We wanted to bring Vincent van Gogh’s work to life
Interview with Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman on their Animated Feature nominee LOVING VINCENT
LOVING VINCENT is the first ever fully painted animation feature. How did you come up with the style and look of your film?
Dorota: The style and the look is determined by Vincent’s paintings. I wanted to be as faithful as possible to his work. There were certain changes we needed to make to re-imagine them onto the cinema screen, and the challenge was to find ways of translating the work into moving pictures while retaining the style, colours, technique and of course spirit of Vincent’s work. The idea from the beginning was to bring Vincent’s work to life to tell his story. So it was about finding what was right for his work.
|Hugh: There have been short films painted in oil-paints, however, the majority of these are paintings on glass. This wasn’t right for us, as it gives a lovely, but very different look from oil-painting on canvas, so we needed to devise an animation production method of oil-painting on canvas so as to be as close to the look of Vincent’s work.|
What was the working process like and what were the main challenges?
Dorota: The story and the script! I painted all through my teenage years and all through my twenties. I worked in animation and visuals effects in my twenties, so I felt comfortable with the process of realising the paintings in animation than I did in writing a feature film. This was a tough challenge. I was working non-stop on it for months, and I was endlessly talking everything through with Hugh (who is my husband) and eventually he joined me in the writing process.
Hugh: It was tough to link up the story to the paintings. Our aim was to pass through the exact framing of as many Vincent paintings as we could in the course of telling a gripping story about him.
Dorota: But it wasn’t just about linking the paintings to our story, we also had to make it consistent with the historical record.
Hugh: Yes, our rule was that we couldn’t state things which are known not to have happened. There are plenty of gaps or mysterious areas that we could write into, but there were often times where we couldn’t take the mystery in the exact directions we wanted. However, these restrictions, while they were annoying sometimes, also made us come up with solutions which we wouldn’t have come up with if we didn’t have them. Sometimes restrictions force you to be more creative. Like Dorota, I think the story was the main challenge, but this is always the case in film, film is a story-telling medium so the story is the most important part of any film. Additionally, there was the challenge of creating an entire work force from scratch. On previous films we received show reels of people already expert in the technique of the film. On this film we had to find talented oil-painters, and then train them in Van Gogh style and in animation. We also had to invent the method of production. So, those were also very challenging.
How did you choose the voice cast and was it always clear it would be an English language film?
Dorota: We thought about doing it in French, as the film is set in France and the characters would have been speaking in French. But both Hugh and I only speak a little French, and we thought it was tough enough writing and directing our first feature film, without trying to do it all in a language neither of us can properly understand.
Hugh: We ourselves are a Polish-English co-production, so it seemed natural for the film to be one too. Doing the film in English, which is the language we write and communicate together in was natural to us. In terms of choosing the voice cast, in our film they are not voice cast, they are cast, as you can see the performance and emotions of the actors. True, it is a combined performance between actor and painter, but we definitely need to credit the actors for their performance.
Dorota: We chose them in part because we wanted actors who resembled the portraits as painted by Vincent, but also we chose amazing actors who we knew could really bring our characters to life.
Hugh: We wanted well-known actors, famous faces for these famous paintings.
Can you describe how you work together as a directing duo? Do you have specific roles?
Dorota: It was an amazing experience to work so closely with the person you love on the project you love, it was special. We had a very clear shared vision throughout the directing process. We had some fights at the script stage, but that is the best time to work out differences, by the time we came to the directing part we were very much in tune with each other on what we wanted to achieve.
Hugh: We worked extremely closely on the script, the pre-production, the live action shoot, the editing. It was only when we came to the painting animation that we took on different roles. Dorota is a painter, I’m not, so she was in charge of directing the painting animation. I gave my input to it on a weekly basis, but she managed it on a daily basis. And then, because of our tight schedule, at the end we needed to be in two places at once, so it was good that there was two of us. I concentrated on the sound design, the music recording and the mixing process, while Dorota finished off the painting animation production. Then we worked together on the very final picture finishing process.
Who do you consider your influences?
Dorota: The painters Andrzej Podkanski - a Polish painter, who also gives masterclasses, that I attended which were amazingly inspiring, Nicolas de Stael, a French-Russian painter, and Piotr Potworowski. And the filmmakers Krzysztof Kieslowski, Andrzej Wajda, Agnieszka Holland and Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Hugh: In terms of films it is more individual films that have inspired me. NIL BY MOUTH, TIME OF THE GYPSIES, GATTACA and THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER all had a huge influence on me. In terms of animation films PRINCESS MONONOKE and THE JUNGLE BOOK were both films that meant a lot to me.
Dorota: Now I think that Vincent is actually my biggest inspirations in terms of how I want to develop as an artist. And after LOVING VINCENT I am profoundly influenced by painters. Right now Goya and Munch are the painters I am researching.
What do you think is unique about European animation compared to films from the USA or Japan?
Hugh: I don’t think that there is anything ‘unique’ about European animation, as Japanese and American animation influence European animation, and European animation influences American and Japanese animation. I think the biggest difference is the greater diversity of European animation, which comes from having so many countries with their own animation traditions, that draw on the artistic traditions in their own country.
Dorota: I also think the fact that between 1945 and 1990 there was the barrier between East and West and that in Eastern Europe there was a different system, meant that there were very distinctive styles that developed in Eastern Europe. I grew up admiring Antoniszczak, Svankmaier, and Dumala. And I think a whole generation of directors, designers and animators from Eastern Europe draw on the distinctive voices of these directors.