Loving Vincent: Bringing van Gogh's Paintings to Life

Wheatfield with Crows, Vincent Van Gogh. Google Art Project/Wikimedia Commons

Paintings, like photographs, capture a moment a time, leaving the viewer to imagine a context or a story. Much is left up to the viewer's imagination. What would it be like, though, if the figures in paintings came to life? Can you imagine the figures in a van Gogh painting stepping out of the canvas and speaking to us?

In the film, Loving Vincent, that is exactly what the producers and creators have done.

In this first- ever feature length painted animated movie, they have created a film based entirely on van Gogh's actual paintings. They are using hundreds of original paintings and letters of van Gogh, and roughly 57,000 hand-painted frames of film by highly skilled artists, to dramatically reconstruct events and characters to create the story of van Gogh's life and mysterious death. 

Vincent van Gogh, Dutch post-Impressionist painter, is today one of the worlds most iconic and beloved artists. A prolific painter who died tragically - perhaps by suicide - at the age of thirty-seven, his paintings have had a great impact on 20th century art and influenced major artists such as Picasso, Matisse, and others. This year marks the 125th anniversary of his death on July 29, 1890.

Read: 7 Things You May Not Know About Vincent Van Gogh 

The creative team for the film includes Oscar-winning producer Hugh Welchman of Breakthru Films (for best animation short Peter and the Wolf in 2008) and director/painter/animator, Dorota Kobiela.

 The project came about when Kobiela was inspired by van Gogh's own words, "We can only speak through our paintings," to use his actual paintings for a film about his life. Welchman was convinced of the idea when he realized the tremendous interest people still have in van Gogh after observing a long line of people waiting over four hours on a weekday to get into a London exhibit of van Gogh's letters.

Watch a preview of Loving Vincent here

The production of the film involves many steps and much patience. The paintings for the film are done by 60 artists who were selected for the job, after six weeks of training, based on their success in copying van Gogh's work and emulating his style. All the paintings are oil on canvas just as van Gogh's were. They are made by carefully painting over live-action images projected frame-by-frame onto canvas. 

Each of the 56,800 frames of the 80-minute film will ultimately be hand-painted. The result is that the viewer actually sees the process of these lush paintings being produced. As Hugh Welchman said in an interview with Washington Post writer Michael Cavna, "In our film, you see the paint; you see the fact it is being re-painted frame by frame; you see that concentrated artistic mind of the painter applied in paint to tell the story." 

The process of transforming the painting into film is tedious and time-consuming as each frame needs to align with the previous frame: 

"The animator uses material and paint based on a projected picture, covering the previous image with the displayed image. When the painting is ready, a photograph is taken and the process starts over again. After twelve frames we have one second of movie material,” says chief animator Piotr Dominiak." (2)

Watch this fascinating video about the production process for Loving Vincent.

See the original Kickstarter promotion video here.

The film is being produced in Poland and principal photography has begun at London's Three Mills Studio, with animation continuing in Gdansk. The film is expected to be released in 2016. It looks like a film not to be missed!

Further Reading and Viewing

“Loving Vincent”: Hand painted film celebrates Van Gogh, CCTV News, Jan. 29, 2015

There is also much fascinating information about Van Gogh at the online Van Gogh Gallery

 The Yellow House (2007): Produced in 2007, this is a full-length film about the nine weeks in late 1888 that van Gogh and Paul Gauguin shared an apartment in the well-known yellow house in Arles, France.



1. Michael Cavna, Kickstarter of the Week: Painted 'Loving Vincent' film aims to be as moving as the people van Gogh captured on canvas, Washington Post, March 11, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/comic-riffs/wp/2014/03/11/kickstarter-of-the-week-with-painted-animation-loving-vincent-film-aims-to-be-as-moving-as-the-people-van-gogh-himself-captured-on-canvas/

2. Euronews, Vincent Van Gogh to come back to life thanks to Oscar-winning animation studio, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/comic-riffs/wp/2014/03/11/kickstarter-of-the-week-with-painted-animation-loving-vincent-film-aims-to-be-as-moving-as-the-people-van-gogh-himself-captured-on-canvas/