Tim's Vermeer (2013) Movie Script

You know, sometimes
when I'm laying in bed at night
trying to get to sleep,
all I can think about is this goal
of trying to paint a Vermeer.
You know, really, I'm gonna try
to paint a Vermeer.
And, at the face of it,
that seems almost impossible.
And I don't know if I could do it.
You know, it'll be pretty
remarkable if I can,
because I'm not a painter.
The Vermeer he's talking about
is Johannes Vermeer,
the Dutch artist from the 1600s.
Some consider him the greatest painter
of all time.
When you look at a Vermeer,
it seems like more than paint on canvas.
It seems to glow like the image on
a movie screen.
That magical quality has mystified
the world for 350 years.
How did Vermeer do it?
Dutch artists typically learnt
by apprenticeship
and they kept written records
to prove their training.
But no such documents have ever
been found about Vermeer.
And strangely, when you x-ray
these intricate images,
you don't find the usual
artist's sketches underneath.
It's as if Vermeer were
some unfathomable genius
who could just walk up to a canvas
and magically paint with light.
It's possible that Vermeer
was using technology
to make these beautiful paintings.
If he did that, and, of course,
there's no documentation that he did this,
it's possible he could paint some pretty
remarkable pictures without a lot of training.
It's possible that he was more
of an experimenter,
more of a tinkerer, more of a geek.
And, in that way, I feel a kinship with
him, because I'm a computer graphics guy,
and we use technology
to make a realistic, beautiful image,
and it's possible that's exactly
what Vermeer was doing.
Tim Jenison is not a painter,
he's an inventor.
He's always had a talent for figuring out
how things work.
When Tim was growing up in Iowa,
he got a broken player piano,
repaired it, and taught himself
to play swing music
by slowing down the piano rolls
so he could follow Fats Waller's fingers.
Tim played keyboards in a rock band
for a couple of years
and taught himself to fix
anything electronic that broke.
The amazing wizard!
He got married, had a family,
and built a business repairing
pinball machines and video games.
Then, around 1990, he invented
a way to turn personal computers
into TV studios for live broadcasting.
He called it the Video Toaster,
and it won him an Emmy.
That led him to other amazing achievements
like LightWave,
a program for rendering 3D images,
which won an Emmy for his company,
NewTek, in 2003.
Tim's now based in San Antonio, Texas,
and his company produces the TriCaster,
used in broadcast, web,
and live performance.
All this has given Tim the money
and free time to make things like this,
Frankie, his lip-syncing duck.
A plane made entirely of stuff from
a home improvement store.
It's an electric moth.
His electric moth.
As you raise the light,
it comes up off the floor,
and it stays at exactly the same distance
under the light.
And this.
Here's the pipe organ Tim put together
from four different churches.
Once I got started,
you have to have more pipes,
because it's never quite enough,
so I've got three pipe organs here,
plus an electronic organ
that I'm using for the keyboard.
Tim and I have been friends
for a really long time.
If there was an artist,
he would draw it, what you see...
We've cried together
at space shuttle launches.
We flew his Learjet down to Cabo San Lucas
to see the total eclipse of the sun.
So, the devil's in there.
This is Penn, the last
day he was able to see
before he lost God's most precious gift
looking at the eclipse.
Tim's been weightless
in an astronaut-training plane
and he arranged for me to try it, too.
I vomited into my own hair.
Tim was not and is not a painter.
So I didn't know he had
this whole little sub-obsession
with Vermeer.
Tim's Vermeer project started
11 years back, in 2002,
when his daughter gave him a copy
of David Hockney's book, Secret Knowledge.
Hockney wrote that when pictures
started to look less like this,
and more like this,
that was because artists had found
new tools to help them.
In 17th-century Holland, high quality
lenses and mirrors were in use everywhere.
Telescopes were all the rage
and science hobbyists were experimenting
with ways to project live images.
Hockney challenged conventional wisdom
by suggesting
that when artists of Vermeer's day
began to paint more accurately,
they were no longer using just their eyes
and their imaginations.
They were secretly getting help from
optical machines, like the camera obscura.
Camera obscura is Latin for "dark room".
Build a box, any size.
Could be the size of a shoebox,
but let's make this one big enough
to stand inside.
It's a dark room.
Drill a little hole in one side of the box
and you see something surprising.
The image of whatever is outside the box,
in the light,
is projected on the wall opposite the hole,
only it's upside down and backwards.
You can make the image brighter and clearer
by putting a lens in the hole,
and you can change
the size of the image on the wall
by changing the curvature
and position of the lens.
Here's David Hockney on a TV special.
He's inside a camera obscura,
tracing the image of a live model
projected through a lens.
Hockney was mostly focused on
how a painter could have traced images
through a lens.
To me, what was most striking
about the Vermeers, as a video guy,
I'm looking at this image,
and I see a video signal.
I see something that looks like
it came out of a video camera.
So I thought about how a painter
could actually copy that.
Now, most people that have played
with a camera obscura
got the idea that they could take that
projected image and somehow paint on it.
Well, I've tried that and a lot of people
have tried it, it's impossible.
What happens is it actually fights you,
it works against you,
it's worse than nothing at all.
Painting on a projection just doesn't work.
Here's a blue that matches very closely
the blue in the projection.
Imagine this is wet paint.
When you put it into the projection,
it looks way too dark.
On the other hand, here's a perfect match.
The colour that matches
the projected colour just right.
The only colour that'll
ever do that is white.
Tim went around
the world studying Vermeer.
They called it "painting with light."
Vermeer "painted with light."
You can't paint with light,
you have to paint with paint.
And so what they're really talking about
is this verisimilitude that Vermeer has,
that it just pops.
You see it from across the room
and it looks like a slide,
it looks like a colour slide of Kodachrome.
Seeing the Vermeers in person
was a revelation.
It reinforced to me that
I was on the right track.
That what I was seeing was an accurate
representation of the colour in that room.
I just had a hunch that there must be a way
to actually get the colours accurate,
with mechanical means.
Some way you could do that
in the 17th century.
I remember just having this vague idea
of comparing two colours with a mirror,
and it didn't go any farther than that
for a long time.
Sitting in the bathtub,
you know, that's I guess where you have
your eureka moments,
but, I don't know,
there's something about bath water...
It's just very, very relaxing.
And I was just picturing that mirror
hanging there in space,
and I pictured what I would see,
and there it was.
And so I grabbed a piece of paper,
being careful not to get it wet,
made a sketch, and that
was where I realised
Vermeer could have used a mirror
to paint those paintings.
To test this I propped up a high school
photograph of my father-in-law on the table.
I put a piece of Masonite down here
to paint on.
I set a small mirror at a 45-degree angle.
And for the first time in my life,
I did just what Vermeer may have done.
I picked up some oil paints and a brush.
In Vermeer's camera
this would be a projection,
a lens is projecting this image.
But to show the actual
mirror painting process,
we're using a photograph here.
You can see that there's a reflection,
and then there's my canvas down here.
And right at the edge of the mirror,
I can see both things at once.
I'm just going to apply paint
and either darken or lighten the paint
until it's the same exact colour.
And at that point,
when it's exactly the same colour,
the edge of the mirror will disappear.
All right, and I'm an idiot at this,
I have done this process
exactly twice in my life before.
What I'm doing is
I'm moving my head up and down
so that I can see first the original
and then my canvas.
I'm looking at both
things at the same time.
Right on the forehead,
you can see that they match,
because you can't really see
the edge of the mirror.
That's, that's your clue that
you've matched the paint exactly.
It's not subjective, it's objective.
I'm a piece of human photographic film
at that point.
What you're doing here
is you're essentially blending?
Yep, I am either darkening or lightening
the paint that's already on the surface.
You aren't tracing any lines,
'cause there are no lines.
Yeah, that's a characteristic of the
Vermeers that makes them unusual,
is that there weren't lines,
and there weren't any lines
drawn underneath the paint either.
It looks like there's these blobs
that are emerging into a picture.
It doesn't look like...
The order you're doing stuff in is not a...
It's not being done mentally.
No, it's...
And that's what's so nutty about it.
You know, if I was better at this,
it may be more systematic,
I may evolve into doing it
more systematically, but...
No matter what I've tried,
if I just spend enough time
comparing the mirror to the canvas
and stirring the paint around,
it ends up looking like a photograph.
And this was the result
of Tim's experiment,
it took him five hours.
Not bad for a first oil painting.
The father-in-law picture was proof enough
in my mind that Vermeer probably did this.
However, my father-in-law doesn't look like
a 17th-century Dutch woman,
so I don't think it would be very
convincing evidence for a lot of people.
So, I thought the best way would be
to really do a Vermeer.
I had the suspicion that it was exactly
the same thing.
If I could do the father-in-law,
I could paint a Vermeer.
It seemed to me the most powerful
demonstration of the idea.
The reason I chose The Music Lesson
is probably because, of all the paintings,
I think The Music Lesson
is a great little laboratory,
because it's so complete
and so self-contained.
You know where the windows are,
you know how big the windows are,
you can reconstruct the harpsichord
independent of the painting,
the Spanish chair, the viola da gamba, the
rug, all these things could be procured,
and their appearance is gonna be what it
is, independent of Vermeer's painting.
It's a little scientific experiment
waiting to happen.
Before Tim went to all that trouble,
we thought he should run
his idea by a working artist.
So we called up our friend,
Los Angeles-based painter
and entertainer, Martin Mull,
and asked him to meet Tim
at a studio in Las Vegas and see his gizmo.
Oh, my God.
Holy cow.
Took me about half an hour
to learn how to operate a paintbrush.
Good for you, it took me 40 years.
Well, and the beauty of this technique
is that you can make mistakes
and see what you did wrong instantly
and try to fix it.
This is astounding.
So this is a camera obscura,
typical of the type
that could be found in the 1600's.
This type of camera obscura
is called a "box camera obscura".
It generally had a ground glass like this.
It has the ability to refocus
by moving the lens in and out.
The general consensus of people
that believe Vermeer used optics
was that he may have looked at that image
and been inspired by it.
And that's the end of the story.
So now that we know there's a way
to copy the colours exactly,
I'm proposing an alternate history
of Vermeer.
His father's an art dealer,
he knows something about art,
he wants to make a painting.
He looks at this image...
There's my daughter, Natalie.
What if Vermeer took the camera,
turned it sideways, and now it's vertical,
- like my father-in-law picture.
- Okay.
He takes his canvas,
and, the secret ingredient,
the mirror.
He positions the mirror here.
Which corrects the inversion?
- Yeah, it brings it back...
- And everything...
And there it is! Clear as can be.
So if he's in his living room,
he puts up some curtains,
controls the light,
and now picks up his brush
and starts to paint.
My guess is that the Girl with the Red Hat
is that first painting.
- Wow.
- It's painted over the top of another painting.
We can x-ray it and see that
there's something else underneath,
so maybe this was just
a throwaway experiment.
So I understand, Tim,
that when you go back to Texas,
you're going to construct a replica
of the exact room where Vermeer painted?
And you're going
to do a painting in his stead,
am I right?
Many of Vermeer's paintings appear
to have been painted in the same room,
likely the north-facing room
on the second floor
of the house Vermeer lived in.
That's the room Tim plans to construct.
I really hope to see firsthand
what Vermeer was up against,
if he was using this technique.
And try to get some idea
of how long it would take,
just to get the conditions right...
Just mundane things like how much
usable lighting do you get in a day.
So you're not going to use
any artificial light.
That's right.
And I'm only going to use materials
that Vermeer would have had.
So, I'm going to force myself
into the constraint
of having to grind the pigments
and, you know, make the paint,
and use only pigments that he had access to
or that he used in his paintings.
For his experiment, Tim wanted
to recreate, as closely as possible,
the conditions that Vermeer
was working with.
Back then you couldn't just run down
to the paint store
and pick up a tube of paint,
so Tim had to learn how to grind
and mix the pigments,
which I'm now talking about
something I know nothing about,
but of grinding the pigments
and adding in the oil
and however you make paint.
If it were left to me to make paint,
there would be no paint.
I also learnt how to make lenses.
I couldn't use a modern lens,
they're too good.
So I had to build one.
So I had to make the form on a lathe,
I had to melt the glass,
I had to polish it with
various grades of abrasives,
just the way they made lenses
in the 17th century.
To be sure he was getting everything right,
Tim took some time off of work
to fly to Holland.
He visited Delft,
the city where Vermeer had lived,
and studied the light and the architecture.
So this is it, this is where Vermeer
painted those magical light pictures.
He learnt to read Dutch,
he consulted with experts,
measured furniture in museums,
and immersed himself in Vermeer's world.
All right, so move it in. Okay, good.
I would like to get one exactly like this.
Do you think you could make one?
That's possible, yes.
When he got back to San Antonio,
Tim rented a warehouse that faced North,
just like Vermeer's studio,
and invited Professor Philip Steadman
over from London
to look over his experiment.
While some believe that Vermeer
painted from his imagination,
Steadman found evidence that
Vermeer used optics.
Steadman is the author of Vermeer's Camera.
In this book, Steadman analyses six
of Vermeer's paintings
to determine the layout
of Vermeer's studio.
Then he uses geometry to figure out
where the lens in a camera obscura
would have to go
to match each painting's viewpoint.
Now he calculates the size of the
projection on Vermeer's back wall,
and compares that to the size
of the corresponding painting.
For all six, the sizes match exactly.
It doesn't seem like
that would happen by chance.
Pretty convincing evidence
that Vermeer used a lens.
Well, tell me about what you're doing.
Steadman's discovery fit perfectly
with Tim's mirror,
so now Tim set up a test
that would use both.
And this, we will make
an attempt at painting this.
- Okay.
- Using the mirror.
So, now let's go inside the booth.
He and Steadman would try to paint a jug
using his comparator mirror
inside a camera obscura,
as Tim thought Vermeer had done.
They take turns painting.
It doesn't matter who
does the brushstrokes,
the process is objective,
and any painter who uses it,
gets the same result.
David Hockney's book came out
just after mine.
What do you remember about the reaction?
There was quite a controversy around
both books, wasn't there?
Enormous, yes, yes.
There was a lot of upset, a really deep
anguish amongst the art historians.
The painters were relaxed.
They said, you know,
"This is a technology, fine, okay."
But there was something, a really deep
hurt amongst some of the art historians
which was to do with intrusion
of amateurs and crass rationalists
into the preserves of art history.
It was to do with a misunderstanding
of the nature of art
and cheating and genius,
and the idea that an optical method
is some sort of cheat,
because these are very accurate,
measured perspectives.
So, there are two ways you can do them.
You can produce them optically,
or you can set them up geometrically.
If you set them up geometrically,
you're using the standard methods,
it's a machine, it's an algorithm,
you apply the rules.
Why is that not cheating?
- Exactly.
- Strange, isn't it?
So, the only legitimate way to make a
painting is to just walk up to the canvas,
and alla prima paint it.
But the reason it isn't cheating
is that it's hard.
- Yes.
- It's geometry, it's mathematics.
- Well, this certainly is not easy.
- This is not easy, no.
- If Vermeer did this, it wasn't a time saver.
- No, indeed.
I can't comprehend that someone
could paint that from their imagination.
No. Of course not.
A human being is pretty
remarkable sometimes.
To get objects at their true sizes,
and to get all the kind
of luminous effects...
Painters can do miraculous things, it's
difficult to say, "This is impossible,"
but some things are more impossible
than others.
I was gonna go right off the edge there.
- Great. Well, congratulations.
- And you.
I want to think that
this simple, elegant device
is something that Vermeer could have used.
There's no doubt it's practical,
and it's simple.
You know, it's a plain mirror.
This is a 17th-century technology,
they knew all about mirrors,
and you can imagine him perhaps thinking
of something like what Tim has thought of,
but we know nothing from
a documentary point of view
of how Vermeer worked,
there are no descriptions by him,
by other people, there are no drawings...
We know very little about his life.
So the only real source of information
to answer a question like that
would be the paintings themselves.
Using Tim's device, it isn't easy,
but somehow it does turn you
into a machine.
You become a machine.
Was Vermeer a machine?
Maybe Vermeer was strong-minded enough
to think, "I'll become a machine".
That little picture of the jug
took Tim and Steadman
eight and a half hours to paint,
and Tim's method worked.
But they were painting in black and white,
and using powerful electric light
that wouldn't have been around
in Vermeer's day.
Would Tim's mirror work well enough
to paint The Music Lesson,
in full colour, in natural light?
To find that out Tim would need
Vermeer's room, and everything in it.
But museums don't loan stuff from the 1600s
to video engineers with a wacky hobby.
It would be nice if I could have hired
somebody to build all this
but it was kind of an interactive process,
you know, I had to first model the room
in LightWave 3D,
working from the painting to get
the dimensions and the shapes right.
Even though it was a lot of work,
it was just easier for me to do it,
because as I went I could make sure
that the furniture looked like
the furniture in the Vermeers.
But Tim is not a dressmaker.
Or a framer.
Or a carpenter. Upholsterer.
Builder of virginals,
which is a type of harpsichord.
Furniture maker.
Tile layer.
Or a lens maker.
But he's not an artist either.
He used what he was, a technologist,
to help him become
all those things he wasn't,
so that he could build his room.
This is fun.
I mean, this is the real thing.
Is it safe for there to be that much smoke?
I don't know, I've never done this before!
Could it heat up and catch fire?
- Well, I guess. I don't know.
- Whatever!
It's kind of cool. Okay, here we go.
Okay, I got a problem
with the virginals leg.
It's supposed to be 36
and a half inches long,
but my lathe only goes
about 34 inches.
I mean, I could make the leg in two pieces.
But I think what I'm gonna do
is I'm going to cut the lathe in two.
Generally, you don't take a fine
precision machine tool and saw it in half,
but power tools are made to be jury-rigged.
Yeah, it's a big guitar.
Viola da gamba is called a "viola da gamba"
because "gamba" means leg,
and you play it between your legs.
I like it.
I don't know much about woodworking.
So I'm doing this, not out
of love for woodworking,
but out of necessity
because you just can't buy these
stupid chairs anywhere,
and I need one.
David Hockney is one
of Britain's greatest artists.
He's famous for paintings like this.
Since his optical theory got
Tim started on this journey,
he seemed the ideal person
for Tim to talk to.
Hockney invited us to visit,
so we all went to England.
What I knew about David Hockney
was that he was a famous artist.
But, reading his book, I could see
that he wasn't a typical artist,
that he was somewhat a scientist.
Philip Steadman and David Hockney,
to my mind,
to the mind of a sceptic,
prove that Vermeer used
some sort of device.
But Secret Knowledge,
and all the Philip Steadman work,
are this wonderful, exciting, tingly
whodunit, that never tells you who did it.
Hockney showed
that artists were using lenses.
Steadman argued that
Vermeer was using a lens.
I believed that Vermeer must have
been using more than just a lens.
The reason to go see Hockney was
to bounce this idea off him
and see if he thought it was plausible.
How did you figure this out?
What are you, a...
Well, I started thinking about it
after I read your book, and...
Are you an optical... I mean...
I design television equipment.
- That's my job.
- I see.
So I know a bit about colour and imagery.
And I suspected looking at these
old pictures from the Golden Age,
Caravaggio, Vermeer, van Eyck,
that there must have been
a way to copy the tones.
Because that's what's quite remarkable,
actually. Yes, it is.
I need to stand on that side
of the table for a second.
So it's a mirror on a stick.
All right.
This is what I saw when I was painting,
if you look straight down.
And of course I started with a blank...
I see, yes. Yeah, yeah.
And you can move your head up and down and
you can see different parts of the image.
And that's how you work your way
from one part to the other.
Now right at the edge of the mirror,
where you see both images,
you can do a direct comparison of the tone.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
And your eye can instantly see,
because they're together,
can see any contrast, and the edge
of the mirror basically disappears.
When you have the right colour
and only when you have the right colour.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I see.
This is very ingenious.
So you notice that there is no parallax
when you move your head,
there is no shifting.
- That's it, no.
- The two images stay locked together.
- Why is that?
- Want to look through it?
- How is that?
- I know, it's very clever.
I must say, the idea that the Italians,
when you think about the Italians,
they love pictures,
the idea that they didn't use this
because this would have been cheating,
I find childish, absolutely childish.
There's also this modern idea that
art and technology must never meet.
You know, you go to school for technology
or you go to school for art
but never for both.
But in the Golden Age,
they were one and the same person.
The interesting thing is that
if this was around then,
we are seeing photographs.
If they were using this
and exactly copying that colour.
Yeah, well, I mean...
- It's a photo.
- Yeah.
After seeing this, I mean,
it's not a complicated piece of equipment,
but how likely do you think it is
that they may have done this?
- I think it's very likely.
- Really.
Very likely. Yeah, yeah, absolutely likely.
I mean, I'm pretty positive optics...
I mean, there's no explanation
for the paintings without optics.
But, you know, historical evidence,
it'd be great to find a lost letter
from Johannes Vermeer...
Wait a minute.
I put a joke letter in Secret Knowledge.
You did?
A joke letter.
This is what historians were looking for.
From Hugo van der Goes to van Eyck.
"Could you go to ye
Brugge Mirror Supply Company
"and get one of those makeup mirrors
for my wife, you know what I mean?"
Well, I said,
"You'll never find a letter like that."
- Yeah.
- They never wrote down...
Van Eyck would not write down
the formulas for the paint
for the simple reason
that somebody might read them.
And there were other people
that wouldn't write 'em down.
People were sworn to secrecy,
oaths that they took very seriously.
You won't, you never...
It's naive to think you'll find something.
Paintings are documents, aren't they?
Aren't they telling you a lot?
Paintings are documents.
They contain the story
of their own creation.
Every brushstroke, every layer of colour,
every shadow
represents another piece of information.
To the trained eye, a painting can be read
as accurately as any written text.
And you don't need a trained eye
to see that Vermeer's look different
from his contemporaries.
They look like video images.
He painted the way a camera sees.
Ever since photography was invented,
people have been noticing optical things
about Vermeer.
On the Girl with the Red Hat,
there's this lion's head
in the foreground that's fuzzy.
Your eye naturally refocuses
on whatever you're looking at,
so something in the foreground
is not going to appear to your eye
as out of focus.
But it could be out of focus
if the image was projected with a lens.
The so-called pointilles,
these little circles of paint,
look similar to what you get in a bad lens.
You look at the back of her jacket
and there's a faint blue line.
And that looks a lot like chromatic aberration
which is what happens in a crude lens.
The edges of objects can develop
this rainbow fringe around them.
This falloff of light from the window
to the opposite corner
is something that an artist really
cannot see the way a camera sees it.
It's impossible to see it.
But Vermeer painted it
the way a camera sees it.
Is it possible that
some people can see absolute brightness,
and most people, can't?
You know, the way a musician
might have perfect pitch?
You know, that's a question for a doctor.
I'm Colin Blakemore.
I'm a professor at Oxford.
Or a scientist
that specialises in human vision.
And I've spent most of my career studying
vision and the functions of the brain.
Is Vermeer maybe some sort of a savant
that's different
from the rest of the human race?
What if someone said,
"Maybe there's a savant who is so smart,
that he could figure that out."
Well, he's not smart. I mean,
he'd have to have a very strange retina.
Our retinas are made the way they're made.
The retina is an outgrowth of the brain.
It's a very complicated structure
in terms of its nervous organisation.
The signals go through
a complicated network,
several layers
of different types of nerve cells,
before they finally get back
to the last cells in the chain
whose fibres make up the optic nerve.
The optic nerve has limited bandwidth,
so the signals have to be compressed.
One thing we lose in that compression
is the ability to record absolute
brightness the way a light metre can.
When we see two values side by side,
it's easy to compare them.
But when we split them,
that ability goes away.
There just isn't any mechanism
in the human nervous system
to turn the eye into a light metre.
And this is a very clever trick
for reducing information,
but it's a disaster if you really want to
know about the appearance of the scene
because you just can't
do it with your brain.
Look at the light on the back wall
of The Music Lesson.
Every subtlety of brightness is recorded
with absolute photographic precision.
The unaided human eye
is not equipped to do that.
But if Vermeer used something
like Tim's device,
the painting becomes possible.
The Queen of England
owns Vermeer's Music Lesson
and she has it there in Buckingham Palace.
We thought since we were in England,
we'd stop by the palace and check it out.
But the Queen said no. So we shot
a whole tirade against the Queen.
But then...
Well, I just came out of that building.
That's where the painting is,
Buckingham Palace.
The day before Tim returned home,
the Queen changed her Royal mind.
She granted Tim a private audience
with The Music Lesson.
He had 30 minutes to study the painting.
The deal was, he could only record
the experience in his head,
no photography allowed.
And it was a great 30 minutes.
The painting is amazing.
It's very different than
I thought it would be.
The reproductions
don't do it any justice at all.
The colours are more muted.
It's slightly darker,
it's got a kind of an overall bluish cast.
But the astounding thing
is the amount of detail.
I put on my magnifying binoculars
and looked at the
virginals, and every stroke
of that decoration is there.
The Persian carpet,
you can see the individual knots.
The amount of devotion, or dedication,
or obsession
to get that amount of detail
that just makes a general impression
on the viewer,
but must have taken months of hard work.
I don't know if I can even come close.
When Tim got back to San Antonio,
he was in trouble.
When he looked directly at the virginals,
he could see the intricate pattern of
interlocking seahorses that Vermeer painted.
When he looked at the projection
in his camera obscura,
all those delicate little lines
were too fuzzy and dim to paint.
It was a deal-killer.
I had visions of a failed experiment.
Tim knew there was something
he was missing.
He experimented with increasingly
complex arrangements of lenses and mirrors.
But nothing worked.
Then Tim had an inspiration.
He held a mirror against the wall
where the image was being projected.
Now he could see a small circle of the room
sharp and clear
and hundreds of times brighter.
By tilting the mirror around, he could see
any part of the room he needed to paint.
Then he realised if he just replaced
the flat mirror with a concave mirror,
like a shaving mirror,
he could make the bright
circle much larger.
So I realised
that if I could have an image that bright,
I didn't have to have this darkroom,
I could paint in daylight,
which is a huge, huge breakthrough.
Tim started in the dark room.
But the room is gone.
The back wall is a concave mirror.
All that's left of the traditional
camera obscura is the lens.
Tim had invented a new optical instrument
or, perhaps, rediscovered a lost one.
In it, he could see well enough
to attempt Vermeer's level of detail.
He had his room. He had his machine.
He was now ready to paint.
Oh, boy.
Boy, you know, I'm not trying
to make this look like a Vermeer,
but it really looks like a Vermeer.
I was cleaning up,
and getting ready to put my palette away,
call it a day's work,
and I looked up at the monitor.
I thought, "Man, that camera got pointed in the
wrong direction, it's pointed at the room.
"How did that happen?"
And that's the thought that went through
my head for just a couple milliseconds
before I realised,
"No, I'm looking at the painting."
And it was just kind of like a...
You know, this project
is a lot like watching paint dry.
I can paint the costumes
by putting them on mannequins.
But to paint faces and hands,
I need to use people.
I do everything I can to
help them hold still.
It sort of works.
My daughter Claire is home for a month
from college.
And it's time to paint the girl,
so I put two and two together,
and used Claire.
Her two sisters, are also in town,
Luren and Natalie.
So they worked on fitting the costume
and doing her hair
so that it looks like the
girl in the picture.
When they got all that on, she was a
dead ringer for the little Dutch girl.
With that completed,
we put her in the head clamp,
and positioned her just right.
Few students have ever been happier
to go back to school.
I may repaint that.
Excuse me a second.
The wind's trying to blow my shade down.
I thought you were having
a ghost visitation.
Piece of shit.
We're gonna have to go to plan B here.
The frame that has my window,
and my shades and stuff, it came loose
and it fell over and I
think everything's okay.
All right.
I tend to build things
until they're just barely good enough.
And sometimes that envelope gets exceeded.
So if anything falls askew, your
painting's in no danger, is that correct?
No, I wouldn't say that.
- Okay.
- But, you know, I can always start over.
Another interesting thing happened.
What I noticed while I was looking at this,
I can see the straight lines
of the seahorse there,
and I can see the straight lines
that I've ruled already on the canvas,
the framework of the virginals.
All those are perfectly straight lines
because I laid 'em out with a straight edge
before I painted them.
Well, when I am trying to align this
very close now, within a tiny fraction,
I can see that this straight line
isn't quite straight
in the reflection.
It's ever so slightly curved.
Probably not enough to throw me off
now that I'm aware of it,
but if I had just literally painted
that seahorse pattern,
it would have ended up curved like this.
And, so, I don't know why, but I went over
and I picked up the Vermeer print.
And I go,
"Well, obviously Vermeer had no trouble
"painting those lines straight."
And then, I held the painting sideways
like this
and I'm looking down these straight lines.
And there's something really crazy
about this.
The top and the bottom of the virginals
are absolutely straight.
Because when I look at it down here
at an angle,
I can see that it's a straight line.
The seahorse motif is curved.
It goes like this.
You can't really tell until you look at it
right down those lines, but...
There is a curvature in there.
And there's really no logical explanation
for that
unless he was using something like this.
Tim calls that bend in the seahorse pattern
the "seahorse smile."
It's a flaw in Vermeer's painting.
A mistake that nobody noticed for 350 years,
and then Tim almost made the same mistake.
Tim is not looking for something
that will duplicate Vermeer's mistake.
You know,
he doesn't know Vermeer's mistake is there.
That's either a remarkable coincidence
or Vermeer was using Tim's machine,
or something very much like Tim's machine
to do his painting.
As Hockney said, paintings are documents,
and here's a little bit of evidence.
Today I painted the seahorse motif.
It was a lot of work. I couldn't really sit
here for more than 15, 20 minutes at a time.
Your back just gets extremely tense.
I tried to sit in the most relaxed position
I could find, which is like this.
It's just really nerve-wracking,
meticulous, demanding work.
I'm not looking forward
to doing the rest of the instrument,
but at least I know it's doable.
What I painted today is maybe, I expect
will turn out to be the hardest part
of the painting, physically, to do.
Well, yeah this is going to be short
because it's about 40 degrees in here.
So Karl and I came in here this morning,
and looked at each other, like,
"No." You know, it's really cold in here.
So I go, "Wait, I've got this heater
in the garage that I never assembled.
"I got it for Christmas a few years ago,
it's one of those patio heaters."
So, Karl said, "Hey, I'll put
it together, let's go get it."
So we went and got it, and put it together,
it's over there.
And fired it up and it worked great.
It's nice and toasty, you know?
Karl was sittin' over
there with his computer,
and I said, "Hey, look up on there
to see if it's safe to use these indoors."
And Karl looks up and says,
"Yeah, you know it says here
it's absolutely not safe to use indoors."
And I said, "Okay. Well, let's just run it
"and we'll be careful, okay?
"So if we notice any symptoms
of carbon monoxide poisoning, you know,
"we'll shut it off."
So I start painting, and I actually painted
an elephant on The Music Lesson.
I don't know why I put it there,
but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Karl actually, he put his head down,
and he said, "I need a nap."
I said, "What did you say?"
He said, "I need a nap."
I said, "Okay, let's leave right now."
"Let's shut this thing
off and go get lunch."
And on the way to lunch, driving to lunch,
everything sort of cleared up again,
you know, we were in a fog.
So anyway, that was a bad idea.
It was kind of a weird day.
I came in and started painting
this lower cushion,
and sort of a wave of revulsion
swept over me.
I just wanted to do anything in the world
but sit here and paint for some reason.
I don't know, just one of those things.
But I am pretty much ready
for this painting to be finished.
If we weren't making a film, would I quit?
Yeah, I definitely would. Yeah.
I'd find something else to do right now.
Well, yesterday when I was
painting this chair, I was almost
repulsed by it.
I think maybe subconsciously
I knew that it was wrong.
And it just didn't look like
it belonged in the painting to me,
and I couldn't
put my finger on the reason why.
And as I was trying to
get to sleep last night,
I was just sort of laying there
and I was visualizing that chair
and I could see it in my mind.
And I go,
"You know, that's just the wrong blue.
"I should darken the legs."
The top of the chair
can't possibly be tilted to the left.
It's like I'm seeing it
and that can't possibly be right.
I realised that
I had bumped the lens out of position
and that's why
the chair's perspective was wrong.
It was totally a subconscious thing.
Maybe I do have an inner artist
that knew that was wrong.
I thought that the rug would be
a little more free-form painting.
But this rug is close enough
to the optical equipment here
that I can clearly see all
those little stitches.
And since I can see that, and since my rule
is "paint what you see in the mirror,"
if I want to get that kind of detail,
I'm gonna have to
sort of make like the harpsichord here
and just go for the detail.
So, another day, more dots.
Ditto yesterday.
Just painting more dots.
You know, it gets old painting this carpet.
Oh, my God.
We're on.
Okay, so I've been
frantically running around here,
setting up lights.
And it shows.
Today is the denouement, of sorts.
The varnish job.
For the last several months
I've been promising myself
that all would be better
when the varnish went on.
Because as the paint dries, it gets
light, it gets chalky, it desaturates.
I've been very anxious to do this.
I went along slowly with a small brush
and finally I just grabbed a giant brush,
sloshed it in the varnish
and just started going to town.
And everywhere I touched was magic.
It's pretty astounding.
Well, you know, today...
Today's the day I've been waiting for.
I'm sorry.
I can't believe it's finished.
We took Tim's painting back to England
to show Hockney and Steadman.
Well, that's it.
So, you know, it's my first
ambitious attempt at oil painting,
and that's kind of part of the experiment,
that I'm not a painter,
but I was trying to show
the power of the concept.
This is terrific, I must say.
We noticed this
when we were doing our lens experiments.
We noticed
that especially on these kind of cloths,
on the projection you saw every weave
that you couldn't in the real one,
and you get that in Vermeer.
Now that's very, very effective.
Anybody looking at this...
- I think this is better than Vermeer.
- Better than Vermeer?
You do feel the weave of the carpet.
Yeah, you really do.
It looks actually woolly, doesn't it?
Amazing, actually.
It had to be something
similar, it had to be.
I mean, there's no doubt
that you've proved one thing, Tim,
that you can paint a painting of this
degree of detail and precision in...
Well, it's not exactly a camera obscura,
but it's an optical machine.
And that's really what I set out to prove,
is that it could have been done that way.
Sure. I mean there's no doubt about that.
There's no way
that it proves that Vermeer did.
That's the second question obviously, yes.
Did Vermeer work that way?
Yeah, but it makes you rather convinced
that's what he did.
I'm getting a little more convinced
all the time.
I would say I'm about 90% there.
But, you know,
if there was some historical record...
I mean, the idea
that a painting isn't a historical record
is from literary people who seem to just
not look at pictures and just read texts.
This is a document in itself.
I know people are going on
about documents.
Paintings and drawings are documents,
they tell you a great deal.
You've made a document
that's proving something, it is.
It's fascinating.
I mean, you set out to do some research.
I think you've succeeded and, well,
you've shown it's possible to do it.
- As I say, if you've recorded it very well...
- Yeah, yeah.
I think it might disturb
quite a lot of people.
- I certainly hope so.
- Which is fine, that's fine. Why not?
My friend Tim painted a Vermeer.
In a warehouse, in San Antonio.
He painted a Vermeer.
And is Tim an artist,
or is Tim an inventor?
I think the problem is not trying
to pick one of those two for Tim to be,
but the problem is
that we have that distinction.
What Tim has done
is given us an image of Vermeer
as a man who is much more real,
and in that way much more amazing.
I mean, unfathomable genius
doesn't really mean anything.
Now he's a fathomable genius.
If there's any great merit in this picture
as a work of art, it's Vermeer's.
It's Vermeer's composition
and it's Vermeer's invention.
It's just been forgotten for 350 years.