Blog Directory CineVerse: Painting on a celluloid canvas

Painting on a celluloid canvas

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Innovative animation doesn’t start and end with Disney/Pixar. There are many filmmakers who have advanced the art of animation over the decades, with the last 10 years being no exception. For instance, Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Weichman collaborated to direct a visually stunning work that celebrates the life – and probes the death – of genius artist Vincent van Gogh in their 2017 experimental cinematic treatise Loving Vincent. Our CineVerse group studied this work with the enthralled curiosity of an art collector hunting for hidden masterpieces and came away with these conclusions (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here):

What struck you as interesting, surprising, novel, or puzzling about this movie?

  • It looks like a living, kinetic work of art, and for good reason: It’s the first completely painted animated feature-length movie, containing over 65,000 frames, each an oil painting on canvas and made employing many of the same techniques that van Gogh used. A total of 125 painters from 20 different countries collaborated on this project, which took more than six years to complete.
  • The artists followed two different styles: a rotoscoping approach in which the actors were filmed and the animation copied their actions – as represented in the black-and-white flashback scenes; and an homage approach that mimics van Gogh’s style, in which his original paintings help inspire a shot or scene.
  • Interestingly, the movie’s characters were all painted by the artist, as demonstrated in the end credits scene that compares the film’s version of the character to the van Gogh original.
  • It’s easy to marvel at the meticulous craftsmanship on display here, although there is a risk that those with less patience or interest in the subject matter may find this animated approach to either be distracting or gimmicky.
  • The performances shine through, despite being rendered by artists. Consider that it would be easy for the actor’s performance to get lost in all that animation. Arguably, the film is helped by the casting, which includes familiar actors like Saoirse Ronan and Chris O’Dowd.
  • While the narrative is propelled by a mystery – what led to Vincent’s death and who is responsible – solving this riddle proves to be less important than discovering the man and the people who knew him.

Themes at play in Loving Vincent

  • The best way to understand an artist is through his or her art.
  • The impossibility of truly knowing someone else. We hear different accounts and opinions of Vincent from the people whose lives he crossed, with some who liked and admired him and others who thought he was wicked or worth ridiculing.
  • The mysteries of the heart: If Vincent was shot and didn’t try to commit suicide, it’s interesting that he would apparently not blame anyone and resign himself to this fate as the best outcome possible under the circumstances.
  • The allure of the quest for knowledge. Roulin is increasingly intrigued by the mysteries behind van Gogh’s death as well as his passions, interests, and motivations. The harder and deeper he looks, the more absorbed and obsessed he becomes.
  • Legacy, and what we leave behind after we die.

Other films we think of after watching Loving Vincent

  • A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life, two innovative animated films by Richard Linklater
  • Citizen Kane, which shares the same narrative structure in which an investigator tries to learn more about a deceased person by interviewing those who knew him
  • Lost For Life, Vincent and Theo, and At Eternity’s Gate – three different van Gogh biopics
  • Frida, based on the life of artist Frida Kahlo
  • Amadeus and Immortal Beloved

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