotte” Reiniger was born in Charlottenburg in Berlin, Germany on June 2, 1899.

Reiniger originally wanted to be an actress but decided to go into filmmaking after attending a lecture hosted by Paul Wegener in Berlin about the potential of animation in cinema. After becoming inspired by his films, she convinced her parents to let her attend the Max Reinhardt School of Acting. She often made silhouette cutouts of her family members and the members of her theater group – some of whom were prominent German filmmakers such as Bertolt Brecht, Fritz Lang, and G.W. Pabst – catching the eye of Wegener himself.

Wegener soon hired Reiniger to animate the wooden puppet rats for his production The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1918). Working with Wegener led her towards making films, and her work on Wegener’s projects got her admitted to the Institute of Cultural Research in Berlin.

Reiniger died at the age of 82 on June 19, 1981, in Dettenhausen, West Germany.

Family and early life

Reiniger married Carl Koch, an art historian she met at the Institute of Cultural Research, and Koch became a close collaborator on her films, working as the camera operator. Koch passed away in 1963.

Career outline

Her first animation was The Ornament of the Heart in Love (1919). Her work brought her to Louis Hagen, a banker and private investor who owned a film company, and he became her patron. From this partnership, she and her team – Koch, who operated the camera, Alexander Kardan, who checked the exposure sheets, Walter Türck, who worked with backgrounds, and two other animators Walter Ruttmann and Bertold Bartosch, who both later became renowned filmmakers – worked on their first feature-length animated film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). Out of a potential 250,000 frames, the film only uses 100,000, and the film took three years to complete. Prince Achmed premiered at the Volksbühne (“People’s Theatre”) in Berlin when Reiniger was only 27 years old.

Reiniger can be credited for inventing a prototypical version of the multiplane camera, which she called a tricktisch or trick table. She described the process as such: “Figures and backgrounds are laid out on a glass table. A strong light from underneath makes the wire hinges disappear and throws up the black figures in relief. The camera hangs above this table, looking down at the picture arranged below.”

Reiniger and her husband fled from Germany several times in the 1930s due to her leftist political views in the time when Hitler and the Nazi Party were rising in power. Despite being unable to get emigration visas into England, France, or other European countries, they continued to make films while moving around in various places in several countries throughout Europe. At the beginning of World War II, French film director Jean Renoir, with whom Reiniger and Koch were close friends, arranged for them to travel to Italy. Reiniger and Koch worked on three feature films and an animated film there before evacuating to Germany in 1944 when the Allied Forces invaded Italy. They moved to London in 1948, where Reiniger directed short films for children for the BBC.


Reiniger had notable influences in the French pioneer filmmaker in special effects, Georges Méliès, and German director and actor Paul Wegener.

Honors and awards

Golden Reel Award – Berlin Film Festival


Lockwood, Devi. “Overlooked No More: Lotte Reiniger, Animator Who Created Magic With Scissors and Paper.” The New York Times, 2019.

Moritz, William. “Lotte Reiniger.” Animation World Network, 1996.

Sergeant, Alexander. “Before Walt Disney, there was Lotte Reiniger – the story of the world’s first animated feature.” The Conversation, 2019.

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