×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Loving Vincent’ Uses Real-Life Performers to Animate Canvas

If ever the term “art film” applied to a theatrical movie, “Loving Vincent” is it.

The first feature to animate oil paintings on canvas, it brings to life Vincent van Gogh’s paintings of provincial France. And within these landscapes, Vincent’s portraits of local people also come alive — inspired by performances from such actors as Saoirse Ronan. Polish artist Dorota Kobiela conceived the idea and co-wrote and directed it with Hugh Welchman, an animated short Oscar winner for “Peter and the Wolf.” Their script reflected Van Gogh’s own thoughts from hundreds of his letters.

The idea’s first test came in 2012, recalls Welchman. “We used friends as actors, filmed against a bedsheet as a green screen. We then painted animation based on that material.”

The resulting 90-second concept trailer persuaded Welchman’s partner at Breakthru Films to support their efforts.

“I also went to Ivan Mactaggart and David Parfitt, who run Trademark Films. They said, ‘We don’t do animation.’ I showed them the test and they said, ‘We do animation now.’”

The footage attracted experienced live-action performers.

“They were sitting on big seas of green, but they had wonderful costumes and action props,” Welchman says. “Some actors had worked on visual-effects shoots for ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ so they were used to this. We wanted real performances that could be ‘re-imagined’ in paint with the same techniques Vincent had used.”

Hiring scores of artists who could create “painted performances” within Van Gogh-inspired settings was an unprecedented challenge.

“We started with 20 painters,” says Welchman. “For two years we had just 50. Sometimes we didn’t know where we’d get the money at the end of the month. But the enthusiasm of the artists gave us the fire to go forward.”

An online advertisement for painters went viral and sparked wider interest.

“We had 200 million views in three months and managed to secure financing,” notes Welchman.

The crowdfunding site Kickstarter raised funds to recruit painters, and thousands applied. The eventual painting team, led by Kobiela, numbered more than 100 painters from around the world.

“We selected six ‘design painters’ who defined how we would re-imagine Vincent’s art on film. They studied the paintings at the Van Gogh Museum, which provided us with high-resolution copies so we could see individual brushstrokes.”

The artists’ methods involved painting a bit, taking a photograph and then scrubbing out the part that was moving and repainting it. Seventy-seven Van Gogh paintings were reimagined this way on more than 1,000 canvases, totaling 650,000 frames.

Five years of painstaking work produced “Loving Vincent,” which unfolds onscreen at 12 frames per second. Welchman compares it to the laborious frame-by-frame methods of his own past work with puppet animation.

“We’d averaged 2 seconds per animator, per day. On this film, we got one-third second per animator per day — six times slower. I think we came up with the slowest form of filmmaking ever!”

More Film

  • Annapurna Hire

    Annapurna Ups Sue Naegle to Chief Content Officer, Names Ivana Lombardi President of Film

    Sue Naegle has been named chief content officer at Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures. Naegle joined the company as head of television in 2016, and will now oversee development and production in film, TV, video games, and the company’s fledgling theater division. As part of the reorganization, Ivana Lombardi has been named president of film, a [...]

  • Michael B Jordan Warner Bros

    Michael B. Jordan Signs First-Look Deal With Warner Bros.

    “Black Panther” and “Creed II” star Michael B. Jordan has signed a first-look deal with Warner Bros. for his production company Outlier Society. The deal was announced Wednesday by Toby Emmerich, chairman of the Warner Bros. Pictures Group. The studio noted that the alliance marks a continuation of their partnership following the unveiling of a [...]

  • Sandra Bullock Reborn

    Sandra Bullock Re-Teams With Netflix to Produce Sci-Fi Movie 'Reborn'

    Sandra Bullock is re-teaming with Netflix to produce the science-fiction movie “Reborn” for the streaming service. Chris McKay has been signed to direct the comic book adaptation. “It” producer Vertigo Entertainment is also on board to produce. Bullock starred in the Netflix movie “Bird Box,” which has been viewed in more than 80 million households, [...]

  • A still from Mike Wallace Is

    Portrait Docus Dominate at Sundance

    It’s not entirely surprising that portrait documentaries dominate this year’s Sundance nonfiction lineup. Two of the biggest nonfiction films of 2018 – “RBG” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” – are profile films that premiered at last year’s Sundance and later made the Oscar docu shortlist. The success of both docs could help explain why [...]

  • Nicholas Alexander, Margaret Qualley, Chloe Levine,

    Sundance Festival Directors Put a Premium on Inclusion

    Amid the calls for leadership diversity at film festivals, Sundance director John Cooper did something about it: promoting feature programmer Kim Yutani to become the fest’s director of programming in May. Aside from her Asian-American heritage and gender, this appointment makes Sundance the first major film festival with two LGBT leaders. Yutani and Cooper previously [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content