Loving Vincent
screen shot Loving Vincent: Vincent van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) (© 2017 Loving Vincent Sp.z.o.o. & Loving Vincent Ltd.) provided by Weltkino

Loving Vincent: lush paint & proud parents


So, you’re giving up drink for January. But where are you going to get your buzz? The movie Loving Vincent is a feast for the visual senses. Lush paint comes to life as it swirls across the screen. You can almost smell it. You can definitely lose yourself in it. It’s a psychedelic trip through paint.

Loving Vincent director Dorota Kobiela beams as she talks about the inspiration behind the film. (Photo: maeshelle west-davies)

The film was screened at this year’s DOK Festival and is now in theatres for a general audience. I got to talk to the makers, Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, who were not long into this leg of a very long journey.

It was the last interview of the day at local film distributor Weltkino, and their eyes were still shimmering with enthusiasm and love.

I had discovered Loving Vincent last year when researching for a piece on Mario Schröder’s Ballet, Van Gogh. The project itself started 6 years ago, but Dorota’s love for Vincent planted the seed 5 years before that. She was at a creative crisis in her life and looking for inspiration. She had trained as a painter and ended up working in film.

She came across Vincent’s letters and, in reading them, felt a kinship. She particularly responded to the fact that he had started painting at 29.

Vincent’s story was the perfect project to bring her two loves, painting and film, together.

Hugh, an award winning animator and her partner, found the idea interesting and they joined forces to do a concept trailer in 2012. In an interview with Variety, he says that because Vincent’s work was so emotive, it was vital they be able to capture the emotions of the actors and the painting technique equally.

I hadn’t asked that question, but that was what impressed me most about the film. I could actually see the acting. Generally with animation, it feels comic book-like to me.

Loving Vincent director Hugh Welchman explains the process behind the film. (photo: maeshelle west-davies)
Loving Vincent director Hugh Welchman explains the process behind the film. (Photo: maeshelle west-davies)

They created a website and encouraged people to respond. And the response was incredible.

“A Facebook fan in Italy took the trailer and put it on Facebook and within 24 hours we had 2 million views and within three months we had 300 million views. That was really the point at which a lot of things changed. We suddenly got 4,000 applications from painters from all over the world and we started closing lots of territories. We got 40 presales. But still it was a struggle to finance up until three months before the end of production.” Hugh Welchman

They aren’t struggling anymore. To date it’s brought in $23 million at the box office. That’s not a bad return on the $5.5 million it cost to produce it.

Yes, the money was a challenge, but the production was the biggest hurdle. They had to come up with a totally new system. Each frame is a painting – all 65,000 of them!

The mind boggles. Where do you even start?

They actually started with the story. It’s a detective story set after his death.

It was important to Dorota and Hugh that it be possible. They combined people from his paintings with first-hand accounts to tell the story of the time shortly before he died.

“How does a man go from calm to suicidal in 6 weeks?”

Two years later, they were ready to create storyboards illustrating the plot with his paintings. They cast the film and shot it on green screen.

I was also surprised at the cast. They were chosen because of their likeness to the people in the paintings, but you will know many of them.

Loving Vincent
Chris O’Dowd plays Postman Roulin. This shows Vincent’s original painting and the likeness created for Loving Vincent. (Image courtesy of Weltkino)

The 130 painters painted each frame in Vincent’s style using the freshly shot footage. The marriage of digital and painting ends there. Again, difficult to get your head around, but each of the 65,000 frames in Loving Vincent is an actual painting.

Dorota and Hugh didn’t do this for financial gain. They hoped people would be interested, but that wasn’t as much of a concern as was getting it right. It was important to Dorota to honour Vincent’s passion for painting, and she did so in the details.

As a moviegoer, I was impressed by the spectacle of Loving Vincent. As an artist, I was torn.

The story is not as strong as the visuals, but it would have to have been one hell of a story indeed to outweigh the power of the millions of brush strokes it contains. Colour is all the more vivid when it leaps from the canvas to the screen. What it loses in 3D, it gains in vibrancy.

I think of how Vincent would have reacted. First of all, he’d have been shocked, since he wasn’t respected in his lifetime. Film was invented around 1900 and colour came in in the 1930s. I think he would have just watched with gaping jaw. I hope this is what his head was trying to convey on canvas.

I do know he was lonely and wanted companionship. The hopeless romantic in me thinks he would see Dorota and Hugh and the closeness they have and be proud that the joint project they have given birth to was inspired by him. That sparkle I saw in the interview was about much more than their love child, Loving Vincent.

I saw it in German and came out a bit overwhelmed. The visuals are really intense. Unless you don’t care about the story line or are pretty much a native German speaker, I’d suggest you see it in English.

Loving Vincent
Friday, 20/07, Sommerkino auf der Feinkost: OmU – 21:30

Artist, curator and writer: maeshelle west-davies gleans her varied life experiences to expose a personal perspective through a multitude of mediums.

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