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Thousands of Oil Paintings Animate Vincent van Gogh's Story

At 12 paintings a second, to make 'Loving Vincent' requires an army of classically-trained painters working 10 hour days.
March 1, 2016, 9:10pm
GIFs by Rebecca Miller, screencaps via

Vincent van Gogh's timeless style breathes life anew in the trailer for an upcoming film about the painter's life composed entirely from actual oil paintings.  Loving Vincent, soon to be the world’s first fully painted animation feature film, is the project of classically-trained Polish painter and animator Dorota Kobiela and Oscar-winning producer Hugh Welchman (Peter and the Wolf, 2006).

Loving Vincent will be as close as you can get to diving into a van Gogh painting and going for a walk. The story, using many scenes taken directly from his work, calls into question whether he committed suicide or was murdered. Kobiela first came up with the idea while reading through van Gogh's personal letters. "In one of the final letters, Vincent says 'We can only speak through our paintings,'" says Sylwia Piekarska, who spoke to The Creators Project on behalf of Welchman's Breakthru Films. "This was the point of inspiration. She decided she wanted to bring Vincent’s paintings to life to tell his story."


Herself a top graduate from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts and Poland's Minister of Culture Scholar for four consecutive years, Kobiela was uniquely situated to turn this idea into a reality. She and Breakthru Productions developed the PAWS, or Painting Animation Work Station, as a way to effieciently produce the 63,000 frames needed to tell van Gogh's story. Two years ago, they successfully launched a Kickstarter to fund the project, and late last week they released a trailer showing off their handiwork.

Kobiela and Welchman have gathered an army of 68 painters—soon to be 85—painting up to 10 hours a day to produce enough frames for 12-frames-per-second animation in their Gdańsk, Poland studio. Each painter is vetted and trained by Kobiela and her team to replicate van Gogh's iconic brushstrokes, and nearly all have at least three years of high-level painting experience. "The exception is one guy who taught himself to paint, and is amazing," clarifies Piekarska. She continues, "The most important thing was to gather only super talented and ambitious painters in one place."

In resurrecting the 126-year-old case of van Gogh's death, Breakthru productions isn't searching for truth in the empirical sense, but in the artistic sense. "The important thing is Vincent’s work and the example of how Vincent lived, not how he died," Piekarska explains. "The concept of the film has always been that the paintings do the talking. We are imagining to life not only the paintings, but also the characters of the people he painted. Necessarily they are all individuals with partial knowledge and partial views, shaped both by their personal relationship to Vincent and also by their particular backgrounds. No single character knows what the truth is; they only have their own partial truth, influenced by their own prejudices."


Van Gogh was an imperfect man, and this will be an imperfect account of events, but damn if they're not both beautiful. Watch the trailer for Loving Vincent below.

Learn more about Loving Vincent on the film's official website.


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