Piotr Dumala’s Artful Animations of Literary Works by Kafka & Dostoevsky

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Kafka’s Night­mare Tale, ‘A Coun­try Doc­tor,’ Told in Award-Win­ning Japan­ese Ani­ma­tion

John Tur­tur­ro Reads Ita­lo Calvino’s Ani­mat­ed Fairy Tale

Orson Welles Nar­rates Ani­ma­tion of Plato’s Cave Alle­go­ry

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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