A Hand-Painted Valentine to Van Gogh
Billed as the world’s first fully oil-painted animated feature film, Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s Vincent is a stunning achievement and a marvel to behold. By Ramin Zahed
to do this project, around the same age Vincent was when he started to paint,” notes Kobiela. “More than his paintings, which I do love, it was the example of how Vincent lived that inspired me. I have battled with depression all my life, and I was inspired by how strong he was in picking himself up from similarly terrible life setbacks as a young man, and finding through art, a way to bring beauty to the world.”
Welchman, who is based in Poland and has produced several well-received animated proj- ects such as the Oscar-winning short Peter & the Wolf (2006) and The Flying Machine (2011), says he became absolutely obsessed with Van Gogh’s enigmatic life and phenomenal achievements. “He had failed at four careers by the time he was 28,” he elaborates. “He was written off by his family as a no-hoper. But then he became a self-taught artist without any real artistic background and was able to create a body of work that mesmerized the world in only 10 years.”
Soon, Welchman convinced Kobiela that it would be impossible for her to work on such an ambitious project alone. “We did a quick calculation, and it would take her 81 years to paint the film,” says the film’s writer-director. “So, we decided to invite painters from around the world to audition for the film. We had over 5,000 applications, and out of that we held auditions. The ones who passed the tests were put in an intensive, 180-hour animation course, and then, we had 125 people who joined our production as painters.”
Art Isn’t Easy Of course, the directors had their share of concerns about their gigantic undertaking. “I was worried about hiring these painters who had not worked on an animated project before,” Welchman notes. “It’s hard to stop animators from fighting each other, let alone these artists who were used to painting on their own. And they had to learn to paint in this specific style. We thought that was going to be problematic. But the funny thing is that that wasn’t the toughest challenge. I thought painting 65,000 oil frames on 103 cm by 60 cm
positive time. He had just sold his first painting for a proper sum of money and he had got great reviews. Other painters were tipping him to be the next big star. In addition, his brother Theo had just name his son after Vincent.”
Around the same time, a biography of the painter by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith put forward the theory that perhaps Van Gogh didn’t commit suicide and he was accidentally shot by some teenage boys. “Dorota and I thought that by looking at different and conflicting theories on his death we could understand more about his life. There’s drama that comes out of that conflict,” says Welchman. “We also watch a lot of film noir, so the approach was natural for us.”
So how do they see the death of their enigmatic subject? “We have different opinions,” says the director. “Dorota thinks he killed himself because of his brother, because he felt he had been a burden to him for too long. I am more open to the theory that he might have been accidentally shot. We have been arguing about who’s right for a few years now!”
As the film’s producers await Loving Vincent’s release worldwide this fall, they are pleased that their labor of love will spark more interest in the life and art of the tortured artist. Welchman also hopes that their incredible technique will be embraced by more directors. “I am in love with our method of filmmaking,” he exclaims. “I hope other people will want to direct in this style. It’s a shame to spend so much brain and heart power to set up this style and not have others follow it as well.”
He also points out that Van Gogh’s life continues to be a source of inspiration for him and his wife. “During the production, there were times when we worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week, and I felt quite miserable,” he recalls. “But then, I’d tell myself, ‘Come on, Hugh, pull yourself together!’ Look at what Vincent did. He worked so hard and had so many things against him. There’s a reason he is seen as one of the greatest artists of all time. He had this amazing, intense passion for life.”
Kobiela agrees, “We only decided to take the risk of making the world’s first fully painted feature film because of how much people around the world are already loving Vincent. I hope this film will inspire audiences to find out more about Vincent, read his letters, and see his paintings in the flesh. I want everyone to be Loving Vincent.” Good Deed Entertainment will release Loving Vincent in the U.S. on September 22. The film begins its European run in October.
Top-notch animated content from Finland is ready to the industry at Cartoon Forum 2017. Finnanimation presents five exciting new projects at this year’s Cartoon Forum. These innovative animated projects center on outsiders finding their way in new worlds, solving everyday problems in extraordinary worlds and having absurd adventures along the way. This year’s crop of excellent Finnish series are an excellent reminder that animation breeds imagination. Kids love to compare things, whether it’s ice-cream flavors, whose dad is strongest or imaginary monsters. Gigglebug Entertainment is developing an original comedy TV-series that celebrates different tastes in the most absurd way. Two comically headstrong and wildly imaginative best friends spend their time comparing what is the best thing of all time. If you thought comparing apples and oranges was impossible, wait until Best & Bester compare flying cows to double sided pizza, and toenail clippings to toilets. Because for Best & Bester, no comparison is too silly when you’re trying to determine what the best thing that has ever existed is, and no argument is too illogical if it means that you’re right! Divine Consultants is an animated adventure comedy with great cross-platform potential. In the beginning of this unique story our young heroes fall to their deaths but find themself in a corrupt Afterlife where they battle against a corporate God and other forces of good and evil in the pursuit of truth. Who is behind this macabre fantasy world and who gets to decide what goes on in Heaven or in Hell? Can Joye save all the human souls? Divine Consultants is created by Juha Fiilin and is at an advanced editorial development stage. A bright yellow balloon named Marco lives in Balloon Town where all the balloons live after they are released to the sky. He likes to listen to stories that his Great Grandpa tells him of balloon knights, astronauts, and adventurers. Inspired by these balloon heroes, Marco goes into Balloon Town with loyal side- kick, Bumper, to solve everyday problems in ways only an inflated balloon can! With Marco’s creative ideas, and Bumper’s ability to transform into anything, balloons of all shape, size, and color get a little help from Marco and live happily in Balloon Town. Hare and the Prisoner tells the story of a raccoon who was born with a birthmark across her eyes. Others have always treated her like a thief because of it. But when she arrives in his forest, Hare sees only a new friend. After all, adventures are much more fun as two. Hare can’t wait to introduce Prisoner to chattering birds, curious squirrels and grumpy predators. In turn Prisoner shows Hare that there is a huge world beyond the trees. Ink and Light’s new series reflects the experiences of their young audience as Hare and Prisoner navigate new friendships and discover that everybody has something unique to offer. Royale Sisters is a comedy about a royal family that lives in a regular house! Due to extensive refurbishment of their castle, they were forced to move out. Stella, her sister Molly, her parents and pets discover everyday stuff with enthusiasm and a touch of eccentricity, while they try to stay true to their tradition and royal duties. For Stella it is all about blending in at the new school, making friends and having people like her for herself, not because of her noble ancestry. This new Pikkkukala series explores the challenge of adapting to change without losing one´s identity in a key of humor.
Disney TV Animation relaunches fan-favorite series remixing Carl Barks’ iconic adventures with a modern sensibility. By Tom McLean.
One of the most overlooked treasures in the long history of Disney is the Donald Duck comic-book series from Carl Barks. Revered for decades by comics fans who knew Barks — long unable to sign his own name to Disney work — only as “the good duck artist,” his decades-long run is a veritable gold mine of adventure.
Barks’ work inspired the original DuckTales cartoon, a major hit produced by the then-nascent Disney Television Animation from 1987-1990. That series, from its infinitely catchy theme song to successful spinoffs, brought Barks-style adventure to a generation that still reveres and loves the series. That, of course, made it primo material for a reboot.
As in the original, the new DuckTales follows Scrooge McDuck, the world’s richest duck and its greatest adventurer, and the escapades he and his great-nephews (triplets Huey, Louie and Dewey) get into — usually, defending Uncle Scrooge’s riches from rivals, pursuing lost treasures, solving mysteries and re-writing history from time to time. Joining them are the usual suspects: overprotective Donald Duck, the triplets’ uncle; Uncle Scrooge’s housekeeper Mrs. Beakley and her granddaughter Webby; and blowhard pilot Launchpad McQuack.
Viewers got their first taste of the series Aug. 12, with an hour-long premiere event on Disney XD, with the regular series celebrating Sept. 23 the 30th anniversary of the original’s debut with two new episodes airing six times that day.
Executive producer Matt Youngberg ( Ben 10: Omniverse, Transformers: Animated) and co-producer/story editor Francisco Angones ( Wander Over Yonder) confess — as does most of the crew — to being among the many diehard fans of the original show. They love the original, and the Barks source material, and feel no small amount of pressure to make a show that lives up to expectations.
“We were all massive DuckTales and Barks fans — I mean the lyrics to the theme song were in my wedding vows,” says Youngberg. “We just have to incorporate it all and take the elements that work together and fit them into a thing that’s still new, that gives kids today the same feeling that we had when we heard the
put Launchpad and Dewey together, that relationship and the fun you can have between them is going to be different than when you put Launchpad and Webby together,” says Youngberg.
The bonus is that these themes work together on multiple levels for fans. Barks’ comics ran from the 1940s through the 1970s, and ‘ We didn’t want to treat the nephews as the same character, which is something that is usually done with them…We wanted to make sure we could find a way to distinguish their personalities clearly.’
WThe creator of Cartoon Network’s chats about his hot new show and the secrets of his success. By Ramin Zahed
hen Ian Jones-Quartey was only 15, he put together his own home computer from what spare parts he could find. Then, he saved money to buy a scanner, uploaded his drawings and created his own webcomic. Years later, after graduating from New York’s School of Visual Arts, he cold-called every animation studio in the city until he landed his first job at a commercial studio. It’s that kind of creativity, persistence and enthusiasm that has helped the toon veteran work on shows such as The Venture Bros., Adventure Time and Bravest Warriors, and become the supervising director and codeveloper of Steven Universe. His much-anticipated new show OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes has already attracted a die-hard following since its premiere in August on Cartoon Network.
The series started its life as a Cartoon Network pilot short called Lakewood Plaza Turbo, which was then retooled as a mobile game on CN’s Anything app last year. Jones-Quartey even participated in a “game jam” session in Portland, Oregon, where participants created a variety of different games based on the property.
“I first pitched the show six years ago when I was a storyboard supervisor on Adventure Time,” Jones-Quartey says during a recent phone interview. “I really wanted to make a show that was super fun and had everything that I loved when I was a kid. So, it became a cartoon about young friends who get to fight robots.”
Billed as the nexus of gaming and animation, the show was developed to play on all screens while offering a solid storytelling experience for viewers. Each episode follows K.O. (voiced by
Sean Jara, the mastermind behind Nelvana’s hot new animated series Mysticons, remembers being obsessed with playing Dungeons & Dragons when he was a teen. “I grew up in the ‘burbs in the ‘80s, and my friends and I spent thousands of hours [playing the game],” he recalls. I was the Dungeon Master, which meant I had to come up with all the adventures. We’d play in the basement on an old ping-pong table and order pizza into the wee hours of the morning while I improvised tales of high adventure for my friends. I was constantly thinking of the characters, doing voices, coming up with exciting plot twists, world-building, etc.”
Jara, whose many writing credits include Degrassi: The Next Generation, The League of Super Evil, Johnny Test and the upcoming ReBoot: The Guardian Code, says he took all those fantasy stories and mixed them together with an urban environment to make them more relatable to young, modern audiences for Mysticons. “The idea was Middle-earth meets Manhattan with a band of cool girl heroes who defend the realm.”
The series, which is a collaboration between Nelvana, Playmates Toys, Topps and Nickelodeon, was originally developed as a show targeting boys, but it changed direction during development. The toon now centers on four dynamic heroines who are brought together by a prophecy to battle evil and protect their world from the evil Queen Necrafa.
“Mysticons did start out as a boys’ action show and that was my expertise, which is why Nelvana brought me aboard,” notes Jara. “But during development, we discovered there was an opportunity to address a gap in animated action content for young girls. Once we committed to the new direction, we totally reenvisioned the show, and took great care to make sure we came up with four awesome, unique, and relatable girl heroes. Everything else spun out from that.”
The creators of the show wanted the Mysticons universe to be both magical and relatable. “We thought of ways to put a magical spin on everyday items and tech,” says Jara. “We’ve got flying cars, flying mageboards, and bangle-phones, which are like cell phones that flip off your wrist, so you can make calls or glyph. ‘Glyphing’ is our world’s version of texting. We even created our own runic alphabet for it.”
Produced by Jara and Suzie Gallo, the show features animation done in-studio at Canada’s Nelvana, along with Yeti Farm in Vancouver, utilizing Toon Boom Harmony to deliver its dazzling mix of 2D and 3D elements. A Touch of Jones, Avery and
Pixar Jara, who grew up with the classic shorts of Chuck Jones and Tex Avery, and mentions Ralph Bakshi, Brad Bird and John Lasseter as sources of inspiration, says one of the main qualities that makes Mysticons stand out is its enigmatic blend of magical and everyday elements. “Yes, it’s a fantasy show and there’s tons of action and magic, but our main characters are real; more like everyday teens,” he points out. “Personally, that’s my favorite tone for a show—something that is rooted in reality, because it makes all the fantasy and magic seem that much bigger.”
He is also quick to note that the fact that 80 percent of the writers on the show are women makes a huge difference. “I relied on the talents of Shelley Scarrow, Stephanie Kaliner, Jocelyn Geddie, Ash Lannigan, Tally Knoll, Sandra Kasturi, Elize Morgan, Amanda Spagnolo, Grant Sauvé and Corey Liu to come up with dynamic adventures that would be relatable and inspiring to young girls,” he says.
“Personally, I believe great shows are creator-driven and come from a strong and unique point of view,” Jara adds. “Nelvana saw my passion for fantasy-action, and then paired me with an amazing director, Matt Ferguson, and a team of super-pro designers and animators. Then, they not only trusted us, but did everything they could to ensure that we would succeed in our quest. That goes for all our partners from Nickelodeon, to Playmates, to Tornante.”
The creative writer, who has been a constant player in the world of TV animation for the past couple of decades, is also quite generous with career tips.
“Study the masters,” he advizes. “Work hard, and work as much as you can. Find your voice. Play well with others. Learn to give and take criticism. And never give up. Persistence is the most important thing. Take rejection letters and fuel your forge of creativity with them. But also, be gracious when you have finally found success.” Mysticons airs Sundays at noon on Nickelodeon and also debuts on YTV and Teletoon in Canada this month.
was alleviated to a degree by Kelly’s experience working at 4Kids as a story editor and writer on an animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series under the tutelage of producer Lloyd Goldfine. Rouleau also had animation experience as a character designer on Loonatics Unleashed at Warner Bros. and on various projects at Stan Lee Media, before it imploded amid a political scandal.
“As far as credits go, we didn’t have enough for Cartoon Network to hand us the keys to Ben 10 at the time,” says Seagle. “So we developed it, we consulted on it, we wrote a bunch of episodes… but it was always under a different show runner.” Ahead of the Times Moving beyond Ben 10, the group found its comics background a benefit as that medium’s