LIGHTS, CAMERA, ABSTRACTION
Entirely oil-painted, Vincent van Gogh movie Loving Vincent is a true original
THERE HAVE BEEN other films about Vincent van Gogh — Lust For Life with Kirk Douglas, most notably — but Loving Vincent is unique. Designed entirely in the artist’s deliriously beautiful style, it required 65,000 frames of oil-painted detail. Together they tell a story set just after the artist’s death and incorporating many of his most famous works. “His paintings represent his life and himself,” explains director Dorota Kobiela. “They’re very personal, very pure. The range of subjects is almost like storytelling: it shows where he slept, what he ate, who he spoke to.”
Kobiela studied fine art before becoming a filmmaker, and in 2011 dreamed up a way to combine training and film. She had the idea for a painted short based around van Gogh’s work and created in the artist’s style, which co-director Hugh Welchman persuaded her to expand to feature length. After working on some test footage, they realised that free-painting the entire thing would take “something like 90 years”. Instead, they recruited a talented cast, built sets designed to match van Gogh’s paintings and shot the entire film in 20 days, using the edited results as the basis on which to animate.
So, Douglas Booth is recognisable as Armand, the impetuous son of van Gogh’s postmaster friend (Chris O’dowd), who is dispatched to deliver Vincent’s last letter to his brother Theo. With Theo also dead by the time he arrives, Armand becomes fascinated by the mystery of Vincent’s final days, as related by actors including Saoirse Ronan, Eleanor Tomlinson and Aidan Turner.
“We tried to find actors that had the vibe of the characters [in Vincent’s life and work], to show the soul of the person,” says Kobiela. Her proudest ‘get’ was composer Clint Mansell. She listened to his scores while writing the script and pitched to him until she nabbed a gap in his schedule.
But the painting process was the truly mammoth challenge. The team recruited 100 artists, who had to learn to animate every brush stroke. As soon as each frame was painted and recorded, they would scrape away the work to start the next frame, making tiny adjustments
to the facial expression or motion. In more distant action shots, such as those based on van Gogh’s landscape The Red Vineyard, paint was added and added until it stood nearly a centimetre thick on the canvas. In total, the production got through 3,000 litres of oil paint.
An art exhibition of the paintings is planned to commemorate the seven long years of work. “It’s a big relief to finally show it to audiences,” admits the director. Are follow-ups a possibility? A Monet film? A da Vinci? “To be honest, I think it’s only possible with Vincent because of the personal view his letters give us.” Whether this starts a trend or not, Kobiela and her team completed a monumental task — and they didn’t lose a single ear in the process.
Creating a masterpiece (clockwise from left): Robert Gulaczyk as Vincent van Gogh; postman Roulin (Chris O’dowd) with Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth); Louise Chevalier (Helen Mccrory); Roulin (Booth).