It’s an 88-minute film that looks, for all the world, like a moving Van Gogh painting.
Loving Vincent is being called the world’s first hand-painted animation feature. It has taken an international team of 115 artists from 19 countries two years to create. And two Indian painters were part of the massive endeavour — Hemali Vadalia, 32, from Mumbai and Shuchi Muley, 34, of Bhopal.
Both were software engineers before they switched to fine art. “I would make caricatures of all my colleagues and they would tell me I should have been an artist. So I thought, why not?” recalls Vadalia, who went on to study classical realism for two years in Italy and at the Grand Central Atelier in New York City. Muley made the switch while working as a software engineer in San Francisco in 2014.
Written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, Loving Vincent traces the turbulent life of the Dutch impressionist master, Vincent Van Gogh, using art work that recreates his thick, bold brush strokes, frame by frame.
The selection process was massive but fairly democratic. “We started with a team of Polish artists and then invited applications from around the world. We knew we needed scores of talented and enthusiastic painters,” says Emma Green, digital marketing manager for the film. “We received more than 5,000 submissions, in batches, and in batches we invited the ones whose work was most impressive to trials. Those that could clearly replicate Van Gogh’s style were selected.”
Getting the different painters from different parts of the world to harmonise with each other on canvas was the biggest challenge, says Welchman, who incidentally won an Oscar for his animated short film, Peter and the Wolf, in 2008.
“There are still differences between the shots done by the different painters,” he adds. “But I like it, because it shows that the film was hand painted by individual artists.”
Production was completed in December— a mammoth 62,450 frames in oil paint — and the movie is set for release in 2017. The film chronicles Van Gogh’s life and work, explores the legends surrounding his death from what he had claimed was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The plot includes interviews with real-life characters at locations in Paris that were depicted in Van Gogh’s paintings.
“When I first found out about the project in 2012, via a video on YouTube, I was amazed by the concept,” says Vadalia. “If Van Gogh was to conceptualise a film today, this is how it would probably look, in his distinctive style. So I applied with my portfolio and, after a test at the Break Thru Films studio in Gdansk, Poland, in May, I was selected.”
What followed were three weeks of intensive training to master the strokes and colour palette. “For the next five months, we worked for almost 12 hours a day at our personal work stations and I created 358 painted frames for seven different shots,” Vadalia adds.
At each workstation, film footage was projected frame by frame onto the artist’s board. He or she then painted over it; the painting was photographed, erased, and work on the next frame began.
“Depending on the length of the shot, we mixed paints in large volumes and labelled them under categories like ‘skin’ and ‘jacket’ so that we could maintain a sense of continuity,” Vadalia says.
For Muley, it was experience to cherish. “I had always been heavily influenced by classical realism, which focuses on detail. Here the challenge was to step into the shoes of one of history’s most creative minds and recreate the art of a different era, even limiting the use of colours to what was perhaps available in the 1800s,” she says.
Watch the preview for Loving Vincent here
Despite language barriers, considering that the artists came from countries as varied as the Ukraine, Russia, Ireland, Spain, Bulgaria and Holland, the artists all got along and learnt from each other, Vadalia adds.
Muley, for instance, honed her landscapes with help from her American roommate and Loving Vincent team member, Tiffanie Mang. “There were painters and also sculptors who taught us minute details about replicating the human anatomy,” she says. “It was a mixed group of artists, some established and others amateurs, and everyone was brimming with ideas.”
The highlight, both women say, was when the real-life cast and crew visited the studio. “I remember when Douglas Booth, who plays one of the main characters, Armand Roulin, walked in. We were strangers, but I knew every detail of his face,” says Muley, “from the twitch of his nose to the smile that played at the corner of his lips, because I had recreated it on canvas so many times!”
To know more about the film, go to the lovingvincent.com