Oskar Fischinger was taken to a private rehearsal screening of Walter Ruttmann’s Opus I at a Frankfurt theater at the beginning of April 1921. Fischinger was so impressed by Opus I that he decided to try his hand at abstract filmmaking. He did not wish, however, merely to copy Ruttmann’s style. True to his nature as a tinkerer, Fischinger quickly developed a wax-cutting machine that allowed him to animate thin cross sections of wax on a frame-by-frame basis, a process resulting in shifting abstractions reminiscent of both tidal pools and swirling galaxies. Impressed by this innovation, Ruttmann asked Fischinger if he could license the wax-cutting machine to produce backgrounds for his animations of a flying horse for the opening sequence for Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Ahmed (1926). Fischinger went on to create a number of ludic animated films set to music, including Komposition in Blau (1935) and An Optical Poem (1938).
Fischinger was also responsible for the first avant-garde multimedia program, a collaboration with composer Alexander Lazlo on Color-Light-Music, a visual music extravaganza that toured throughout Germany in 1926. Eager to pursue his own project, Fischinger developed the concept of Raumlichtkunst (Space Light Art), a series of performances that further refined the techniques he had initiated with Lazlo. The work culled footage from many of Fischinger’s film experiments, including the deliquescing wax imagery that had so intrigued Ruttmann, tinted and toned reels of hand-drawn abstract animated imagery, and animated geometric cutouts of paper and wood. These performances were a marvel of European modernism, and stand as some of the earliest multimedia projects. Originally a live cinematic event combining multiple film projectors and slide projectors “played” by the artist, and accompanied by an independent musical soundtrack, Fischinger’s media innovation also presages a host of expanded cinema, projection performance, and video-installation practices.
Fischinger’s color instrument, developed in the late 1940s, was called the Lumigraph.
For more information, see Center for Visual Music’s extensive collection of Fischinger materials: