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Friday, June 3, 2011

Nelson, Chapman, and Reiniger

Since the release of Kung Fu Panda 2, the animation spotlight has been firmly focused on Jennifer Yuh Nelson, as of 2011 the first female director to helm an animated feature for a major studio. In response to all the publicity Nelson's been garnering, the LA Times published an article focusing not on Nelson, but her almost-rival for the honor, Pixar's Brenda Chapman.

When the glass ceiling crashed on Brenda Chapman casts a bit of light on Chapman's removal from Pixar's upcoming Brave, as well as other female animation directors that have been thrown under the bus at Disney.

The article refers to Chapman as an animation pioneer, but that term was first applied almost ninety years ago to German director Lotte Reiniger, a contemporary of Fritz Lang.

Reiniger is mostly known now for her feature The Adventures of Prince Achmed, released in 1926. Achmed, a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights animated in Reiniger's signature paper-silhouette style, was only the third feature-length animated film ever made, and is the oldest surviving animated feature.

I watched Achmed for the first time this year, and was surprised at how expressive and captivating the animation was with such minimal character design.

Reiniger worked with a small team on her films, and I wonder if some of the female directors who've been shunned by the Hollywood studios might actually find success using techniques that can be perfected without the aid of a render farm, on less complex (and more visually creative!) projects where their ability to oversee an army of animation slaves need never be called into question. Nina Paley, despite the copyright kerfluffle, had great success with her one-woman-feature Sita Sings The Blues.

Because of the small-time nature of her productions, Reiniger directed mostly short films during her career, often depicting folk and fairy tales from around the globe. Luckily for us, BFI has recently uploaded some of her Grimm's adaptations on their Dailymotion channel.

Here's Reiniger's take on Sleeping Beauty:

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