“Even with primitive materials one can work small wonders” Lotte Reiniger

I wanted to spend a little time giving some context to the work I have been making as part of my Artist Residency. I have previously worked with stop motion animation and have been extremely keen to develop my knowledge in a relevant way as I feel the folk stories cannot really be brought to life using normal 2 dimensional artworks. Obviously Ruth Tongue’s work,  and life story, have had a strong impact upon my work. However, every time I see Halsway Library’s copy of ‘The Chime Child’ I find myself thinking of another artist of that time, Lotte Reiniger.

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Lotte was a German film director who specialised in silhouette animation and was an innovator in her field. Both Ruth and Lotte were strong women working in male dominated industries with their own unique styles.

Reiniger’s animations were created using silhouette cut outs, which are positioned on a flat sheet of glass. However, Reiniger’s creation of the multi-plane camera allowed for these animations to have greater depth than had been seen before. This method of animating uses several planes or levels on which images can be positioned thereby creating a three dimensional aspect to the animation. Although Reiniger invented the multi-plane several years before Walt Disney I have included a link to his film about the multi-plane camera as it explains the process really well, just remember it was Lotte Reiniger who invented the method not Walt Disney!


Keen to try this method of animating I spent an interesting afternoon building my own multi-plane using three picture frames, some wood and some sheets of glass. Once assembled the frame was painted black, to stop any reflections, lights were placed at the bottom of the frame and a camera was fixed facing down. The silhouettes were then placed upon the different planes (sheets of glass) and as the silhouettes are slowly moved photographs were taken to form a stop motion animation. It’s worth mentioning that to get smooth movements the figures are only moved in very small amounts between photographs. I shoot all my animations at a rate of 24 frames per second, which translates to 24 photographs per second of film. I always shoot at night, which helps stabilise the light and stops the film flickering and I like to capture the whole scene in one go, something that I can often result in me working well into the night.

My own version of a multi-plane camera. You can see lights at the bottom and different paper silhouettes on each of the three planes or levels


Photo of scene arranged on the multi-plane. The tree on the right seems furthest away as it is placed upon the bottom plane or layer

It’s an extremely interesting method of animating but the multi-plane camera is just one aspect of Reiniger’s work. Next time I will show you some of her methods of puppet making.



4 thoughts on ““Even with primitive materials one can work small wonders” Lotte Reiniger”

    1. The translation comes from the book ‘Somerset Folklore’ by Ruth Tongue and KM Briggs although the words seem to differ slightly in meaning depending upon which part of Somerset you are in. But I dont think we should downarg (argue) about it as all the meanings seem a little catcheldy (changeable or uncertain) – sorry I couldnt resist a little more dialect!


  1. I love the work of Lotte Reiniger but knew nothing about the multi plane camera. Your improvised version looks great and I shall look forward to seeing the results from using it. For all things puppet and theatre related I’ve long been a reader of the blog of artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins. He would be intrigued by your project and is worth taking a look at https://clivehicksjenkins.wordpress.com
    Continued good luck with it!


    1. Hi Lesley
      Thank you for your comments. In my next post I will be sharing some of Lotte Reiniger’s methods of puppet making and some of the film I shot using my improvised multi-plane.
      Your Clive Hicks Jenkins reference is really useful, many thanks for the reference. There is a short documentary that has been produced about the work of Lotte Reiniger http://www.lotte-movie.com The film isnt available in this country yet but the website and associated social media has some really interesting content and pictures of Lotte’s original animating table, which you might find interesting.
      Thanks again


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