For Donald Wilkes, Blue Pacific’s founder, the short film “The Art of Flavor” was a labor of love.
“It was definitely a massive undertaking!” says Donald, referencing the 16 canvases he painted to create the special effect of a cluster of oranges coming to life. Although it was repetitive, painstaking work, Donald’s background as an illustrator and artist wouldn’t allow him to share this responsibility. “Illustrators are obsessed with details and authenticity. For me, I didn’t want anyone to say I didn’t do these paintings…even if it was going to drive me insane!” he laughed.
The centerpiece of “The Art of Flavor”, and the introduction to Blue Pacific’s flavor creation philosophy, is a plein air painting of three oranges swaying gently on a tree – oranges that bear a striking resemblance to Blue Pacific’s logo. Through an artistic film technique called rotoscoping, life imitates art and the painting “comes alive,” leading the viewer on a flavor journey through organic farms and family gatherings.
Donald’s first experience with rotoscoping came from the 2017 feature length film “Loving Vincent.” In this experiential work, over 65,000 frames painted by 125 artists are used to tell the story of Vincent Van Gogh and his iconic artwork. The filmmaker then takes these frames and – much like in the early days of animation – creates motion and energy by playing them in sequence.
“The thing that struck me about the movie was that it captured the painterly experience in a dimensional way,” Donald says, speaking of the way the paint seems to build and flow as the scenes unfold. “I was very moved by the “Loving Vincent” film. One of my favorite books growing up was Time Life’s The World of Van Gogh. [I thought] the rotoscoping technique was a beautiful way to illustrate the visual narrative of capturing the story and characters of Van Gogh’s paintings coming alive.”
While painting may not be an obvious choice for a film about a flavor company, it’s a natural for Donald, who got his BFA from Parsons School of Design before switching gears to follow a career in the flavor industry.
“I had an idea for a video that would incorporate my passion for art with my passion for flavor,” he enthusiastically explains. “The artist’s palette is very much a metaphor for the flavor [sensory] palate. Flavor can be very personal, very artistic, and larger than life. It has its own story, there’s a familiar journey to it and art has a very similar way of tapping into memory.”
Bringing “The Art of Flavor” story to life was a journey in itself. First, each frame of the live action video was traced onto individual blank canvases – 16 to be exact. To ensure a seamless merging of art and film, Donald then painted each canvas with the same tools and technique.
“It was challenging to paint with my normal artistic expression while being confined within a linear space,” Donald says, referencing the restriction that “painting within the lines” puts on an artist. “I typically paint with a lot more freedom!” To compensate, he had to adjust his brushstroke and dedicate himself more to the technical process of painting rather than his normal instinctual and expressive style.
Painting 16 near-identical canvases was not without its artistic challenges. Donald painted with acrylics, which dry quickly.
“The challenge when you’re working with acrylics [is] you’re working against time,” he says. In the film, the viewer gets a glimpse of the process when Donald mixes acrylic paints on his palette with a milky white liquid. This is the medium, which gives the paint its matte or glossy finish and also helps to extend the drying time so the artist gets more life out of their paint.
“Maintaining a consistent color palette across canvases was very hard!” Donald says. “Acrylics dry very quickly, so I would paint four canvases at a time.” Much like an assembly line, Donald mixed paint and then applied it to as many canvases as he could before it dried – or his enthusiasm wore out.
“The best part of the process was the act of painting, the worst part was knowing I had a deadline and the pressure of meeting it. It really was the agony and the ecstasy!” he recalls.
Donald estimates that it took approximately 125 hours of painting over a 10 week period to create the 5 second rotoscoping effect. He got so used to coming home and painting oranges that it was hard for him to believe it when the job was finally done.
“I feel like I have Stockholm syndrome [the condition where a prisoner develops an affinity for their captor] because I keep going into the studio thinking I have to paint something…I think I need therapy!” he jokes.
Making “The Art of Flavor” was a very personal process for Donald, one that finally brings together the company’s approach to flavor creation with the artistic aesthetic and heritage of the Blue Pacific brand. Since the beginning, vintage illustrations from fruit crate labels and travel posters have been incorporated into Blue Pacific’s custom art, giving it a look unlike any other flavor company.
“What I like about this film is that it is unique to us,” Donald shares. “I think it communicates how we differentiate as a company.”
Now that the paintings are done and forever immortalized in the home page film, what does Donald plan to do with the artwork?
“I think the paintings belong to the company,” he says thoughtfully. “Maybe we’ll find a big wall to hang them all on. If something happens to me, at least people will know we were authentic to nature!”
Although many hours of filmmaking, film editing, storyboarding, scripting, and design work went into producing “The Art of Flavor,” it’s those 16 paintings that – quite literally – illustrate Blue Pacific’s Farm to Flavor philosophy.
“Painting is about information, but it’s also having vision in what you’re doing,” Donald says. It’s this dedication to both knowledge and artistic vision that drives flavor creation and product innovation at Blue Pacific Flavors.