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).

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