At the 29th Vilnius International Film Festival the animated film “The Peasants” by directors DK Welchman and Hugh Welchman was presented to the Lithuanian audience. A group of professionals from the country’s cinema industry made a significant contribution to one of the most successful works by Polish filmmakers. In collaboration with artists from other countries, during two years, they painted thousands of realistic frames, which were later turned into impressive animation. The artist Jolanta Spangevičiūtė and the head of the art department, Aistė Kanapickaitė, tell the Vilnius Film Office about the creative process, teamwork, and the greatest challenges they encountered while working on the film.

During the 29th Vilnius International Film Festival “The Peasants” was finally introduced to the Lithuanian audience. The project was completed quite some time ago, yet I wonder what feelings and memories the film evokes now that it is here in our country.

A: I’m glad that some time has passed; we can now watch the film without the lens of fatigue. It was a lesson in life for me. I really loved the project. I think the result is lovely, and all the hard work that so many people put in for so many hours has paid off. I am waiting to see what the audience’s reaction will be, and I hope that the film will be successful in Lithuania.

J: Half a year has passed since the last work on the project, and during that time I tried to mentally withdraw from the film and have a rest. For many artists, this project was the first of its kind. I would say it turned out to be an exciting challenge.

Tell us about your regular day at work. What was the painting process like?

J: All the paintings were done with real paint; no computer processing methods were used. I had seen a Vincent Van Gogh-inspired painted film; however, painting in a realistic style was something new. The working conditions were unique: we would spend the entire day in a special booth that ensured the right type of light. Since the paintings are transferred to the computer screen, they had to follow all the other technical requirements, like, for example, those that apply to gallery exhibits.

A: The Lithuanian studio operated for two years; we were not the first to join in; part of the work had been done in Poland and Serbia before that. All day long, I would follow the project’s pulse. I watched how other countries worked and what their progress looked like. I selected information relevant to each artist so that they could concentrate and work with minimal distractions.

J: Although I like to compare our studio to a magic workshop full of mysterious spells, sometimes, when we focus on mixing colors, and applying stroke after stroke, we forget how special our work is. Many people romanticize the artist’s work, when in fact it requires a lot of discipline, total concentration, and sometimes even overtime. One shot often took the whole day, and there were thousands of them. Basically, we lived in some sort of creative monastery.

Aistė Kanapickaitė | Personal archive

How much creative freedom did you have during the process?

J: There was only as much room for freedom as one’s painting technique allowed. Each artist has a unique style; however, we had specific guidelines that were given to us by the filmmakers. All the teams had to achieve the same result eventually, so it was necessary to learn to adapt to the others and to be more humble.

A: We tried to make the artists’ style as uniform as possible. I would liken it to tightrope walking because there is a lot of finesse involved. It is not easy; after all, every artist’s idiosyncrasy—a unique way of drawing—has been developed for many years and is meant to be preserved. We had to adapt to the film’s overall style as if we were singing in a choir; after all, it is important to match the overall tone of the work. This required a considerable amount of painting knowledge and a high level of mastery.

What was the most rewarding part of the project?

A: I am interested in art psychology, so this work was very close to my heart. I had the opportunity to work with a team of very sensitive and creative people. You have to get a feel for what you can and cannot tell them. We are people with our own lives, emotional states, a whole palette of feelings, and then there is fatigue. When this is combined with painting work, you get a very interesting cocktail. There were times when we were very happy, and sometimes we felt angry and upset. But the bond I made with the team means a lot to me.

Perhaps the hardest part was the criticism. Just to get into the project, the artist needed specific skills. And yet, during the process, every day you only hear about the things you’ve done wrong. You constantly need to fix one thing or another, you’re looking for errors all the time; everything that is wrong is pointed at again and again. I had to learn how to express criticism in such a way that it would not hurt a person.

J: Just seeing the future and smelling the paint was already rewarding. The most striking thing I remember about the project was that I learned a lot about myself—I discovered my sensitive spots. When you come to work as an artist, you try to do your best, but when you receive a negative comment, you may react badly. It was gratifying when we saw what our animated paintings looked like; it relaxed us and made us realize that in fact, everything was working well.

Jolanta Spangevičiūtė | Personal archive

You are talking about a close relationship with colleagues and the team. What helped you forge this connection?

A: It was very important to make people feel as comfortable as possible, although that is not always possible. We had joint activities like board game nights and poetry readings to bring us together.

J: There were very beautiful days that took away the boredom, monotony, and irritation. The atmosphere was magical; I had never experienced such a working relationship in any other job. Watching my colleagues at work and how they mix paint… it was an opportunity to learn,

discuss art topics, and see how each person’s technique and even psychology differ. It would be enough to visit different artists’ booths, and one would see immediately how unique every artist is.

Could you personally relate to the work itself, its characters, and the story?

A: I remember, when we learned about the film, our team bought out all the publications of the novel (laughs). From the book, I remember the descriptions of nature, the change of seasons, and various details. It seems to me that the village depicted in this literary work is a reflection of our inner lives. Perhaps we would like to banish certain parts, characters, and scenes, but they are the closest to us and the most lifelike. This movie encouraged me to take an even deeper look into myself.

J: I also read the novel and worked on trying not to forget it. Maybe because of the story, or perhaps because of the painting, every character seemed lovely and the scene seemed beautiful. Only sometimes was there little room for sentiments due to the huge workload and fast pace.

Scene from the film

How does it feel to know that the film travels to festivals and receives a lot of attention all over the world?

A: To see a film on the big screen and to know that it is filling theaters with crowds all over the world is an extraordinary feeling. We touched something beautiful that makes an impact on the audience or allows them to enjoy the aesthetics for a few minutes. It’s a shame that the audience didn’t see the behind-the-scenes of the making of the film—that could be a story on its own.

Thank you for the conversation.

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