Fischinger, Oskar

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Animator. Nationality: German. Born: Gelnhausen, near Frankfurtam-Main, Germany, 22 June 1900. Education: Attended local technical school. Family: Married Elfriede, 1931, five children. Career: 1915—became draftsman in architect's office; 1916—employed at turbine factory in Frankfurt, rose to post of senior engineer; c.1920—became interested in animated design, worked on experimental series of films from 1921 to 1926; 1928–29—worked with Fritz Lang on Die Frau im Mond; 1930—started making sound films; 1933—first experimented with color; 1936—fled Germany for America, settled in Hollywood; 1938—worked on opening sequence of Fantasia, but quit after disagreement with Disney; 1941–42—worked for Orson Welles on a projected section about Louis Armstrong of It's All True; 1950—invented Lumigraph, a device for playing light images. Awards: Special Prize at Venice, for Komposition in Blau, 1935; Grand Prix, Brussels Exhibition, for Motion Painting No 1, 1947. Died: Of a stroke, in Hollywood, 1 February (some sources give 31 January) 1967.

Films as Animator/Director:

(some filmographies of Fischinger's work discount the four early experimental Studien and number Studie Nr 5 [1929] as Nr 1)




Studien 1–4




Münchener Bilderbogen (Pierrette I)




R-I, ein Formspiel von Oskar Fischinger; Seelische Konstruktionen (Spiritual Constructions); Sintflut; München-Berlin Wanderung


Studie Nr 5


Studie Nr 6; Studie Nr 7; Studie Nr 8; Studie Nr 9; Studie Nr 10


Studie Nr 11; Studie Nr 12 (unfinished); Studie Nr 13; Liebesspiel


Studie Nr 14; Studie Nr 15; Studie Nr 16; Koloraturen


Studie Nr 17; Studie Nr 18; Kreise


Ein Spiel in Farben (colorized version of Studie Nr 15); Quadrate; Muratti greift ein (Muratti Marches On); Reise im Schweiz


Komposition in Blau (Lichtkonzert Nr 1); Lichtkonzert Nr 2 (unfinished)




An Optical Poem


American March


Radio Dynamics


Motion Painting No 1


Stereo Film (pilot fragment)


Motion Painting No 2 (unfinished)

Other Films:


Dein Schicksal (Metzner) (animation seqences)


Die Frau in Mond (F. Lang) (special effects)


Das Hohelied der Kraft (Schongen) (special effects)


Big Broadcast of 1937 (Leisen) (special effects, unused)


Fantasia (Disney) (orig des)


By FISCHINGER: article—

"My Statements Are in My Work," in Art in Cinema: a Symposium on the Avant-Garde Film,edited by Frank Stauffacher, New York, 1968.


Westbrock, Ingrid, Das Werbefilm, Hildesheim, 1983.

On FISCHINGER: articles—

Brett, Guy, "Abstract Films of Oskar Fischinger," in Times (London), 4 November 1968.

Moritz, William, "The Films of Oskar Fischinger," in Film Culture (New York), 1974.

Moritz, William, "Fischinger at Disney or, Oskar in the Mousetrap," in Millimeter (New York), February 1977.

Canemaker, John, "On the Road with Mrs. Oskar Fischinger," in Funnyworld (New York), Summer 1978.

Gough-Yates, Kevin, "German Avant-Garde Film," in Art Monthly (London), June 1989.

Film a Doba (Prague), October 1990.

Film-Dienst (Cologne), 4 February 1992.

Moritz, W., "Gasparcolor: Perfect Hues for Animation," in Animation Journal (Orange), no. 1, 1996.

Summer, Edward, "Toy Story: 15,587,175,628 Pixels of Joy!" in Films in Review, March-April 1996.

* * *

Towards the end of his life, Oskar Fischinger prepared a short artistic credo under the title of "My Statements Are in My Work." It is an uncompromising, even dogmatic document, dismissing as mere "mountain ranges of soap bubbles" virtually all the feature films ever made, and equally scathing about the work of most of his fellow animators ("on a very low artistic level . . . a mass product of factory proportions"). Only the solitary, dedicated creative artist, working in lonely purity, may hope to create true cinematic art. "The Creative Spirit shall be unobstructed through realities or anything that spoils his absolute pure creation. . . . The real artist should not care if he is understood or misunderstood by the masses. He should listen only to his Creative Spirit and satisfy his highest ideals."

It is only fair to note that these words were written after Fischinger had suffered long years of frustration and disappointment in Hollywood. But anyone who came across this article before seeing any of Fischinger's films might well be led to expect a solemn, self-consciously elevated experience. Certainly it gives no hint of the wit, energy, and joie de vivre—in short, the sheer accessibility—of his work.

Fischinger's earliest experiments in abstract animation (or, as he preferred to call it, "absolute film") sprang from the same post-World War I European artistic ferment that gave rise to surrealism, dadaism, expressionism, and the Bauhaus movement. The influence of such artists as Klee, Kandinsky, and Mondrian is evident on his work, along with his own professional background as an engineer. As early as 1921 he invented what might be seen as the most primitive ancestor of computer animation: a machine synchronizing a camera with a mechanism that sliced thin slivers off a prepared block of wax, so that the designs embedded in the wax would be gradually revealed and filmed as moving shapes. Walther Ruttmann, whose pioneering animation work greatly impressed Fischinger, made ingenious use of this machine in the "evil magic" sequence he contributed to Lotte Reiniger's Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (1926).

Although other artists and filmmakers—Ruttmann, Hans Richter, Fernand Léger, Len Lye—explored abstract animation, Fischinger was exceptional in devoting almost his entire career to the genre. The long series of Studien forms the core of his black-and-white work. Like emanations of pure energy, they populate the screen with flashing, darting shapes: blips, dashes, curves, circles, explosions of light that zip and swoop and scurry as if propelled by unseen winds. Sometimes they suggest birds or fishes chasing each other in play, at other times sheets of paper, the notes on a plainsong stave or even signals in some unknown language. From 1930 onwards Fischinger's films were accompanied by music, but he always emphasized that this was all that the music was—an accompaniment, aimed at helping the audience accept the abstract shapes. None of his films, he insisted, was intended to illustrate the music, and they could be viewed in silent form with no loss of effect.

While Fischinger's black-and-white work is mainly two-dimensional in effect, he seized on the possibilities of color to lend depth and body to his designs. Komposition in Blau—which won a prize in Venice and brought him international fame—choreographs cubes, cylinders, and columns into an exuberant ballet that recalls the (almost equally abstract) patterns created by Busby Berkeley. The same irrepressible high spirits bubble through Muratti greift ein (Muratti Marches On), Fischinger's most famous advertising work—whole troupes of cigarettes strutting, marching, dancing and iceskating in formation—and his first American film, Allegretto. Set to a jazzy, Gershwinesque score, this exploits the potential of cel animation to deploy complex, overlapping patterns of shimmering shapes in what William Moritz called "California colors—the pinks and turquoises and browns of desert sky and sand, the orange of poppies and the green of avocadoes." The influence on the early films of Norman McLaren, such as Boogie Doodle, is unmissable.

All too predictably, Fischinger's hopes of pursuing his exploration of abstract animation within the context of the Hollywood studios were soon dashed. His most frustrating experience was working for Disney on Fantasia—all the more so because it was he who had first suggested the idea of the film, or at any rate of the Bach Toccata and Fugue section of it, to Leopold Stokowski. Although the released version was partly based on his original designs, he disowned it as a tasteless vulgarization. Disheartened by the lack of interest in his ideas, Fischinger's output slowed, and during the last 25 years of his life he completed only one film, Motion Painting No 1, painted in oil on plexiglass. Intricate and imaginative, it bemused his patrons at the Guggenheim Foundation, who withheld further support.

Given the integrity of Fischinger's resolve in sticking to his chosen field of animation, it may seem perverse to wish he had allowed himself more versatility. But a rare mature excursion into figurative animation, the Seelische Konstruktionen (Spiritual Constructions) of 1927, suggests uncommon—and largely undeveloped—aptitude for that field as well. Prefaced by the words "Mir ist so merkwürdig, als sei die Welt betrunken" (I have the strange feeling that the whole world is drunk), it depicts two boozy silhouettes who swell, distort, clash and devour each other. As well as strikingly anticipating the world of Jan Svankmajer (Dimensions of Dialogue), the Constructions reveal a flair for Rabelaisian mayhem that Fischinger could well have exploited alongside his "absolute" work—perhaps even to the benefit of both styles.

—Philip Kemp