Composer/Director Carla Patullo’s recent film “Lotte That Silhouette Girl” (2018) is an homage to who many deem the mother of animation, Lotte Reiniger. Using music and voice-over by Lotte herself, the film is a visual symphony. Carla’s background is music. Her past work includes Sundance film “Spa Night” (2016). Her song “The Ocean” and score to “Cinderella, A Shadow Ballet” (2015) were nominated for a Hollywood Music in Media Award. Further, Carla has had over 100 song placements on Emmy award winning shows.
I recently interviewed Carla about her work. Here is what she had to say:
How did you decide you had to make a film about Lotte?
CARLA: Years ago, I came across one of Lotte’s silent films, ASCHENPUTTEL. I had no idea who she was, and had never seen her work before. I quickly fell in love with her silhouette ballet style, and I decided to re-conceptualize the Cinderella story and to write a musical, narrative score to it! Working on Lotte’s ASCHENPUTTEL was a wonderful experience–I talked about it with you a couple of years ago. And when I took my version of the film out to a few festivals, I was floored to discover that very few people knew who Lotte was. Not even the animation buffs had heard of her! She invented the multiplane camera and she created the first feature length animation and her work is drop-dead gorgeous. I couldn’t understand why she was so unknown. So I had to tell her story.
How did you create the animation for this?
CARLA: Elizabeth Beecherl, my co-director, and I decided to create the film in Lotte’s style and use Lotte’s own puppets to tell her story because it was an homage to her, and we wanted to pack our film with as much of her presence as possible. Elizabeth is an architect, and she built a multiplane camera similar to the one Lotte invented in 1923 while she was making the first feature length animation, THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED. Elizabeth also re-constructed some of Lotte’s original puppets, and we cast them in the roles of Lotte’s life story. So for example, Cinderella plays Lotte as a young woman, Prince Achmed plays her husband Carl Koch, and a cast characters follow Lotte around singing and dancing like the Grasshopper, Romeo and Juliet. We used our 2×4 and glass pane multiplane camera and shot things frame by frame to start. After shooting, we brought all the footage into After Effects and added modern elements like camera movement and other visual effects. We also incorporated two scenes with live action silhouette dancers, who morphed into and out of the Romeo and Juliet puppets.
How do you think animation has grown since Lotte’s day?
CARLA: Well, there are many more advancements in digital technology like 3D sculpting, lighting, depth, and so many more effects. I’m a fan of some of these. You can also make simple animations so much more quickly with some of the software available today. But I in no way think the animations today are more beautiful or compelling than Lotte’s original work. She didn’t have sound when she started out so her stories are a bit difficult to follow for modern audiences, but her visual compositions and the intricate and realistic movements of her puppets are breathtaking. Sometimes the speed at which we work today loses a lot of the passion and magic that can be found in Lotte’s films.
Will you be turning this into a feature?
CARLA: Yes! We are hoping to complete it by the end of this year or early next year.
Do you prefer directing or composing?
CARLA: Well, looking at the big picture, for me, they both do the same thing. They tell stories. And that is what I really love to do. I don’t think I could ever direct a film without music. Music is still my primary passion, but pairing music with a story is even better. When we started working on LOTTE THAT SILHOUETTE GIRL, we started with musical sketches and some archival audio first. We told the story through music and dialogue alone, setting a pace and a rhythm. Lotte’s films were like ballets, and we wanted a similar feel in our film about her life. Of course, once the visual was locked, I had to go back and re-configure all of the music in order to match it with the visual. There was a lot of back and forth–the process was like a dance itself!
You are doing the festival tour now. How are people responding to the film?
CARLA: We just premiered at Ann Arbor, and it was incredible! We were so honored to be included in the festival’s lineup, and we received a great reception from the audience. Several people came up to tell us that we should make a longer version, so that’s nice to get the encouragement. I think people are moved by Lotte’s story because she is a charming narrator–very honest and thoughtful. She lived through some difficult times, and many of her dreams did not come true, but she still managed to create a magical body of work, and that inspires people.
What will you be working on next?
CARLA: Elizabeth and I have feature film in the works. It’s a drama, but it will have some elements of documentary and animation in it as well. I can’t really say too much more!
Interview by Vanessa McMahon