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Van Gogh in 3D

Halifax to host animated renderings of Dutch impressionist’s masterpieces

5 min read
caption The CGI show, comprised of more than four trillion pixels, runs at the Halifax Convention Centre from May 8 to June 12. (Beyond Van Gogh)
Beyond Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh classics are coming to life in Halifax through kinetic projections in Beyond Van Gogh, an interactive exhibit that displays more than 300 of the artist’s masterpieces.  

The CGI show is comprised of more than four trillion pixels, allowing guests to experience the Dutch impressionist’s paintings in 3D as the works flow across multiple surfaces. 

Beyond Van Gogh runs at the Halifax Convention Centre from May 8 to June 12. Director Mathieu St-Arnaud brought the show to life with the help of his team at Normal Studio in Montreal. He told The Signal that he founded the studio in 2009 following a mid-career pivot into the art world.  

Portrait of Mathieu St-Arnaud wearing a grey sweater.
caption Show director Mathieu St-Arnaud says Beyond Van Gogh allows audiences to connect with the artist. (Normal Studio)
Normal Studio

“I didn’t always know I had an interest in art,” said St-Arnaud.

“I wanted to be a chef, then I wanted to be a sound designer, and then I ended up doing projection; creating different shows and projects and expanding also creatively beyond the realm of visual production to set lighting. Then came Normal Studio, and we’re a creative studio that finds ideas and figures out a way to make it happen in reality.” 

St-Arnaud said his fascination with Van Gogh grew deeper as the CGI show continued to grow. 

“Before starting the project, I knew pretty much what everyone else knew about Vincent. I’m not a historian or an academic, I truly just connected with his work and his thoughts on a personal level,” he said.  

“From there, it really inspired us to try to create something where we could give the opportunity to people to take a break from everyday life and go on this journey to meet Vincent.” 

The project itself was pandemic-driven, as there were not many shows being produced during the global health crisis. He and his team were able to put the show together in three months. Beyond Van Gogh visited Ottawa, Calgary, and Toronto in 2021. Later this year, and it’s scheduled to run in Victoria, and Hamilton, Ont.

caption An audience watches a display of Beyond Van Gogh in Toronto on December 16, 2021. (Zoe Collasius)
Zoe Collasius

The display has also travelled to a number of cities in the United States, and Central and South America. 

“The initial plan was to take it across Canada, but it actually premiered in the U.S. first,” said St-Arnaud. “We created the show, waited four or five months, and eventually the opportunity came to open in Miami in April 2021. It stayed open for over six months.”  

An operation team sets up the projections in each city. The set-up differs depending on the size of the space. 

“About 30 to 34 projectors are used for the main space of the show,” said St-Arnaud. “What’s projected on the wall ties in with what is projected on the floor, so we can change the shape a bit depending on the space. For that, we use media servers that play back all the visual and audio, and the system blends all of the projections together to create a single image.” 

Beyond Van Gogh was initially conceived as a free-roaming experience, but some shows are strictly a seated and socially-distanced experience due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

caption As you walk through the exhibit, nearly three-dozen projectors display Van Gogh’s art on the walls and the floor as music plays in the background. (Beyond Van Gogh)
Beyond Van Gogh

“It’s a personal journey for everyone, you could stay there for 30 minutes, three hours, it’s your choice and it’s how you want to experience it.” 

St-Arnaud said Van Gogh is captivating not only as an artist, but as a person, and that his art reflects the way he viewed the world around him. 

“When you look at these paintings, there’s just a lot of passion and simplicity,” he said.

“In the beginning, he didn’t paint with colors or anything, it was very dark and stern, but the emotion is still there. He wanted to paint the beauty in everyday life and saw the beauty around him just as it was.” 

A father and child walk through the exhibit. A projection of falling flower petals surrounds them.
caption Arnaud said that Van Gogh ‘s paintings can help audiences see the beauty in everyday life. (Beyond Van Gogh)
Beyond Van Gogh

St-Arnaud said Beyond Van Gogh allows audiences to connect with the artist, and to come to an understanding of how he turned his imagination into works of art. 

“When reading his letters, especially the ones he wrote to his brother Theo, it’s a very unique perspective in a sense that it’s his own handwriting talking about his anguish, his vision of life, and his painting and how he wants to try but he doubts that he is any good,” said the director.  

“I connected with him and realized that he’s exactly like me and everyone I know. I wanted to go beyond Van Gogh to meet Vincent.” 

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Chloe Hannan

Chloe Hannan (she/her) is a fourth year BJH student at King’s. She discovered her passion for storytelling at a young age, and strives to tell...

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