Animators Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman are on the verge of a major breakthrough in filmmaking, but it has nothing to do with the latest technology. Instead, the husband-and-wife team are working feverishly to finish their years-long project Loving Vincent, which literally paints over live-action scenes based on the paintings and the last days of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, and animates them into something that occupies an overlapping space between traditional cinematography, animation, and oil painting.
According to the film's official website, Loving Vincent was shot with live actors on special sets made to resemble van Gogh's paintings. Computer animation for details like blowing leaves and clouds was added. One-hundred-seven artists familiar with and proficient in the style of van Gogh were employed to paint onto canvases on which each frame of film was projected, animating each brush stroke.
"None of the painters in the team has any animation experience," Welchman told The Daily Telegraph."They have to realize it's not a pretty painting, it's a performance."
Every finished frame was then photographed and a new one was started.
"There are 59,874 frames in the film," the site says. "At the end of each shot we are left with a painting of the last frame of the shot. There are 898 shots in the film."
The film brings some of van Gogh's best-known portraits and landscapes to life with vivid intricacy.
Loving Vincent calls the prevailing narrative of van Gogh's death at 37 as suicide into question and suggests that it might have been something more sinister.
"He didn't leave a suicide note; he didn't write a letter; there's no first-hand evidence given by Doctor Gachet [his physician]," Welchman told The Telegraph. "Vincent and his brother Theo spent several hours together before he died, and Vincent was fully lucid. But Theo never relayed in writing anything about the conversations that they had."
Not everyone agrees with Welchman's theory.
Recently, a team of 30 medical experts gathered in Amsterdam to discuss van Gogh's mental health as it related to his sometimes wild behavior — he cut off part of his ear and mailed it to his brother — and his death, noting his breakdown just seven months before his apparent suicide.
The experts were unable to isolate a singular cause or illness. "One of the things we really do not like in our culture is that things just happen," researcher Arko Oderwald said in an interview with The Telegraph. "Yes, he had difficult character traits, but it wasn't a disease."
Van Gogh's brother Theo wrote to his sister Elizabeth that his last words were "La tristesse durera toujours" (The sadness will last forever).
Theories aside, what is clear is that Kobiela and Welchman have created something of remarkable beauty.
Take a look at the trailer below: