There’s a certain irony to Polish animator Piotr Dumala’s innovative style, a stop-motion technique in which he scratches an image into painted plaster, then paints it over again immediately and scratches the next. Called “destructive animation,” Dumala devised the method while studying art conservation at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts.
Trained as a sculptor as well as an animator, Dumala’s award-winning films present strikingly expressionistic textures emerging from pitch black and receding again. The 1991 film Kafka (top) begins with the reclusive writer shrouded in darkness and isolation. He coughs once, and we are transported to Prague, 1883. Each frame of Kafka resembles a woodcut, and the sound design is as spare as the extremely high-contrast animation.
In Sciany (Walls), an earlier short film from 1988, Dumala uses light and shadow, and even more minimal music and sound effects to create a haunting, surrealistic piece that conjures the atmosphere of an interrogation room or solitary confinement cell. Like the strange, empty cityscapes of Giorgio de Chirico, Dumala’s art unsettles, with its skewed perspectives, shadowy, mysterious figures, and unexpected shifts in tone and scale.
Crime and Punishment, Dumala’s idiosyncratic half-hour Dostoevsky adaptation (which we’ve featured previously), uses “destructive animation” to similar effect as in Kafka and Walls, creating shadowy, minimalist set pieces that emerge slowly from darkness and return to it. But this time, Dumala incorporates color—greens, reds, and browns—and the images are much more detailed, almost painterly.
Stripping the Russian masterwork down to just two scenes—the murder and Raskolnikov’s meeting of Sonia—Dumala interprets the novel’s themes with the light-and-shadow intensity with which he renders all of his artistic visions, saying, “This is about love and how obsession can destroy love. In our life we are under two opposite influences to be good or bad and to love or hate.” In Dumala’s almost claustrophic worlds, the lines between light and darkness are stark, even if they’re also ever shifting and ephemeral.