Prince Achmed- the first animated movie
Insights into the making of the first animated movie
Whenever the term animation is mentioned, the first name that comes to the mind is Walt Disney. It is true that he revolutionized an entire genre by introducing a host of characters since 1928. That particular year marked the curtain raiser of Mickey Mouse- created by Ub Iwerks, an animator working under Disney. This lovable creature was first featured in the movie STEAMBOAT WILLIE.
Since this became an overnight hit and sensation, many generations have come to believe that Mickey being the pioneer when it came to drawing for animation and that it led to creation of many such characters and movies. But how many of us know that less than a year and a half, in Germany, a full-length movie had premiered? Sounds incredible doesn’t it? You will come to know as you read further!
A 1926 German animated fairytale movie
Wondering what Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed means? In German, when translated literally, it is The Adventures of Prince Achmed.
Made by Lotte Reiniger the story drew its inspiration from the story of ‘Prince Ahmed’ found in the Arabian nights as well as Middle Eastern folklore. It is interesting to note that all she used was film roll was of wax and sand and props were paper puppets which were inspired by the Indonesian shadow puppet theatre! The technique used was referred to as a silhouette film technique and made completely using a multi-plane camera. The animated images were made to move as per a background that changed as per the colour and the scenery. Unlike 24 frames per second that happens in traditional animation, in this movie, it was 18 which was as per the background music score. All these were done on nitrate prints and all that remains is the restored version of 1954.
Storyline of The Adventures of Prince Achmed
As mentioned earlier, the plot of Prince Achmed was inspired by the Arabian nights as well as Middle Eastern folklore. It talks about the protagonist (Prince Achmed) being lured by an evil magician to ride a flying horse. The magician would have planned to see to Prince Achmed fall to his death. However, the prince is able to avoid it and thus begins his adventures. He meets and falls in love with a princess- Peri Banu! En route, he meets Aladdin as well as Witch of the Fiery Mountains. The remainder of the story involves the prince in constant fights with the monsters and demons while romancing the princess alongside. The former gets kidnapped and taken off to China and sold to the emperor while the prince is busy fighting the latter. However, help comes in the form of the Witch of the Flaming Mountain. This witch would be a sworn enemy of the Witch of the Fiery Mountains and so helps Achmed in rescuing Peri Banu. But the demons attack the princess and she is kidnapped yet again to a place called WakWak. This is when Aladdin makes his presence. He plays the role of a poor tailor who would have been captured in a cave by an evil magician. While escaping from the magician, Aladdin would have encountered a monster and Achmed would have saved him from its clutches by killing it when he would have gone to pluck a fruit from a tree. A flashback in the story would involve Aladdin finding a magic lamp and releasing the genie in it. The genie would have granted Aladdin’s wishes by which he would have been able to marry a princess called Dinarsade. But unfortunately one night, Dinarsade along with Aladdin’s palace and lamp disappears. To avoid execution, Aladdin would have tried to escape when he would have got trapped by the monster that is eventually killed by Achmed. Back to the present, there would be a fight between the witch and the magician. A lot of other animated characters as the magician meets his end at the hands of the witch. Peri Banu would be in a death like situation when she is seized by a hydra like creature.
In the meanwhile, an intense battle between a demon and the witch over the magic lamp. While Achmed is busy trying to kill the hydra like creature, Aladdin would have managed to find in a flying palace and he sets Dinarsade free. Towards the end, the witch collaborates with Achmed and the hydra is killed. After bidding adieu to the witch, the couples- Achmed and Peri Banu and Aladdin- Dinarsade fly back to their respective places in the flying palace!
Making of The Adventures of Prince Achmed
Though this animation movie premiered on the 23rd day of September 1926, pre-production had begun in 1923. It is said that all the storyboards were drawn by Lotte herself! She was also responsible for the plots and character development. She was lucky that she had the support of Carl Koch (her husband cum cameraman), Alexander Kardan (to check on the exposure sheets), Walter Ruttmann and Bertold Bartosch (animators), Walter Türck (in charge of the backgrounds). Music was provided by Wolfgang Zeller. Each of the cutouts were in cardboards with thin lead sheets. It is said that the background was constantly changing and had colourful tinting done to it along with elaborate scenery. The colour tinting and the music score by Zeller gave the movie a unique compelling feel altogether.
Though the ‘silhouette film technique’ used in making Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed got replaced eventually by cel animation, the movie was a terrific hit when it was finally released. Lotte was hailed as someone born with magic hands by Jean Renoir who went to call the movie as a masterpiece. Wesley Morris of the San Francisco Examiner called the film a rapturous animated kaleidoscope. Each of the 65 minutes of the film transported the viewer to a different world altogether. When Lotte was asked why she had chosen such a fairy-tale kind of a topic for her movie by her contemporary Walther Ruttmann, she is supposed to have said “I believe more in the truth of fairy tales than that found in the newspapers!” It can be said that the reasons for the success of Prince Achmed, apart from being a pioneering work, was that it used handcrafted work that appealed to the senses of the audience. In the works that Lotte did for this movie, a certain warmth can be found. Her gentle nature could be seen in each of the frames that she drew. It is lucky that few prints of this animation classic survive even today and have been restored and revived by the British institute. In fact, the first print that was shown in Berlin was lost during the ending stages of World War II. Let us all hope that future generations can get to see this and get enthralled just like how people got on that Thursday afternoon of the 23rd day of September 1926!
Thank You for reading!
This review on the oldest released animation movie has been collated by scribblers at Animaster Academy, a college of excellence, producing number of creative animators and designers, for decades.
You are requested to go through Gaming and Animation, a piece developed by the Bachelor’s Degree and University Master’s degree students, discussing origin, growth, arrangement and prospects of gaming and animation industry.