Tess Renault

Motion Paintings: New Movie Brings Van Gogh’s Masterpieces to Life

Tess Renault

A few summers ago, I found myself exploring the streets of Kraków with some classmates. We had just arrived in Poland after a train experience we were eager to forget and had one thing on our minds: pierogi. We eventually stopped at Pierożki u Vincenta, a hole-in-the-wall café near our hotel. The pierogi didn’t disappoint, but the atmosphere is what I remember most. Living up to its name (which translates to “Vincent’s Pierogi”), the café was reminiscent of a Van Gogh painting—even the ceiling swirled with blue and yellow paints to create a mural of his iconic The Starry Night.

In other parts of Poland, artists have created a tribute to Van Gogh in a different way—through film. Loving Vincent is a biopic on Van Gogh’s life and death, but the film adds another dimension to his story by being the first ever hand-painted film. Altogether, the movie is composed of 62,450 oil paintings created by 125 artists in Van Gogh’s characteristic painting style.

Dorota Kobiela, a Polish painter and filmmaker, came up with the idea for the film after revisiting Van Gogh’s extensive letters. Intrigued by both his personal life and his art, Kobiela wanted to make a short animated film about his work. However, her husband, producer Hugh Welchman, convinced her that a project of this magnitude deserved more than a few minutes of screen time. Together they’ve directed Loving Vincent, which turned into a full-length feature that took six years to make.

Described as “87 minutes of relentless interplay of colors,” the film was an ambitious undertaking. Each shot of the movie consists of a series of frames painted on top of one another so that each resulting oil painting is the last frame of the shot. In order to make the scenes appear seamless, each second of the film was created from 12 frames. With each frame taking between one hour and two days to complete, it could take an artist up to a month working on a single second of the film!

Artists from all over the world traveled to Poland where the creativity flowed in special studios called painting animation work stations (PAWS). Professional actors assumed the roles of the characters in the film and they performed in front of green screens. This live action material was then used as reference points for the painters, who had to make sure each frame conveyed a sense of movement while retaining Van Gogh’s signature style of thick, heavy brushstrokes.

Blending painting and film is certainly an artistic feat, but considering Van Gogh’s place in art history, it’s a perfect homage to his innovation. In the end, Kobiela hopes that her film, which is slated to come out this year, is an accurate representation of this line from Van Gogh’s final letter: “We cannot speak other than by our paintings.”

Did You Know?
Ever wanted to live inside a painting? For a brief time last year, you could! As part of a Van Gogh exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, the museum created a life-size replica of Van Gogh’s room, which he depicted in several paintings that were the focus of the exhibit. For $10 a day, guests could stay in the room overnight and dream within the walls of a painting come to life.

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