A largely neglected figure in animation history, Ruttmann’s work influenced many who followed him, including Oskar Fischinger, Hans Richter and Norman McLaren. He holds the distinction of being the first filmmaker to publicly screen an abstract animated short–it was on April 27, 1921 when he presented Lichtspiel Opus 1 in Berlin’s Marmorhaus. Fischinger was in attendance at the theater that evening.
Shortly after he made the short Opus III, he animated on Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed, which was the first European animated feature. Reiniger said of Ruttman: “[He] invented and created wonderful movements for the magic events, fire, volcanoes, [and] battles of good and evil spirits.” Ruttman also made significant live action films, such as Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927).
Ruttmann’s personal history is fascinating and far too complex to be covered in such brief space. A trained architect and painter, he worked as a graphic designer prior to becoming involved with film. He fought in WWI, suffered a nervous breakdown and spent time recovering in a sanatorium. Historian Giannalberto Bendazzi labeled him a “contradictory intellectual” because he was “a follower of the left [who] later unconditionally supported Hitler.” Indeed, Ruttmann was involved in the production of Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film Triumph of the Will in 1935. He died in July, 1941, from wounds suffered on the front lines as a war photographer.
UPDATE: Stephen has followed this post with an excellent write-up about Opus III that places Ruttmann’s work in the context of art history and painting.
(Hat tip, @FezFilms)