The world’s first fully painted feature film – co-produced by 1991 University of Virginia alumnus Sean Bobbitt – has just been nominated for an Academy Award.
“Loving Vincent” is the product of more than six years of painstaking work. The thick brush strokes of a cadre of skilled artists created 65,000 film frames in Vincent Van Gogh’s signature swirling impasto style, which renders a three-dimensional effect.
Actors, including celebrated Irish stars Saoirse Ronan and Chris O’Dowd, were filmed in front of green screens or on simple sets. Backgrounds in the style of famous Van Gogh paintings like “The Starry Night” were to be dropped in behind them.
Artists were then tasked with recreating individual frames which, when strung together, produced the beguiling product the Academy this week nominated for an award in the Best Animated Feature Film category.
“I have never seen anything on screen like it before. You will be amazed and lifted by this extraordinary film.” - Pete Hammond, Deadline
It took 12 paintings to create one second of “Loving Vincent.” The film is 94 minutes long.
Named for Van Gogh’s signature way of closing a letter, “Your Loving Vincent,” the movie is about the famous artist’s troubled life and violent death. He died of a gunshot to the stomach; there is debate over whether or not it was self-inflicted.
Bobbitt was recruited by Hugh Welchman, a co-director of the film and producer, to manage the business side of the film.
The Film Festival Circuit
Bobbitt, who earned a degree in international relations at UVA, said the film began its rise to prominence last June at its world premiere at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, the “Cannes for animation.”
“It’s the most prestigious animation festival,” he said.
After it was screened in the festival’s largest theater, Bobbitt said the audience sat silent until the credit for Polish director Dorota Kobiela appeared on the screen. The silence was unnerving to him. Then came uproarious clapping.
“A one-of-a-kind work of art.” - Peter Debruge, Variety
“The applause just burst out and we got a standing ovation for 10 minutes,” he said. The applause lasted beyond the final credit sequence. The film won the festival’s audience award.Since that festival in France, the praise for “Loving Vincent” has grown. It was nominated for a Golden Globe and a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award.
The film’s team will learn its Oscar fate March 4 at the 90th Academy Awards.
Bobbitt’s role as a first-time producer was to raise funds and budget for the film, a challenge because the technique of animating a full-length film was new.
“Hypnotic and beguiling.” - A.O. Scott, The New York Times
“Going out to people and trying to sell them on a film that had never been done before wasn’t easy,” he said. “There were private investors who said, ‘Wow, this is amazing and I want to help make this film happen.’”
The team is selling the paintings from the film on the movie’s website. Several others are on exhibition in the Noord Brabants Museum in Den Bosch, near Van Gogh’s birthplace.
“We would like to do another painted film,” Bobbitt said. “We are thinking our next project might be a horror movie based on Francisco Goya’s late series ‘Black Paintings,’ which are bleak and haunting.”
Managing money was not the only thing Bobbitt did on the film.
One day on the set, the woman in charge of wardrobe realized the stand-in for O’Dowd lacked the star’s broad shoulders. Casting about, her eyes landed on Bobbitt. She had him try on O’Dowd’s costume jacket, and finding that it fit, quickly got him into full costume.
Soon the film’s co-producer was standing on set in full costume, his back turned to the camera for the closing scene of “Loving Vincent.”
Bobbitt stood still as the camera pulled away slowly, revealing the last shot of the film, which provoked that hearty applause in France last June. Van Gogh’s iconic painting, “Starry Night Over the Rhone,” is in the last frame.