‘Loving Vincent,’ World’s First Feature Film Made Entirely Of Van Gogh Paintings

This would certainly bring a smile to Van Gogh.

A husband-wife duo is in the midst of making a feature film called Loving Vincent that will be composed entirely of recreated Van Gogh paintings.

Close to 57,000 oil paintings – painted by a team of over 100 painters – would go into the making of this biopic, which is being described by its makers as a “painted animation,” an amalgamation of painting and animation.

Painter-filmmaker Dorota Kobiela and Oscar-winning producer Hugh Welchman (Peter and the Wolf, 2006) are the brains behind this unique, long-in-the-making project.

Here’s the trailer that has hit YouTube recently.

Loving Vincent, as the title suggests, is a film about the 19th-century Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. It tells the story of his life through his own paintings. But it’s not just a regular biopic — those have been done before. Loving Vincent is more of a “murder mystery.”

The official history is that Van Gogh, suffering from acute depression and mental problems, committed suicide in 1890. The makers of Loving Vincent are not quite convinced. They have turned the characters found in his paintings into “eyewitnesses,” people he came into contact with in his last days, and they tell their version of the events leading up to his death – personal accounts that may not tally with the official version.

This is how Welchman explained it in an interview to the Washington Post in 2014.

“Also unexpected is the optimism and passion for life and work that pour from his [Vincent’s] letters right up to his death, and the fact he seemed so much more balanced and stable than at any time over the previous five years, in which he was adamantly against suicide as an option. In his last letter, he writes: ‘I still love life and art very much.’ With statements like that, and no suicide note, of course it raises questions in your mind.”

Watch this concept trailer, made in 2012 when they were just starting out with the project, to get a feel of the film’s eyewitness-propelled storytelling.

The most interesting thing about the project are the paintings, of course. And how they are getting made.

Poland-based Dorota and Welchman are training dozens of “painter-animators” in a new way of creating paintings using their own system, PAWS (Painted Animation Work Station), something that promises to quicken the very painstaking and time-consuming process demanded of such a singular work. They took the crowdfunding route to raise the money required for training this large group of painter-animators. And are apparently still on the lookout for more painterly talent.

What would have Vincent said to such a fuss being made about him, a painter totally ignored in his own lifetime? There’s a curious incident mentioned by Welchman in his blog about the time they were researching and writing the project, back in 2012.

“We were sitting at the coffee table by our new book shelf researching all the Dutch museums that have Van Goghs. We looked at the route this would take us, and decided it was too full on. So I remarked ‘Do you think the paintings in the Hague are worth bothering about,’ at which point our Vincent books, 12 out of several hundred, clattered onto the floor just behind us… all the other books were unmoved. We looked at each other bemused, and decided that obviously someone disagreed that the Hague paintings weren’t worth bothering about, and put the Hague back into our itinerary. Had Vincent entered our lives in more ways than one?”

Whether a spectral Vincent is guiding the course of this film or not is debatable, but what’s certain is that Dorota and Welchman couldn’t have chosen a better subject. There’s something distinctly Dostoevskyian about the life of Van Gogh, its mix of horror and beauty still affects people in powerful ways.

In many of their interviews, Dorota and Welchman have described a scene outside a London exhibition where Vincent’s handwritten letters were on display. There were long queues outside, people were waiting for hours and hours on a weekday afternoon just to get a chance to get in and read the letters. Why would anybody go through that kind of trouble just to read some letters from a long-dead artist? Take a look at the video below, for a possible answer (the initial part is about a YouTuber worrying about video views, Vincent comes a bit later).

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[Image via YouTube]