Hugh Welchman: Tracing the mystery of Van Gogh with 56,800 oil paintings


Founder and manager of BreakThru Films, with four years professional experience as a producer and manager. A graduate from the National Film & Television School, his graduation film won the Cinefoundation Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Hugh then received the Sam Mendes Shakespeare scholarship to study script writing in Berlin. He produced a feature length documentary and has credits on 13 short films, 5 of which have been distributed internationally, including 2 starring the Monty Python crew (distributed in cinemas with the re-released “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”). Hugh was an Associate Producer on “Free Jimmy” (Closing film, Critics’ fortnight at this year’s Cannes Film Festival). Hugh is in pre-production on BreakThru Films’ low budget horror feature “Sh”, which will shoot this spring.

Van Gough “ Starry Night”

Q: How did you first find your passion in the field of film? Was there a person or a story that inspired you?

A: Not really. From when I was a kid I always enjoy telling stories and pretty involved in feats and acting and writing stories, and I thought the film is exciting and is a big adventure and I try to start getting into the film and I am still in there.

Q: But you used to study Politics in University, why didn’t you choose to study film?

A: I was quite academic and so I didn’t think that studying acting or film was a proper degree. But then I realized that the degree is really pointless and I want to go to the film school.

Q: Tell us a little bit about Break-thru film, and what is one value of the company that stands out among its competitors in the industry.

A: I think the one thing that our company is doing is we make things really different. So for example, our first big project Peter& the Wolf. We sell it to orchestras, not to cinemas. At that time it was really unusual cause it is pretty much the very first film ever to approach the cinema. Similar like that, Loving Vincent is also the film that no one has ever done before. So there is low competition among all the 5,000 different films as I’ve chosen very different part that not in the competition and others can’t do.

Peter & The Wolf

Q: You have been working on the film “Loving Vincent” since 2015, what was the inspiration behind this film and what are you trying to deliver to the audience?

A: I think the main thing we want to show is that passion of the love to Vincent van Gough.

Many staff is part of my wife’s project. She studies as a painter and she became a film maker. Then she really combines her passion for film and for painting, so she was looking around what she wants to do and she was reading the letters of Van Gough and she thought that it was a really beautiful tragic story and also I think I can tell those tragic stories through the paintings. At first I really don’t know the stories behind those flowers and paintings but when I started the project I read a lot of books about Van Gough and I also found my passion for Van Gough.

There aren’t really a lot of people becoming genius later like Van Gough, so if you think about a lot of people like Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo, Chopin, Beethoven also everyone is exceptional talented when they were children. But Vincent has miserable full careers and became known when he was 27 or 28. From nowhere in the space of 9 years to one of the most incredible artist. So that was because of his complexity and passion then I became passionate about him and really want to share his story with the paintings.

Q: Painting animation has been used in short film before, but “Loving Vincent” is the first long animation film that utilizes this technology PAWS (Painting Animation Work Stations), what was the reason that you decided to hire so many artists to draw and deliver it to the screen for the audience? Knowing the production is going to be long, were you confident about this decision at the beginning?

A: No I don’t feel confident at the very first. I mean If you gonna make a film and ask people put millions of money and gonna do it for several years that is new, we would do research for probably 2 years so we tested many different styles and we eventually came to the style of the oil painting animation. When we started the paint animation we thought it would be ridiculous to start 56,000 oil paintings. So we looked up the CG, 2D, we looked up the combination of CG and Glass painting animation and we came up with the oil painting animation and refine the technique. The biggest problem is still the slow mode of film making and we want to make it as fast as possible, so we refine the way of doing it in technology then we developed the Painting Animations Workstation so that we can speed up the process of animation and also allows painters only focus on painting.

Q: The 51 painters were selected from 600 applicants, could you please share with us a bit of their background, like their nationalities, their jobs and their genders etc? What are the rules and process of the selection?

A: We have 5,000 applications around the world. We have one American painter whose parents from Hong Kong. We have 2 painters from India 1 from Iran 1 from Japan. In the beginning we only have painters from Poland because they have really rigorous education. eg. Our director she graduated at the age of 23. So she has 10 year’s specialists in painting. But you know a lot of people from other countries they do mixed media there is not a lot of people only do painting. Almost all of them have either go through Master of Art degree or do painting restoration. We also have a couple of exceptions, there is one guy he studies architecture and there is another guy he was completely self-taught, but he happens to be an amazing painter.

We have painters from 15 countries. Most came from Ukraine. We also have several painters from Grace and several from north America, 2 painters from UK

3 from Spain. We have painters from Mexico Japan Russian Netherland etc. Among them the youngest painter is 21 and the oldest is 63.

One of the great thing is that we have people from 15 countries so we could do interviews in many different languages.

Q: Let’s say if you have more time and money, will there be any improvement you want to make?

A: Yes, if we have more time and money, we could have approach the film differently. There are several limitations based on the finance, and we want to keep the budget very small. There are limitations of how much we can move the camera. We approach based upon the budget. But I don’t think we want to do something in a big budget for our first film because you want to prove that you will pay the money back, so I think it’s really important to make a budget that you feel really confident with.

Q: What’s the plan for the exhibition?

A: The first exhibition will take place Oct 13th in Netherland in the Groot-Zundert, it’s the area where Vincent was born and where he starts his painting. We definitely want to take it around the world.

Fun question

Q: Considering your personal experience, do you think that you are somehow similar to Van Gogh?

A: Honestly I spent 2.5 years writing scripts and search and another 2.5 years making the film. I think if you spent that long time getting inside of one person, it’s kind of going back and forth that you are like him as well. Naturally, people always say that I am quite an extreme person and I can be really really hard for the person around me, but when I read Van Gough, I said “ok”. You can say that I am really focused and obsessed with the film and it’s the only way that it can achieve what it did in such a short time. People are still arguing a lot about his hard personality, and I think one of the reason is just that he works incredibly hard.

Q: Are you a cat person or a dog person? Or is there an animal that represent your character the most?

A: I am like a chimpanzee.

Q: What would be the title of your autobiography?

A: When people tell me no, I always thought it was a good idea to say yes.



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