Cutout animation


Cutout animation is a technique for producing animation using flat characters, props and backgrounds cut from materials such as paper, card board, stiff fabric or even photos. The world's first surviving animated feature was produced using a form of cutout animation.

Today, cutout-style animation is often produced using computers, with scanned images taking the place of physically cut materials. The South Park series is a notable example, the first episodes were indeed made with actual paper cutouts. One of the most famous animators that are still using cutout animation today is Yuriy Norshteyn (Yuri Norstein).

As its name implies, cut-out animation involves moving cut-out shapes in small steps and taking a picture at each stage, this is a lot less work than having to draw every single frame of the animation.

Of course, some form of capture device is required, and at one time, the ideal tool for this type of work was any film camera that was capable of shooting single pictures.

Today, the computer has pervaded all forms of animation and cut-out animation is no exception.

In fact by using motion tweens and symbols, you can avoid having to manually set up every frame.

Lotte Reiniger

Lotte Reiniger was born in Berlin in 1899. She established a successful studio specializing in silhouette animation in Germany in the 1920s.

 Lotte Reiniger: The Adventures of Prince Achmed

The first full-length animated feature in movie history, Lotte Reiniger’s Die Abenteur des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed 1926) is a dazzling and sensuous rendering of fables from The Arabian Nights: Tales From a Thousand and One Nights made with silhouette cutouts set on illuminated glass backdrops. It is the oldest surviving feature-length animated film, and it featured a silhouette animation technique Reiniger had invented which involved manipulated cutouts made from cardboard and thin sheets of lead under a camera. The original prints featured color tinting.

Escaping the Nazis, she came to England and was commissioned to make advertising silhouette works for the GPO (Post Office), the BBC and others, into the 1970s. She died in 1981.


Shadow Puppets (Wayang Kulit)

Wayang is an Indonesian word for theater. When the term is used to refer to kinds of puppet theater, sometimes the puppet itself is referred to as wayang. "Bayang", the Javanese word for shadow or imagination, also connotes "spirit." Kulit means skin and refers to the leather construction of the puppets that are carefully chiseled with very fine tools and supported with carefully shaped buffalo horn handles and control rods.

When Islam began spreading in Indonesia, the display of God or gods in human form was prohibited, The Javanese wanted to see the wayang (Hindu epics) in its traditional form, but failed to obtain permission from the Muslim religious leaders. As an alternative, instead of the forbidden figures only their shadow picture was displayed.

Gender Wayang

Performances of shadow puppet theater are accompanied by a full gamelan in Java, and by "gender wayang" in Bali.



Terry Gilliam

Many Python sketches were linked together by the cut-out animations of Terry Gilliam, including the opening titles featuring the iconic giant foot.

 Gilliam’s unique visual style was characterized by sudden and dramatic movements and errors of scale set in surrealist landscapes populated by engravings of large buildings with elaborate architecture, grotesque Victorian gadgets, machinery, and people cut from old Sears Roebuck catalogues, supported by Gilliam’s airbrush illustrations and many famous pieces of art. All of these elements were combined in incongruous ways to obtain new and humorous meanings in the tradition of surrealist collage assemblies.


The Foot of Cupid is a trademark of the British Broadcasting Corporation's television series, Monty Python's Flying Circus.

It is often seen in the opening animation credits at middle, then at the end of the opening, dropping down on the title and everything around it with a sound similar to that of a short burst of flatulence.

It was based from Agnolo Bronzino's Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time, and has been a trademark icon for the comedy troupe.

Other memorable animated segments include the killer cars,

Conrad Poohs and his Dancing Teeth,

the carnivorous houses, the old woman who cannot catch the bus, the rampage of the cancerous black spot, and a giant cat that stomps its way through London, destroying everything in its path.



Yuri Norstein

Yuri Norstein is universally considered the most remarkable director to emerge from the current generation of Russian animators. Although his body of completed work is less than 80 minutes in length, its impact has been so profound that he is regularly ranked one of the world's greatest contemporary directors. Most of his films were made by the same small team - his wife the artist Francesca Yarbusova, his cameraman the late Alexander Zhukovsky, and the late composer M. Meyerovich.

Using computers to simulate cut-out animation techniques on

South Park and Blue's Clues

"What could these two radically different shows--one for adults and one for pre-schoolers--have in common?," you may ask. The answer is that they both use computer animation software to create a look that many uninformed viewers assume is the product of painstaking cut-out animation. What most people don't know is that quite a bit of technology is at work to achieve that "home-grown" look, shadows, textures and all.

South Park
At a production studio hidden away in Marina Del Rey, California, animators and technical directors on the South Park TV show and feature film began using high-end equipment: Silicon Graphics workstations running Alias|Wavefront's PowerAnimator software to create a virtual plane--in 3D space--on which "flat" computer-generated characters are animated. 
They switched to Alias' Maya software since the beginning of Season Five (#102 - "It Hits the Fan").

Even the texture of construction paper is applied in the computer, and that "no-platen" shadow look is achieved by separating the character's parts with a small layer of space as would occur in real cut-out animation, which is, in case you were wondering, the technique Trey Parker and Matt Stone used to create The Spirit of Christmas, the animated short that spawned the Comedy Central series. Monica Mitchell, a production manager on South Park, pointed out that it would have been nearly impossible to produce the show with construction paper. "Time and flexibility are the bottom line," she said, noting that changes to the show are often made the day before broadcast.

Blue's Clues
At Nickelodeon's digital studio in New York, animators on Blue's Clues are using Macintosh computers running Photoshop and Adobe After Effects software to combine animated sets and characters with a live-action host. Even storyboards are created in Quark, so that they can be revised after various stages of the show's extensive kid-testing process.

While live-action is being shot on video (against a green-screen, color-key background), artists create props and characters out of clay and simple materials, then photograph them with a digital camera. The images are then cleaned-up and dressed-up, a process series co-creator and designer Traci Paige-Johnson calls making the images "yummy," then imported to After Effects where they are animated and composited with the live-action footage.

Series co-creator and executive producer Todd Kessler said that when the show was being developed, the technology decisions came out of the needs of the content. "The whole idea behind going `low-tech' and animating on desktop computers was to spend as little as possible on equipment, so that we could spend the largest portion of our budget on creative talent."

Both Blue's Clues and South Park creators use the computer as a very sophisticated camera which enables the production process to be broken down into stages that can be handled by different teams of people: storyboards, design and layout, lip-sync, and animation. Both shows use relatively small production teams--ranging from 15 to 30 people per episode, compared to the huge staffs, both in-house and overseas, needed to produce a typical 2D or cel-animated series. We can expect to see more of this kind of computer use in animation, blurring the line between CGI and traditional animation, and breaking through once-prohibitive cost and time barriers.



Neil Cicierega is the creator of an original genre of Flash animation, which is widely known as "Animutation". Animutation features random scenes and pictures, frequently influenced by pop culture. These scenes are accompanied by (and are usually in time to) foreign or novelty music, often Japanese. Most of his early Animutations used music from the original Japanese version of Pokémon. His style, most famously seen in his 2001 work "Hyakugojyuuichi", has been imitated by other artists on the Internet. These works were originally known as "fanimutations", but due to some creators thereof feeling that their work should be viewed as art in its own right rather than fanart, the term "fanimutation" has fallen out of favor. Currently, a common convention is that "Animutation" with an uppercase 'A' refers to the original works of that name by Cicierega, while if it is spelled with a lowercase 'a' it can refer to anything in this style.[