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Loving Vincent — An Interview with the Artists

Charlene Mosley working on the first oil painted film ever -- Loving Vincent.

For artists and art lovers, the most anticipated movie of the year has got to be Loving Vincent. It’s the first film that uses fully oil painted pictures, bringing the artwork of Vincent van Gogh to life. It’ll explore his controversial death and complicated life, all the while treating your eyes to something rather stunning. Over 800 personal letters were used for dialogue, and over 65,000 painted frames were used, over six years, to complete this film. There were over 100 artists that tackled the paintings, and I’m going to be talking to two of them after the 7:30 screenings on Friday and Saturday night at the Landmark Ken Cinema.

Tiffanie Mang is an illustrator and concept artist based in Los Angeles, who has a BA in animation and digital arts from USC. She’s a concept designer at BartKresa Studio, a 3-D projection mapping studio. She worked on Loving Vincent for six months, animating six different shots in the film.

Charlene Mosley is a local San Diegan. She was born and raised in Berlin, and graduated from SDSU with a BA in studio arts and a minor in German studies. She works in oils, acrylics, watercolors, and all kinds of other media. Locally, you can see her painting projects on the Ghoddard preschool in Carlsbad, and murals for CREAMnation, the School of Art & Design, and the Love Library at the university her and I both attended — San Diego State. She also illustrated a children’s book, and of course, worked with Oscar-winning director Hugh Welchman on Loving Vincent. Here’s my chat with these two talented artists.

JOSH BOARD: I never imagined a movie could be made like this. Is this an idea you had ever considered?

CHARLENE MOSLEY: I knew about the traditional way of animating and have always been fascinated by Disney’s animations; especially the behind the scenes parts of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the other famous Disney movies. But I had never thought of a fully painted movie and didn’t ever consider the amount of frames it would take, or the liters of paints, or the amount of painters. This movie is so special in that way. The amount of work that went into the Loving Vincent film really shows the dedication and commitment everyone involved brought to the table. I really commend the creator and directors, Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman for pulling all the way through and realizing their dream, that was meant to be a short at first, and almost a decade later turned into a full length feature film. That is inspiring to me as an artist!

TIFFANIE MANG: I studied animation at USC, and I have actually always wanted to try oil on glass animation but never got the opportunity to.  I did fantasize about making a frame by frame hand- painted animated short, but not with oils on canvas which each frame painted on the same surface! It definitely opened a plethora of new ideas and inspiration for me, knowing that this scope of a project could be conquered. I definitely have plans to make my own short film one day, and am already writing out the story.  

JOSH BOARD: Had you ever painted in the style of van Gogh before? I always wondered if artists did that. If there was someone who had a style you admired, whether that’s van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne…

CHARLENE MOSLEY: No, I had never painted in the style of van Gogh before, however I analyze artwork of artist all the time. It may be the play of light and darks in one painting, the colors or the application of paint and brushstroke of another. I take inspiration from so many different artists, old masters, like Leonardo DaVinci, Carravaggio, Albrecht Duerer, to Salvador Dali, to contemporary artists, like muralists: Etam Cru, illustrator and character designer: Piper Thibodeau, artists Pichiavo, to Steve Bauman and the list is endless… Since working on Loving Vincent, I did truly fall in love with Vincent van Gogh’s paintings. I am fascinated by all the details I analyzed when painting for hours, days and weeks in Gdansk. To read his letters and then be able to paint through his eyes definitely changes my thinking about van Gogh. Before this film, I never really knew much about him. All I knew was he cut his ear off, he was known to be crazy and unsuccessful in the art world. There is so much more to him and his life and the film explores that so brilliantly. After reading parts of his letters, van Gogh became someone so relatable. But yes, to come back to your question, I do at times and know artist friends that do paint in the style of other artist they admire. We all learn from each other and take what we learn to find our own style.

TIFFANIE MANG: I personally don’t think I paint too much in the technical style of Van Gogh, but I definitely love the way he sees colors, because colors for me is really important and is what speaks to me in a painting. I love how he puts colors you would never think of in his paintings, such as greens in the faces, purples and oranges in the shadows. Together the colors harmonize and vibrate off of each other so delightfully that when you step back and intake the whole painting, it baffles me that such color schemes can work so well. I personally am an impressionist painter, so my main hero is Monet. However, after working on Loving Vincent, I gained such a huge appreciation for Vincent’s work, his wonderfully unique color palettes, and his never ending determination to paint from the soul.

JOSH BOARD: How much harder is this process than just a regular animated movie?

CHARLENE MOSLEY: I cannot say how much harder this process is compared to regular animated movies, because I don’t know much about animation in general, as I am a studio artist/ muralist, but I do know the process must be the slowest way to produce a film. And that is exactly what makes it so special. The detail that went into its creation is mind-blowing. I know, as a painter, I create artwork and at some point it is done. I don’t erase parts of it to recreate the almost exact same painting moved a millimeter and then do the same again; trying to match every brushstroke 300+ times. That was for sure hard and challenging for me at first, but I gradually grew to love creating movement and bringing something to life in that way. 

TIFFANIE MANG: If you think about it, the fact that every other frame is painted is just mind blowing. One animator is essentially painting over 200 paintings over the course of working on this film. When I first started working at the studio, I would visit other artists painting 500+ frame scenes, and was stunned by how long it took just to paint 1 cm of movement and shift the whole scene, such as the beginning shot with the camera move down from the sky to the famous scene of Starry Night. My friend Bartosz Armusiewicz worked on that scene, and watching him animate was honestly very humbling. You cannot just be a painter; you must be patient, precise with the animation, yet loose at the same time because van Gogh’s strokes are very free. The fact that it is all painted by hand, with oil paints, makes the film so much more tactile, organic, and alive.

JOSH BOARD: What are a few of your favorite animated movies?

CHARLENE MOSLEY: My all time favorite animations, are the old Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Snow White, Warner Bros’ Looney Toones, and MGM’s Tom & Jerry, which I grew up watching. When I was a child, I used to watch the making of clips and copy all kinds of characters. Some of my favorite shorts today, although I must admit I don’t watch much animation these days, are La Maison en Petits Cubes by Kunio Kato and Alike by Daniel Martinez Lara. And of course Loving Vincent — all time favorite. There are great memories tied to the six months I worked on it in Poland.

TIFFANIE MANG: I do love the classic Disney movies, back when everything was all hand-drawn.  My favorites are Lion King, Pocahontas, Prince of Egypt, and Bambi, when the beautiful backgrounds were all hand painted and you could see the paint strokes.  Those movies speak to me the most I think because the storytelling was great, the characters were endearing, and you knew everything was done by hand.  

JOSH BOARD: What is your favorite movie that deals with an artist?

CHARLENE MOSLEY: My favorite movie, that deals with an artist, other than this one?…hmmm.  There are a couple good ones. Basquiat (1996) is one of them. Frida (2002) about Frida Kahlo, as the name says…does a good job portraying her as the interesting, strong and bold person and artist she was. Ray (2004) is also a great film. 

TIFFANIE MANG: I recently watched the movie Frida about Frida Kahlo starring Salma Hayek. I didn’t know too much about Frida before, but I think Salma did an amazing job portraying the outrageous larger than life personality of the painter and I really resonated with her passionate lust for art and life.  

JOSH BOARD: Lust for art and life…that reminds me of the older movie everyone forgets about that dealt with van Gogh — Lust for Life.

If you had a favorite van Gogh painting, did you request that you get to work on that specific one, or were the ones you tackled just what was assigned to you?

CHARLENE MOSLEY: Both was possible. They did a good job in matching us in our painting style to specific scenes and paintings of van Gogh. I, for example, paint in thick, expressive brush strokes when painting in oils, so I got assigned to paint Dr. Gachet. Joining the crew in one of the last groups of painters, we were on a strict schedule and matching peoples’ styles with the appropriate scenes was integral to getting things done in a timely manner. Some artists did request scenes they liked to paint, but I worked all six months on over 300 frames of Dr. Gachet. 

TIFFANIE MANG: I didn’t request any specific van Gogh Painting to animate, but I did request landscapes because that is my specialty to paint. I am really thankful I got to work on variety of shots, from closeups, to wide shots, to walk cycles. It was a new experience and challenge each time, from mixing new colors and getting the right strokes. I also got to work with the director on creating two original key frames for a couple shots, which is usually only given to two lead painters in the entire studio to do. By taking immediate reference from van Gogh’s work and other design paintings done by senior painters, I was able to create the first frame and figure out specific lighting and colors while remaining truthful to van Gogh’s brushstrokes and color palette for those scenes.  

JOSH BOARD: Was van Gogh a big influence on you?

CHARLENE MOSLEY: Yes, his love and dedication to art definitely influenced me and motivated me to keep going for my passion. Reading his letters, I can relate to a lot of his thoughts and struggles. I also learned so much through analyzing his brushstrokes, painting in his style and getting a glimpse into his world.

TIFFANIE MANG: Before working on this film, I knew van Gogh of course, but I had never really dove too deeply into his paintings. Prior to flying over for testing, I bought a book about him to learn more about his paintings and his life. I was moved so deeply by his unwavering passion to alway discover new grounds of painting that at times it really did make me tear up. This man, who was despised and mocked by fellow artists in the day, had no idea he would one day make history. Regardless of being cast aside, he still remained true to his own vision, pushed through daunting hardships and just simply never stopped painting until his death. That to me is really powerful and resonated with me deeply as an artist, that he truly lived and died for art itself and nothing else- not fame, not money, just the pure art form.

Learning about his life, hardships, and seeing more of his paintings made working on Loving Vincent so much more exciting.  When I painted each new scene, I found myself analyzing the colors he used in the reference images we got. His colors and strokes all flow together in an undeniable harmony and gesture that is realized when stepping back and looking at the painting. You can feel the movement, the energy.  His color choices have definitely influenced my personal palette as well, and I find myself drawing back to van Gogh paintings at times for inspiration regarding my own plein airs.

JOSH BOARD: What age were you when you started painting?

CHARLENE MOSLEY: I can’t even remember. I started painting in watercolors or tempera early on for fun. And I know at some point in my childhood somebody had given me an old set of oil paints with medium made out of fish oil or something like that. It had a very specific, not so pleasant smell, but I remember I fell in love with the vibrancy and consistency of the paint. I really had no clue what I was painting with and what to mix with what. It was very likely toxic paint. Hahaaaa… but I am not dead yet and healthy as far as I know so…..

TIFFANIE MANG: I started painting at 5 years old. I still remember my first art class like it was yesterday. The teacher I had for 7+ years was one of the foundational rocks for helping me become the artist I am today. He was amazing, and was always pushing us to explore one step further and not just draw what we literally see, but interpret the subject matter with our hearts.

JOSH BOARD: If cost weren’t an issue, what one painting do you wish you owned?

CHARLENE MOSLEY:  Oh there would be many! I would have the cherry blossom painting by van Gogh, and I really love so many paintings of all kinds of muralists. Etam Cru has a bunch of murals in Poland that I looooove. If I could scrape off some and put them in my suitcase I would.

TIFFANIE MANG: That is a tough one, and I would go crazy! I don’t think I could choose one painting. I would definitely buy some original Eyvind Earle paintings. He is one of my heroes. I would also buy landscape paintings from Claude Monet, Joaquin Sorolla, and Richard Schimd, artists whom I deeply admire and aspire to be like one day. And how can I forget van Gogh? I would buy his painting Wheat Field with Cypresses. I absolutely love the movement and gesture of that painting.  

JOSH BOARD: We hear a lot about young actors auditioning for roles. With a movie like this, is their an “audition” process where they ask to see one of your paintings in the Van Gogh style? Or did the filmmakers seek out artists whose work they were already familiar with?

CHARLENE MOSLEY: We sent in portfolios following the artist call. Then we got invitations, traveled to Poland and underwent a three day training. If we passed the training we would then move on to a three week training after which we would start work on the film. If we passed training that is.

I feel very fortunate having had the opportunity to work on this movie. I got to meet so many amazingly talented artists and crew and cast members. We became friends and are still in contact. Having that worldwide friendship with other creatives, opens so many doors for all of us to work together on new ideas and projects and support each other from all over. We learn from each other and inspire each other. The whole experience was definitely life changing, even if it sound cliché or whatever, nothing like this has been done before and to be able to say I was part of that is something I am proud of. We are very excited to show the world, a unique work of art about Vincent van Gogh, called Loving Vincent.

TIFFANIE MANG: I applied to Loving Vincent around February or March of 2016 after a couple friends saw the ad and urged me to apply. I remember thinking how amazing the project looked and how cool it would be to be accepted as an artist. Of course I didn’t actually think it would happen. Two months later, I got a call from the studio and they asked if I could fly to Gdansk to take an animation test. I booked my ticket in about two weeks. It was a very spontaneous decision, but it was the best decision I made.

I arrived at Breakthru Films on Monday May 22nd to take the test. It was a real challenge, and I truly didn’t think I was going to pass. When I found out I had crossed the preliminary line, I was the happiest person ever. From then on, I went through two weeks of training before officially going into production and embarking on the crazy journey of working on this beautiful film alongside many other extremely talented painters who I am so honored to have met.

In the beginning, I believe the filmmakers were only working with Polish Artists mainly because they were the easiest to recruit and reach out to since the studio was in Poland. However, when Breakthru Films realized they needed more animators, they called out for painters around the world, and that’s when all us international painters applied and came for testing. It was so amazing to meet other artists from all around the world- from Serbia, Ireland, India, Spain, and more. We were such a diverse family, and in the end we all became such good friends that we still keep in touch today.

JOSH BOARD: Did either of you get to keep any of the artwork that was done for the movie? I’d love to buy one of the paintings if they’re for sale.

TIFFANIE MANG: I wish I could take one home with me, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

CHARLENE MOSLEY: No, unfortunately we didn’t get to keep any of the artwork  we painted, however the paintings are available for sale on www.lovingvincent.com