The characters in Franz Kafka stories typically feature isolated protagonists facing bizarre or surrealistic predicaments and incomprehensible socio-bureaucratic powers. So, during this time of isolation I intend to embark on creating a short kafkaesque surreal B/W film in the German Expressionist style from the 1920's such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu and Metropolis.

Posters from Nosferatu - Metropolis - The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

German expressionist filmmakers used visual distortion and hyper-expressive performance to show inner turmoils, fears and desires of that era. German Expressionism reflects the inner conflicts of its 1920's German audience by giving their woes an inescapably external presence.

Further influences would be Film Noir which has its roots in German Expressionist cinematography including The Big Combo and The Stranger and later Steven Soderbergh's Kafka. Beyond film are the incredible works of The Brother Quay, whose animations evoke a sense of disjointed worlds as can be seen in this short clip from Street of Crodcodiles

My first aim is to get the correct film style, so I've been out making some tests using red, yellow and green filters on B/W. The red filter, for example, darkens the sky and raises the contrast bringing out some dramatic effects. Next tests will be indoors using some very simple set ideas. I will have to use basic lamps with incandescent bulbs as my studio lights are in lockdown in the The Harrington Studios.

Being working on some graphics and wanted a bug logo that could also resemble a skull for the powers that be. Using German Expressionist wood-cut artists as reference I came up with a sketch, scanned it into Adobe Illustrator, added a few bits and then finished it off in Illustrator.

Skull/Bug graphic for project

Cardboard Sets & 3D Animation

The use of set design in The Cabinet of Dr. Mabuse allowed for the set to almost have a life of it's own as it represented the feelings of the main protagonist. This form of unaligned or off-balance is what I'm hoping to create and have decided to use cardboard to create the look of the city. It is easy to manipulate and there's plenty available during lockdown. My first goal was to create a building that seemed to be run down and/or decrepit as well as seemingly falling in on themselves. I folded and shaped cardboard into the type of shapes I desired, the went about ripping off some of the cover paper exposing the ridges. I later cut some of these out as possible windows. To finish the look I added drops of used vegetable oil that ran down and slowly soaked into the cardboard.

Cardboard set design ideas.

As you can see by the photos it is starting to create the atmosphere that i'm looking for. Using pointed sources of light and a wide angle lens for brings a drama to the set. My initial idea was to composite the footage from the scaled city model with footage of the main actor, although I did look into the possibility of using 3D animated models, but will have to see how much more time this would take. A compromise might be to use some 3D animation with live footage from the set and from the actor. More testing need to be done, but my composite of 3D model and set doesn't look too bad for a first test.

Working on the set I've had to take quite a few things into consideration: the height of the overall city has to fit into a wide angle view from tip to bottom; keeping the distance between buildings wide enough to fit the camera; how to manipulate the camera through the set; and how to light it. The overall size of the set has to fit within the confines of my kitchen with enough space to move around it, yet has to be big enough to look impressive. I'm trying to solve all of these aspects at once as I begin to erect the city. Using the one building I have made so far as a reference I am using cardboard to mark out where other buildings should be to work best with the camera.

Camera Cradle

I put together a make-shift camera cradle that I could hang between the buildings, or cardboard sheets at this stage. It helps me to plan the streets and the angles that are necessary to allow the camera to pass. Trying to access the twisting streets by hand would be impossible, so I will have to devise some kind of rig where I an control the pan and tilt from above. First things first and on with the set!


Although, this film is presently going to be a silent film I will be adding sound effects and a soundtrack. In the silent movie era, there was usually accompanying music played live at the theatres. However, not having that choice today I will have to create my own soundtrack and have been working with one of Nucleus Recordings artists, Audiohörhaus. One of the goals we set them was to create atmospheric sounds based on mood boards we produced for them. You can listen to their initial ideas on this page.





Created By
David Pierce


All work by David j. / Black Hole Studio unless otherwise stated.