Early Animated Films, Lost and Found
October 27, 2009 1:02 PM   Subscribe

While some might believe that Walt Disney had the first feature-length animated film with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 1937, the Disney film is the fourth animated feature-length film, and was two decades late for first place. The first two animated feature-length films were directed by an Italian in Argentia in 1917 and 1918, though all prints of those films are presumed lost or destroyed. The third animated full-length feature, Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed), came out the same year that the first two were lost to fire. This third animated film was a silhouette animation made by a German artist named Lotte Reiniger. The original negatives are considered lost, but a supposedly first-generation positive (from the camera negative) remains and the film has been restored from this stock (full film with limited subtitles, 5 minute preview with English subtitles and the full film viewable with Veoh plug-in). More information and videos inside.

The first animated feature film was El Apóstol, followed by Sin dejar rastros, both written and directed by Quirino Cristiani. His career in film was limited to 27 years in film (1916-1943), but rather notable for early animation firsts. Cristiani's last major film, Peludópolis, was the first full-length animated motion picture with sound, presented with sound-on-disc. The only known prints of his first films were destroyed in a fire in 1926, and his final work was also lost to fire, this time in 1961, giving Cristiani two films on a list of Top 50 Lost Films of All Time.

Lotte Reiniger was born in 1899, and she was fascinated by Chinese silhouette puppets from an early age (shadow puppetry previously). She created her first shadow theater at the age of six, and ultimately had a career that spanned 60 years (1919-1979, not counting her early credits going back to 1916) and some 70 film credits to her name. Her most recalled accomplishment was creating the first German animated film, Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed. The animation was made with cardboard and thin sheets of lead, and color tinting. Reiniger wrote about the process of creating and restoring the film (PDF, Google html cache), and she noted that the complete original Wolfgang Zeller accompanying score was preserved in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Silhouette puppetry of a sort lives on in a new mini-series, The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello. The series currently consists of four episodes (called "voyages") that are set in a the world of steampunk aeronautics, utilizing a silhouette animation style that has been likened to The Adventures of Prince Achmed. The first voyage, Jasper Morello and the Lost Airship is on YouTube in full (previously). Unlike Anthony Lucas' earlier stop-motion animation, the Mysterious Geographic Explorations are a mix of 3D computer graphics, photographic composition and miniatures. The Gothia Gazette has more information on the series.

This rambling journey through early animation and silhouette work was set off by Tor Books, who have laid claim to October as Steampunk Month on their website. The Jasper Morello video was one of three animations, the other two being shorts (#2: The Aeronaut {also on mtvU with sharper sound, but also watermarks} by Nicholas Lombardo; #3: Komedi - A Gentelan's Duel, by Blur Studios, who were mentioned previously twice).

Selections from the List of Lotte Reinger works
1920 - Das Geheimnis der Marquise (MP4) (The Marquise's Secret) for Nivea skin cream
1954 - Cinderella (10:29), The Little Chimneysweep (9:53), The Frog Prince (10:24)
1955 - Hansel and Gretel (10:32), Jack and the Beanstock (from the beginning, missing the first minute, and a bit of the end)
1971 - The Art of Lotte Reiniger (17:02), featuring Ms. Reiniger herself, creating silhouette puppets and describing the process

Extra links
Previously: steampunkery, Czech animator Karel Zeman, German animator Hans Fischerkoesen
Etcetera: Bullet Bill and Bob-Omb as Victorian gentlemen
Bonus video: Grand Drive "Firefly" (4:05), music video with shadow-puppet animation inspired by Lotte Reiniger, produced by Trunk Animation
posted by filthy light thief (15 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Tangent: The Steampunk Workshop has an old blog post to Voyages Extraordinaires, who claimed August as Steampunk Month, when they charted the history of steampunk in five parts, amongst numerous other Steampunk posts.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:03 PM on October 27, 2009 [7 favorites]

Great post! Thanks, filthy light thief!
posted by brundlefly at 1:10 PM on October 27, 2009

Dwarfs. Seven Dwarfs.
Corrected that for you.
posted by cogneuro at 1:39 PM on October 27, 2009

"The third animated full-length feature...came out the same year that the first two were lost to fire."

No, that's not suspicious at all.
posted by Eideteker at 1:43 PM on October 27, 2009

Dwarfs. Seven Dwarfs.
Corrected that for you.

Crumbs. At least I have Etymology on my side (or at least, with me that it's a wonky issue). Next time, I'll call them Dwarrows.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:45 PM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

this is fantastic
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:47 PM on October 27, 2009

I thought I posted a comment but it doesn't show up...hmm...

All I wanted to say is that this is a simply awesome post. Thanks.
posted by briank at 1:55 PM on October 27, 2009

The term is "Seven Little People"
posted by wheelieman at 2:00 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wow. Yesterday, I watched this collection of cartoons by Windsor McCay. I'm pretty impressed by the variety of early animation. Those silhouettes worked amazingly well.
posted by acrasis at 2:37 PM on October 27, 2009

This is amazing AND fantastic.
posted by Bageena at 2:48 PM on October 27, 2009

Brilliant. Thanks very much!
posted by Wolof at 3:43 PM on October 27, 2009

Wow, another home run of a post! This is great, thanks flt!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:40 PM on October 27, 2009

I'm surprised this post isn't linking to SuicideMouse.
posted by clarknova at 6:05 PM on October 27, 2009

Ooohh! Warning, self-link ahead: I'm fascinated by The Adventures of Prince Achmed and I wrote about it for a class, trying to look a little closer at the film as a good example of Western Orientalism including some unsavory representations: an ugly African witch, a dumb Chinese despot, delicate and mysterious Arabian beauties, etc. Not to detract from the wonderful art, but to see it in a kind of context/tradition as well as seeing it as a technical achievement.
posted by dreamyshade at 6:51 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

clarknova, your SuicideMouse link turns up a lot of dead image links. Perhaps the graphics were gleaned from an old GeoCities page (archive.org link)?
posted by filthy light thief at 7:00 AM on October 28, 2009

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