When you think of animated movies, family features like Walt Disney's groundbreaking classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarves or Pixar's computerized Toy Story may come to mind. But lately, animation means more than a colorful movie that will keep your kid in a seat for 90 minutes.
Brian and Jason Cleveland of Plano work as vice presidents for the film distribution company Cinema Management Group, based in Beverly Hills, and they helped sell an animated film that's unlike anything else ever produced.
Loving Vincent tells the story of the last moments of visionary painter Vincent van Gogh's life through his chosen medium. Each frame of the film is animated using oil-painted canvases made by more than 100 artists.
The movie began with a succesful Kickstarter campaign four years ago, and now it's captivating audiences and critics alike. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe and is an early favorite to receive an Oscar nomination for best animated feature.
"Loving Vincent has exceeded all of our expectations," Brian says. "It's reached throughout the world and been successful in all of the markets [it's] been in. We really love helping these filmmakers realize their vision, and this is one of the most labor-intensive films ever made."
The Cleveland brothers began working on distribution deals for the film early on, even when they didn't have much of the film available to show potential buyers.
"It was a bit of a challenge at first because the promo reel was not completed yet," Jason says. "We got involved three and a half years ago, and once we started selling it, the key was getting the promo reel completed. And once they did it, it really made believers out of everybody. They were under a time crunch, and I know they were feeling it from what I hear from all the painters."
The film features live performances by actors such as Douglas Booth, Eleanor Tomlinson, Jerome Flynn and Chris O'Dowd, who filmed their parts over a period of 10 days. The painters spent the following four years re-creating those scenes on boards using nothing but oil paintings to animate their movements and actions, Brian says.
"Each frame was hand painted," he says. "Then they would wipe it away and move it just another [bit] to make another frame. They did the filming with the actors on green screen, but every scene you see is an oil painting."
Brian and Jason are intimately familiar with the filmmaking process. They worked together as screenwriters and producers on animated films such as The Littlest Vampire and Ratchet & Clank, and they are in preproduction on two more movies they wrote together.
They know the challenge of making a
"The work of van Gogh was the storyboards," Brian says. "The story is very focused, and the filmmakers could have gone and been story-oriented in the three-act structure with van Gogh, but I think they would have gotten farther and farther away from their source material. They just spread out the work of van Gogh and said, 'What is this trying to tell us?' and 'What is the story here?' And I think they really remain true to that."
Besides achieving critical praise and being a potential Oscar contender, Loving Vincent has also gained a global audience and been embraced by the art world, including the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
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"I think it's exciting when a film has been so warmly received," Brian says.
The experience of watching the film come together and then getting to share it with the world was a special one for Brian and Jason.
"You really can't go back to the drawing board and have corporations draw up a franchise and do all the stuff you might do on another movie," Brian says. "You can't go back and spend another decade repainting a film. We want it to last as long as it can and for as many people as possible to see it in the theater."
"As long as it took," Jason adds, "it's a once-in-a-lifetime process."