4: Animation Strategies: related posts In Process Stop Motion CutOut/Puppet

Stop Motion: Puppet cut-outs

Cutout animation is a form of stop-motion animation using flat characters, props and backgrounds cut from materials such as paper, card, stiff fabric or photographs. The cut outs are used as puppets for stop motion. Cut-out animation puppets can be made with figures that have joints made with a rivet or pin or, when simulated on a computer, an anchor. These connections act as mechanical linkage, which have the effect of a specific, fixed motion.

The technique of most cut-out animation is comparable to that of shadow play, but with stop motion replacing the manual or mechanical manipulation of flat puppets. Flat, jointed puppets have been in use in shadow plays for many centuries, such as in the Indonesian wayang tradition and in the “ombres chinoises” that were especially popular in France in the 18th and 19th century. The subgenre of silhouette animation is more closely related to these shadow shows and to the silhouette cutting art that has been popular in Europe especially in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Cut-out techniques were relatively often used in animated films until cel animation became the standard method (at least in the United States). Before 1934, Japanese animation mostly used cut-out techniques rather than cel animation, because celluloid was too expensive.

While sometimes used as a relatively simple and cheap animation technique in children’s programs (for instance in Ivor the Engine), cut-out animation has also often been used as a highly artistic medium that distinguishes itself more clearly from hand-drawn animation. Today, cut-out-style animation is frequently produced using computers, with scanned images or vector graphics taking the place of physically cut materials.

Of most relevance to my work here are:

– puppets manipulation of cut-out photographs, drawings and other flat materials.

– manipulation of drawings and paintings in natural media like charcoal and scraperboard to produce expressive lines

For other types of stop motion see my research and own work in:

My experiments January 2021

‘Tupa Tupa’ DRCongo

Animatic with digital manipulation of photograph cut-outs in Procreate on iPad. To be developed as Stop Motion photo-collage in Stop Motion Studio with final composite in After Effects.

Pig Tales, India

Feeding the pigs sequence. Started with digital manipulation of photograph in Rough Animator on iPad. The version here was produced by drawing and watercolour painting from video, then photographing the puppets and manipulating in Procreate on the iPad. With final toning and tinting in After Effects. To be redone with smoother movement as cut-outs of the sketches and drawings and multiplane manipulation in After Effects.

Silhouette experiments for Mary’s Story, Uganda and/or Pakistan ‘The Airplane’ are also envisaged.

Key Inspiration

History and Evolution

Quirino Cristiani

The world’s earliest known animated feature films were political cut-out animations made in Argentina by Quirino Cristiani. He generally animated on his own. One film could take 7-8 months. Unfortunately the films were burned in a fire, and not much remains.

Lotte Reiniger

Made extraordinarily elaborate silhouette animations. She invented the multiplane camera with background, middle ground and foreground and lit from below to give the illusion of depth.

She used a similar technique to produce different monochrome and coloured styles with different degrees of ornament and abstraction in the cut-outs.

Her earliest animations were: Das Ornament des Verliebten Herzens (1919); Amor und das Standhafte Liebespaar (1920); Der Fliegende Koffer (1921); Der Stern von Bethlehem (1921); Aschenputtel (1922); Das Geheimnis der Marquise (1922, advertisement for Nivea); Dornröschen (1922) and Barcarole (1924, advertisment for Mauxion).

Her most famous film is “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” 1926 – the oldest surviving full-length animated film. Pre-dating Disney by a decade.

She continued to make dozens of shorts throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Other projects were her fantastical short animation, “Papageno” (1935), and a dazzling struggle between the Frog Prince and a covetous octopus. She moved to London to escape from Hitler in 1938 and worked and lived in the United Kingdom until her death in 1982.

General documentary of her work.
Documentary of key innovations.
“The Adventures of Prince Achmed” 1926. Visual highlights. Lotte Reiniger cut the figures out of black cardboard with a pair of scissors, and joined movable parts with thread as armatures in order to animate them. Backgrounds were variously painted or composed of blown sand and even soap. Walter Ruttmann collaborated on the special colour and light effects.

The Secret of the Marquise (1922) silhouette animation in an early advert for Nivea skin care products.
Details of technique.
Details of technique.

Japanese cut-out animation

Before 1934, Japanese animation mostly used cut-out techniques rather than cel animation, because celluloid was too expensive.

Some modern Japanese animators have also used cut-out with painted puppets.

Noburō Ōfuji (1900-1961) was a Japanese film director and animator. He is one of the pioneers of the Japanese animation using Japanese paper with coloured figures and the shadow picture animation .
Kihachiro Kawamoto – The Poet’s Life 1974 uses painted/textured paper armatures to create very atmospheric effects.
Kihachiro Kawamoto Tabi (1973) textless animation using mostly pan and zoom techniques on puppet stages. With very minimal character animation.

Russian cut-out animation

!! More research needed

Ivan Ivanov-Vano “Seasons” (1969) has very static puppets with most of the effect created by the delicate tracery on the multiple moving planes to which oily and other substances have been added for atmospheric effect.
Here the cut-out silhouettes are moved very quickly across the frame with quick changes in multiple layers, heightened by the sound effects and music. But the actual manipulation of the puppets is minimal.

Sergei Ryabov

Eastern Europe

Czech animator Dagmar Doubková created several short cut- out animations, often with a feminist message and very distinctive painted style:
– as Oparádivé Sally (1976) (broadcast in the USA as About Dressy Sally on Nickelodeon’s  Pinwheel
Sbohem, Ofélie (Goodbye Ophelia) (1978)
Královna Koloběžka první (Queen Scooter First) (1981)
The Impossible Dream (1983)
Shakespeare 2000 (1988)

She later co-founded 3D Art And Animation Studio with her husband.

Dagmar Doubková: The Impossible Dream (1983) Takes a wry humorous look at the double workload of a full-time job and being a housewife.
Dagmar Doubková, Ofélie (Goodbye Ophelia) (1978) An animated lecture that gives young girls advice on life when it comes to conquerors and others.

Dagmar Královna Koloběžka první (Queen Scooter First)- 1981
Dagmar Doubková Shakespeare 2000 (1988)

United States and Canada

No. 12, also known as Heaven and Earth Magic by Harry Everett Smith, completed in 1962, utilizes cut-out illustrations culled from 19th century catalogues.
How Death Came to Earth (1971) Ishu Patel

Digital cut-out animation

Many digital software programmes can now produce different types of cut-out puppet animation styles.

Physical cut-outs can be filmed in Stop Motion using Stop Motion Studio on the iPad or Dragon Frame on the pc.

Software like Adobe Animate and Adobe After Effects have 2D puppet rigging features to manipulate photos of physical puppets or imports of digital puppets from digital drawing programmes like Illustrator or Photoshop.


South Park is a notable example of the transition since its pilot episode was made with paper cut-outs before switching to computer software.

Svetlana Androva Russian digital Stop Motion
(2017) uses digital animation to imitate cutout animation in the storyworld sequences