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The amazing CeTA Film Studio, behind an Oscar-nominated film “Loving Vincent“, talked about their process, techniques and ways to bring a genius artist into the film.
The VFX team responsible for creating reference images consisted of supervisor, coordinator, compositing artists and matte painters. During postproduction, the team changed and expanded by artists that had already years of experience as well as people just starting their career.
The post-production process was not that complicated at all and looked very similar to regular movie production. The only difference was that we did not deliver final quality compositions but more like rough scenes knowing that every frame will be painted over by painters anyway. As you can see in the making of the plates from the set were treated as usual.
We removed the green and blue backgrounds either by keying or by rotoscoping, then we added new elements to the scenes depending on complexity of a shot. Some shots required whole 3d set extension and mapping so we modeled simple objects and projected textures on them, some shots like static closeups often required only 2D background replacement. For 3D work we used Maya and for complex shots that required heavy rotoscoping and tracking we used Nuke.
Matte paintings were created in Photoshop. All the elements were composed together in After Effects, sometimes adding more layers of particles, smoke, volumetrics etc. Every shot that was composed at our VFX department, was sent to the painters team who used specially designed booths to hand-paint the shot again using our composition as reference. For that they used projectors that projected the composed shot on the canvas and worked as a guide for them. They used real brushes and real oil paints.
After the frame was painted, it was photographed (digitized) and retouched for final output. Mostly the photographs required removing unwanted objects in the frame such as painters hand or brush and unifying exposure or removing wet paint reflections across whole sequence.
There is no real sorcery here, besides tons of hard work. We did not use any AI solutions or algorithms to generate final images, as they were not rendered digitally. Everything was painted by hand, photographed and sequenced into a movie. What was important regarding the painting was casting painters that would be able to mimic Van Gogh’s style and deliver the quality of painting needed.
As mentioned, no renderer used for final output. We only rendered the intermediate compositions that were used as guides at the painting stage of production.
Along with color composition for each shot painters were given animated guides for parts of the screen that were animated so they knew which part moves and which stays static. Partially this shaky and lively look comes from repainting each frame by human being, which cannot make an exact, identical brush stroke twice.
The rest is painter’s skill and imagination how something should be animated. During tests painters were able to paint complex animations even without any guides given. They could easily paint fluid animation, transition or morph one image into another. The biggest challenge was probably keeping similar look and style between painters.
This workflow was designed to be unique so it has rather one-time usage. Of course it could be transferred to different style of painting to create something different but that’s about it. The first part of the workflow is a rather standard VFX procedure for every movie assuming the use of green screen technology. The second part, which is the hand painting is what made this movie so unique. That was the idea – to make something original without any use of plugins or filters which also at that time of planning were not even there. Even now the algorithms created to mimic such hand painting are far from the real thing.