Sunday, October 22, 2006

Color Theory 1 for Cartoons- Garish versus Warm


Cartoons don't generally have good color styling. About 90% of them use only primary and secondary colors, straight out of the paint tube.
The usual color palette in cartoons is:

Skies are blue, grass is green, trees are brown and everything else is pink and purple. I call this "video box colors". I hate it. Most painters when they start working for me-even the ones who have great technique, paint video box colors and I go insane.

Look how garish Alladin stuff is. Basically, it is no color choice at all. It's the artist pouring the paints out of the tubes without mixing anything, with no thought to color harmony or contrasts or warmth or mood.

The easiest way to choose colors is to not choose. Just use the same ones that almost every cartoon has.
Yikes! Every color in this frame is competing for attention with every other color. They are all equally on fire and as a result, the image doesn't read as a whole. It is a puzzle made up of individual pieces of primary and secondary colors.
It doesn't help that there is no composition either.

By contrast, here are some frames from cartoons that have thought and warmth behind the color decisions.
In this Art Lozzi BG above, the palette is kept "limited". It doesn't have every color in the rainbow spread across the scene.

The BG has mood and fits behind the characters as it should. If the scene was painted like the ones above, the BG would compete for attention with the characters.

Now there is green in the BG, but it isn't middle green straight out of the tube. There are many subtle tints of geens-some bluish greens, some greyed greens, yellowish greens, brownish greens. The values (dark and lights) aren't just darker versions of the same tints as in all the examples above.

These subtle tints and value blends give a feeling of depth and warmth to the scene even though the styling of the drawing is very stylized and 50s. The rich colors make it a scene, rather than a video box cover.

Note that the sky isn't blue.

Here is more color harmony from Fantasia. The night blue is actually slightly greyed and slightly tinted to the violet, rather than being just a straight middle blue as in all the cheesy paintings at the top of the page.
Bambi is a tour de force in color styling. It's so sophisticated and beautiful, I don't know where to start to describe it-but the theories they used on Bambi can be applied in simpler form even in low budget TV cartoons today. Ren and Stimpy once in awhile had good color. Power Puff Girls had some great color styling and so did Time Squad.

Look how warm this scene from Snow White is. How much more inviting is this than the crappy ass purple and pink stuff at the top of the page?
Note the floor-what color is that? You can't even name it. Part of it is warm grey, part is cool grey and there are all kinds of subtle tint and value variations in it. Those subtle variations make it seem real, even though it is obviously a stylized painting, not photo-realistic at all.

Well all this is a prelude to more color theories. I don't want to go too far in this post, just enough to give you some terms and basic concepts that I'll explore further in more posts.

Color is an amazing tool and can add so much to the mood and feel of a cartoon. It can also suck away any chance of warmth or feeling when abused, as it usually is.

In this Mary Blair painting, the brightest colors are separated from each other by neutral colors inbetween them-white, grey, brown, flesh etc. The brightest colors are still not pure primaries or secondaries. The pajamas are greyed blue. The doll dress is olive green. Even the flesh colors are not "flesh color".

This is way more colorful to me than the typical pink, purple and green cartoon BGs that are everywhere. This is color candy.
This Frazetta painting really illustrates the concept of color harmony. All the colors are related. Even her flesh is mixed with green. There are a ton of tints of greens and blues. The color palette is limited, yet a million times lusher and richer and more "colorful" than the terrible paintings at the top of the page.


Freckled Derelict said...

I have been dying for some color theory and no books in print talk about this.
Please keep it coming!!!!!

Kirk Z said...

I really agree with what you're saying about color application. You were saying that the image from the past animated movies were "warm"; this is most deffinately the feeling they wanted from the audience at the time. Now due to their unethical BRANDING of every production, those hot/flashy/unapealing colors are more appropriate- think of it this way, you can take any scene out of aladin and put it on the front of a fucking neon pink lunch box. But hey, at least the new Gen Disney is done w/ cel animation. Onward Chicken Little!

Kirk Z said...

I really agree with what you're saying about color application. You were saying that the image from the past animated movies were "warm"; this is most deffinately the feeling they wanted from the audience at the time. Now due to their unethical BRANDING of every production, those hot/flashy/unapealing colors are more appropriate- think of it this way, you can take any scene out of aladin and put it on the front of a fucking neon pink lunch box. But hey, at least the new Gen Disney is done w/ cel animation. Onward Chicken Little!

Desiree said...

YAY I love this post!!! It's a shame to be able to say I've been influenced by the video box colors. just gotta use my head.
Brilliant TD stills down there. The BGs are a fantastic!! Cant' wait to see it MOVE

PCUnfunny said...

I see what you mean John by the ugly coloring job of Aladdin and that Tom and Jerry set, very un-inspired. You should also put up examples of the ugly Looney Tunes Golden collection box art and the better Laser disc ones.The Bambi one is beautiful,very warm and artistic.

Mad Max Winston said...

Cool, some great points here! It seems like the new Disney candy-puke-explosion coloring technique has maybe come about by using computer coloring? An going too far with it? Alright, now I just have to learn how to paint...

The Jerk said...

bleck, i always did hate that scene in hercules! can't wait to hear more on this subject, i'm sure i can use it.

Anonymous said...

i don't know any color theory but I DID KNOW that the colors in aladdin and hercules were ugly.

sink sink socks said...

The Parianface was so polished and smooth, because there was no sorrow upon schwarzer gruppensex theheart,--and, drearily often, no heart to be touched.

PCUnfunny said...

"has maybe come about by using computer coloring?"

Computer coloring looks great when done right but in the hands of todays incompitent artists,the colors appear way too bright.I don't even know why the "cartoonist" today use computer coloring in there tv shows,it exposes the lack of detail and bland design of the characters even more.

Gabriel said...

i don't know any color theory but I DID KNOW that the colors in aladdin and hercules were ugly.

That's the part that puzzles me too! You don't have to know shit about colors to see how ugly that stuff is. How can someone in their right mind approve that kind of work? How? Is everyone in those companies colorblind? Is it possible not to notice that degree of suckiness?
This post is so sad, I'm almost crying while I type this...

Peggy said...

I laughed out loud as I scrolled down and saw the examples of BAD COLOR.

Really, I blame computers for this. I was seeing this kind of shit in art done by kids learning to draw and use Photoshop at the same time long before it leeched into almost every animated cartoon. The default palettes of almost every paint tool are so damn garish and eye-wrenching; they tempt you to use them instead of mixing your own and actually thinking about color theory.

"Grass is green! Here's a nice green!" ...that happens to be absolute pure green light. And then to compete with that you have to add more hyper-pure colors. The end result is eye-shattering.

You get the same problem when you're learning to paint, and use it straight out of the tube without mixing on the palette or the canvas - but somehow it's harder for people to remember this. The awkwardness of most color pickers never helps, that's for sure... my colors are about 400% shittier when I pick them in Flash vs. Illustrator, because its color picker is so awkward to me.

JohnK said...

Computers didn't invent bad color.
It's been around forever.

Anonymous said...

Practice what you preach, ranty!
The Adult party cartoons had none of what you are talking about.
(and I can point out tons of screen shots that are contradictory to what you are talking about.)

paul etcheverry said...

If you fortunate enough to see a 35mm or 16mm I.B. Technicolor print of, for example, a Merrie Melodie, a 1930's or 1940's Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon, a Walter Lantz Swing Symphony or a Columbia Color Rhapsody, you will notice that the hues are deeper, yet muted - and infinitely more subtle than the garish, electric colors found in current color schemes. technique.

Anonymous said...

Hey John

Very intresting post. I'm a huge fan of your blog. I am animation student currently enrolled at SCAD majoring in animation minoring in writing and storyboarding. The Ren and Stimpy Show has been a huge influence on my personal style of writing and drawing. I am writing my term paper, and for it chose you as my topic, and your importance in animation for television, as well as the relationship (or lack of relationship) between yourself and Nickelodeon. I've done a lot of research and found a ton of aritcles and refrences, however i have a few unanswered questions still and was wondering if you had a few minutes if I could email some quesiton. I am a huge fan, thanks for everything you've done in keeping cartoons "cartoons".

Josh Lieberman

Matt Greenwood said...

"Really, I blame computers for this."

Are you serious? If anything, I'd say computers are a benifit because with digital colour, there's no mixing paints or discovering colours, it's all there for you. I'd have thought that with paints, you'd get into the habbit of just using primary and secondary colours because it's more conveniant.

lastangelman said...

Friday went to see at The Dallas Museum of Art Van Goh's Sheaves Of Wheat exhibit. What's amazing and great about this collection is not so much the Van Gogh sketches and paintings BUT the numerous other paintings of Van Gogh's contemporaries and HIS influences, especially Jean- Francois Millet, Camille Pissarro (lotsa of his paintings!), Pauil Gauguin and Léon Augustin L’Hermitte. These paintings of wheatfields are an amazing instruction, to see how these artists painted dirt, earth, grass, trees and sky. I scared the museum guards because I got "too close" to the paintings! I suppose I got a little overboard in the enthusiasm department, I wanted to get a closer look on texture and brushwork, you can't get that experience from a photo online or from a book. You get a sense of warm living real experience from these paintings and that also can be conveyed in animation today if today's marketers (there is no other term that can be applied to these hacks) stop using plastic supposedly retro-cool ready to go color schemes.
BTW, computers can be used to make great colors and effects, it depends on the artists' manipulating the machine, so don't knock the tools, knock the users.

mike f. said...

Beyond the awful background colors In the crappy Aladdin paintings at the top of the page - it doesn't help that the characters have all been air-brushed.

There's no attempt at making them look organic and alive. They look like they're made of aluminum instead - and you may as well pick your own light source.
It's as if the whole world got trapped in a Garfield calendar from 1982!

You can thank marketing executives for that - since they're the ones making all the creative decisions. They WILL insist on airbrushing cartoon characters - and to add insult to injury, they rely on the focus-testing of unwed mothers to determine what colors their little darllings prefer! That's the beginning and end of the creative thought process that goes into the color styling of posters and video boxes for cartoons.

It's a "Bizarro World" concept of design, there's no other way to describe it. Corporate suits insists that artists don't know anything about "marketing". (At least that's what I'm usuallly told when I'm thrown out of licensing meetings.)

Kitty said...

Ya know, I like bright colours. I've never really been fond of shades of brown and dark greens. I like cartoons to have a brightness to them. It catches attention. :)

Mega said...

color plays just as big a character as anything else in cartoons, hell, illustration even. I worked on the curious george movie, talk about oversaturated...the backgrounds should never be as bold colored as the characters! you get lost in shit like that!

Phil said...

Is this the Candy Cane Lane talk again? Bright happy colors! So horrible.

Anonymous said...

Those are beautiful examples. Well, the lower ones are. The ones at the top just look like black velvet paintings or neon out on the interstate.

I think "Powerpuff Girls" shows that you can use subtle, flat fields of color to make something interesting, as far as the modern stuff goes. I love the color schemes in those backgrounds... some with season specific colors were exceptionally cool and pleasing to look at.

I felt like "Ren & Stimpy" had that too, but not as simplified or flat. You could tell actual thought went into that cartoon. Even more obviously so from the posts here.

Holy shit, you toss off more useful stuff on this blog than in any of the crappy graphic design classes I took in college.

Brian Goss said...

Note the floor-what color is that? You can't even name it.

It's light to dark taupe.

Shitbitch said...

For real garish color, look no further than Space Jam's aliens:

Also, on the Simpsons nowadays, every other damn color is pure primaries/secondaries!

Justin said...

Computers shouldn't be blamed for bad color. Its extremely easy for anyone to find any color they want using tools in Photoshop and other programs. Its the people using the computers that are to blame. I think its just that people are copying the colors that were predominant in the movies and tv shows from the past few years.

I think people mistake "colorful" as being anything with extremely saturated, pure, primaries. And people automatically associate browns and the dulling of colors as being "uncolorful".

akira said...

just wanted to note: i had Jules Engel for a teacher and he took full credit for putting the mushroom dance from Fantasia on a black background. he was such a cool guy and great colorist who worked on a lot of UPA stuff and Bambi, too..

a lot of people say girls are best at color but there are some really great male colorists, as well!

Peggy said...

True; look at all the super-saturated movies from when Technicolor was new. We can show all these colors at once and we damn well WILL!

I feel there's a lot of factors at work in naive color: lack of color sense, lack of research, the perception that cartoons are for kids and thus our colors must be simple and iconic - and the attractive nuisance of the default colors of the tools we have. I tend to clear out the default colors if I can, so as to not have them there tempting me to use them, instead of actually thinking about what color I want, and how it fits with the rest of the image. If I'm going to have PURE MAGENTA LIGHT beaming from my image, it's there because I've decided to be that garish (and I do sometimes!), rather than just clicking on the first color that kinda worked.

That shot from 'Hercules' looks just like countless images I've seen colored by someone with a brand new copy of Photoshop. Except without the obsessive airbrushed dodge & burn. And because Disney's got the digital masters of it backed up somewhere, it's not even going to have the helping hand of aging to make it look less garish seventy years down the line...

Flutopia Unchartered said...

and i thought that it's only me who hates this kind of color styling..i wish they'd bring back the color styling or the technique of how they put up disney's the sword in the stone and also jungle book..i love the sketchy style and the color styling..unlike today where it's like super smooth and almost flawless..well there's nothing wrong with that but please have some variety..if all of the great animators were still alive they'd probably have a heart attack..well i hope you could post some more about color theory..thnks John!

Josh "Just What the Doctor Ordered" Heisie said...

Although I don't hate the Aladin picture (the color on the castles is mildly interesting to me) the others (especially that purple lady...) are horrible.

The bottom paintings, particularily the Snow White one, and the mushroom one, are truly amazing.

Josh "Just What the Doctor Ordered" Heisie said...

I was also quite amazed by the backgrounds in Lady and the Tramp. I found them to be almost too realistic but still terribly amazing.

Jesse Oliver said...

Hey John

How did you feel about the colors in "BooBoo Runs WILD"?


Jesse Oliver said...

If you watch cartoons like Fairly Oddparents or Danny Phantom the colors in those shows just BURN YOUR EYES!!!!!!!!!

Shitbitch said...

"Ya know, I like bright colours. I've never really been fond of shades of brown and dark greens. I like cartoons to have a brightness to them. It catches attention. :)"

"Ya know", you should hook up with Chet. You two would get along great.

Mitch K said...

Excellent post! Thanks, I can use this.

Mad Max Winston said...

I'm not saying that computers are responsible for this bad coloring, I just think that computers have made it possible for people to push the color they are using to another level, which is oftentimes a level that shouldn't be gone to. I don't think that shot from Hercules would have looked like that if they didn't have a bunch of computer coloring tools to tweak all over the place. There's definitely plenty of people who are amazing at painting within the computer though, I don't get how they do it.

The Mighty Robolizard said...

Aladdin is an arabic tale, and thus it actually uses an arabic color pallet. Its also a 'partygoers hip 90's' color pallet, thus the colors remain neonish on the genie, and bright. I don't think its fair to show Aladdin through its video box. Hercules is a Greek version of Aladdin right down to the Hirschfelidan lines, therefore the similarities are in the color too. The Little Mermaid on the other hand, as a European folktale from Andersen uses a more muted panel [not the biggest fan of that color panel, outside of Ursula, mainly.

Invader Zim I thought had an amazing color pallet, but really for the same reason I liked Aladdin, the wierd ironic starkness.

That said, Snow White and Fantasia probably have had some of the best color in animation's short history. The Flintstones actually comes in pretty close. Also, essentially every Aadarman film released... true its stop motion, but Chicken Run cannot be denied... oh, and Nightmare Before Xmas is just is Myiazaki. Yay colour...

Jordan said...

Samurai Jack always seemed to have really creative use of color. It was definitely a very well designed show that used color very well to illustrate mood.


Nico said...

VERY insightful stuff John. thanks so much! Can you continue more color theories soon?

what i love is how you show us pictures and EXAMPLES of what you're talking about.

as i scrolled down, that picture of all the Hercules characters up in the clouds hurt my eyes when i first saw it!

Ig said...

While i'm no advocate for Disney and, for the most part, i can't tolerate design and color choices in their "modern" (or old) animated movies, i still think that shot from "Hercules" was taken out of the context. After all, it represents party of gods in heaven, where you'd expect trashy and rubbish colors. It's what i call "rubbish with a cause". I really admire artists who can go beyond their taste and personal preferences to create the mood and ambience that will suit the story and not their vision of what is aesthetich or nice to look at.

Anonymous said...

I do a lot of pencil and ink illustration. It was originally black and white but as my pictures have become bigger they have become exclusively coloured. I find it interesting what you are saying about "straight out of the tube" colour. This was the single biggest problem with using gouche on my pictures. If I had very large open spaces I had to literally use the straight out of the tube colours so that I could get an even spread over a large space. I have inturn adopted to gradations of lines and texture in order to accommodate gradating personalised colours. It literally changed the way I draw pictures because I have to take into account how the colours will look instead of simply drawing a black and white picture that will be coloured. Sometimes it leads to horriffic mistakes as well when I blend too much detail with too many similar colours and my pictures become a mud slide of indefinate form.


Jennifer said...

Hi John,

This is a really good theory on color.

I wonder if some of the animators who use bright colors are doing because they think that it will keep the attention of a really young audience (child experts say that typically, really young children have a tendency to respond more to brighter colors, but I would love to test that theory because I don't completely buy that).

John, do you mind if I make a copy of your two articles on color for a reference? I'm starting my PhD next year, and I'm thinking about doing a thesis on color and software.

Anonymous said...

I'm not in the industry, but I find commentary like this to be totally fascinating. Please keep it up!

S.G.A said...

Yes, I really liked reading this post.

It was really useful to me. I also feel like computer coloring has only worsened the problem. I see alot of bad computer coloring , just awful colors.
However those frame grabs from the new T-D video, look great! Not like old old great cartoons but actually something NEW! The yogi cartoons sort of had it but thoe T-D colors look great.

Anonymous said...

You , know I haven't had much work in animation, but once Cartoon network was interested in one of my pitches.
It was very disturbing to me what they wanted.
I am curious of your thoughts on this.
They didn't like my story ideas, they wanted an "event" to happen every few seconds , to pull the kid back to the show, like they had done research on it or something.

Anonymous said...

Hercules and Aladdin only thought they had Hischfeld's line. Do not be fooled.
Also, what Samurai Jack has in color experimentation, it completely lacks in story, appeal, or watchability.

Anonymous said...

Which cartoon is that Art Lozzi background from?

The Mighty Robolizard said...

First of all, Hirschfeld came in and worked on Aladdin. Second of all, the colors SHOULD BE ALL COMPETING FOR ATTENTION! THEY ARE GREEK GODS, EACH A PURE TYPE! Moop.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

If the color schemes of these cartoons are hideous and garish, there's a reason - these cartoons themselves are hideous and garish.

There's something just opressive about the way animation is illustrated on video and DVD boxes. The colors are oversaturated, with that syrupy gradiation. Everything looks like it's been pumped full of happy pills. It not only looks uninviting, it looks a little scary.

Perhaps that's just my thinking, and all that influence from reading Orwell. But I think the situation for animation in this country is somewhat oppressive, and is dictated more by corporatism and consolidation (isn't it nice when Disney owns everything?) than any true artistic sensibilities.

I wonder if artists and animators really understand the basics of color theory and composition and how to effectively use lighting and tone and texture. I think they're merely copying the accepted formula, a formula that is dictated purely by marketing. Bad Disney Video X sells, therefore everyone should copy it.

As Pauline Kael once noted, they think the grosses are proof that people are happy with what they're getting; that it's what they want, instead of what they're merely settling for. If we were given the freedom to present the public with actual choices, we'd see that play out.

I'm not sure how we'd change things, apart from re-educating every artist and animator that you work with. The medium has to stop being treated like the red-headed stepchild.

Anonymous said...

Sure Hischfeld worked on it, but he never put pen (mind you a pen, never a brush man for his lines) to paper that made it on screen. And Hercules was going for Scarfe, which they also missed the mark on.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with a lot of the things posted on this blog, but this post was spot on.

Jorge Garrido said...

I completley agree. You didn't inlcude the worst offender: Fairly Odd Parents. Google Image it and prepare to have your face cave in. I'm colourblind and that show still amde me go blind.

John do you like Wally Wood?

>The Adult party cartoons had none of what you are talking about.
(and I can point out tons of screen shots that are contradictory to what you are talking about.)

I'd like to see that. The colours were very lush, expecially in Altruists and Ren Seeks Help. Look at the moodiness of that scene in where Ren is roaming the alleyways!

>Beyond the awful background colors In the crappy Aladdin paintings at the top of the page - it doesn't help that the characters have all been air-brushed.

I was watching the Lion King with commentary ane they were proud that they made the characters go 50% darker colser to the ground. It was computers fading the characters and making them darken, only it stayed the same from every angle. It looked so fake. Zazu's beak had the same damn problem. It was the stupidest thing I've ever heard.

>For real garish color, look no further than Space Jam's aliens.

Agreed, I love that movie but it looks like a 60's pyschadelia poster. And, as usual, the characters were airbushed, although it was not as bad as the CGI look of "Bugs Bunny" in BIA.

>It's light to dark taupe.

Only candy-asses know the real names of colours. Add and "y" or "ish" to it and you got your colour.

>i love the sketchy style and the color styling..

I love that sketchy style, too bad those movies all suck. Xerography! Ub Iwerks knew what he was doing!

>Hercules is a Greek version of Aladdin right down to the Hirschfelidan lines, therefore the similarities are in the color too.

I thought Rhapysody in Blue made great use of one colour and it looked was way more like Hirschfeld. Hercules was based on some other dudes' caricatures, and they were too angular wiht too many whirly swirls.

>Invader Zim I thought had an amazing color pallet

Black, lime green, purple, pink and grey? Yeah, real good.

>Also, what Samurai Jack has in color experimentation, it completely lacks in story, appeal, or watchability.

The story's don't suck, they're just really simple. Why does every story have to have 15 different plot twists and 50 characters? That show had the best pacing ever. I love it.

Kris said...

Aladdin's not 100% gross pinks and purples. It is kind of unfair to represent it through its box/promo art. Box art is always disgusting--poor drawing AND poor color/painting.

Soome scenes in Aladdin, like the "One Jump Ahead" sequence, do not have such ugly colors at all. What's your feeling about the colors in Beauty and the Beast? Or Lion King?

Roberto González said...

Interesting. I don't have any idea of this stuff, really. I'll confess that I actually like the colors in the third Aladdin picture, but I don't know anything about the subject so I can't defend it with examples like you do.

The two first pictures have truely bad colors, but like somebody said this is not the real Aladdin picture, those are video covers.

I can see your point, though. I know I have kind of a bad taste on this stuff, but I sometimes really like to have a lot of different colors and make all them very vivid like that Hercules stuff, cause I tend to think this is funnier and more "cartoony", but when you put it next to those other examples I can see the other ones are way more subtle and elegant.

Incidentally, Frazetta's illo reminded me of the colors from the last segment in Fantasia 2000. Maybe I have bad memory and they are a lot worse, but for a moment I thought you were saying something good about modern Disney.

The GagaMan(n) said...

I don't know jack about colour theory, but even I can see how horrid that Hercules shot is. Maybe that's why I rarely watch those two films, as they do make your eyes hurt after a while.

Just curious, although know CGI animation isn’t really your thing: what do you think of Pixar’s colour theories for films like the Incredibles and Finding Nemo?

PsychoWiLL said...

I'm colour blind, and have avoided using complex colours in characters/backrounds. I don't want to make mistakes. This is one reason I started animating with flash in grays - so I could control distractions and some colours I may have missed.

Brian Goss said...

Only candy-asses know the real names of colours. Add and "y" or "ish" to it and you got your colour.

How do you know what to add "y" or "ish" to if you don't know the real names of colors? :p

Mr. Semaj said...

You may have just given me some tips for my weekend art classes.

Chloe Cumming said...

I’ll have to apologise in advance, I spell colour with a ‘u’ in it, I can’t really help myself, I’m English.

Because I’m looking at the animation industry from the outside, I’ve not consciously taken on board (at least recently), say, the nature of difference between the good colour in Snow White and the bad colour in Hercules, or more exactly, what can be learned from recognising the difference. It’s been a while since I saw either of them, but this makes me want to watch again and pay more attention. There are richer layers of directly applicable craft-knowledge waiting to be uncovered. It’s funny how things can wash over you, you think you’re paying attention, but in effect you’re blind to things until you really invest some thought into them.

I knew that I loved the early Disney movies and just kind of… watched… the recent ones. I probably wasn’t outraged enough about the decline. I knew a lot of the reasons, a while ago, but these posts make me want to do some serious revision. I knew that it was partly the ‘atmosphere’ and the sense of hand-craftedness that I liked about the early ones, but I’ve probably never truly examined the role colour plays in this.

The striking thing to me about that Mary Blair painting in comparison to the bad examples at the top is that it’s clearly the work of an artist, not a committee. The composition and the colour choices and the interplay between shapes are all in a natural intuitive balance with each other. And obviously not in a ‘naturalistic’ style, but you could still call it natural, because it’s pleasing to look at like nature is, but it functions as a perfectly self-contained whole. The colour is good, but so is the composition, the two things are knitted together sensitively so the positioning of the colours becomes itself more important. An extra slab of even the ‘right colours’ would throw the whole thing off.

The Hercules image looks like some lines that a child coloured in badly whilst in a state of aspartame-induced mania or something.

This might be a bit of a leap, but that kind of approach to colour reminds me a little of my experience of art school and the trendy art world in England, where (in a nutshell) I was frequently pushed toward forceful exaggeration of one aspect or another of painting… that’s also what a lot of painting that’s ‘hot’ in the art world is like, (I’m thinking just now of Dana Schutz’s palette of day glo pink and yellow) ugly and vulgar on purpose, as if that’s all there is ‘left’ to be.

It’s like soundbite painting… painting that seems to exist either because some marketing committee has decided on a simplistic ‘mood’ that it really wants rammed home with very little room for subtlety, or in the art world, that exists so that critics have something bludgeoningly obvious to talk about, to bash people over the head because painting’s so old now and people have such sophisticatedly postmodernly small attention spans… because good taste and beautiful things are so BORING. I know I’m talking about two separate phenomena really, but there’s some commonality in the way that the actual perfection of the craft of painting is ignored in favour of the sensibilities of people who trade in (largely meaningless) words. It kind of comes down to a perverse obsession with marketing over basic human needs.

In my own painting I’ve tried to limit my palettes and give colour due consideration… but I’ve been guilty of choosing ranges that were too wide or too narrow. The perils of being a self-taught moron. Colours are seductive… art shops are exciting. I can forgive people getting carried away occasionally. Nature makes you attracted to bright colours by making nice things like flowers and oranges. But usually, nature’s quite clever at making a flower seem special by surrounding it with stuff that’s not a flower.

The well chosen images are really helping to reinforce your points John, thank you for this, I’m finding it valuable.

Tom said...

Just adding my voice to the many that want to say - thanks for all the great examples of use and abuse of color, John!

Jorge Garrido said...

>What's your feeling about the colors in Beauty and the Beast? Or Lion King?

All brown and yellow=poo and pee.

Jorge Garrido said...

>How do you know what to add "y" or "ish" to if you don't know the real names of colors? :p

Primaries are exempt from this Man Rule.

Kevin W. Martinez said...

IF you guys REALLY want to see garish and ugly color schemes, i suggest you check out some of those Public Domain cartoon VHS and DVD covers. Al least those Disney covers looked at least SOMEWHAT vaguely professional, some of those Public Domain covers look like they were done by6 people who aren't even artists.

Mike said...

does it really matter if its unfair to the artists behind disney's aladdin that john only shows the box art to illustrate his point. does it matter to the artistic concept hes trying to convey. no way.

the point is 'dont do/be mindful this' and there is a picture of whatever it is, NOT 'these people are terrible fuck them'. of course he picks the most garish of shots from hercules without context. it shows us the concept, its irrelevant if its justified in the context of the film.

Marti said...

Did disney fire you? You seem to have a big chip on your sholder for Alladin.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. That Hercules scene.
What makes me hate those colors so much more is that a lot of my work comes out looking just like that.
It is very hard to get a good feel for colors. Early on when I was starting to learn how to use Adobe Illustrator, I would usually do my color schemes by sampling a swatch from a photo and then using whatever complimentary color scheme Illustrator gave me. My stuff always comes out looking like something a unicorn threw up. Then when I hang it up in class for a critique, everybody gobbles it up.
I gotta get to work. I think I'm going to have to strip all the colors out of a few of my pieces and start over.

Luke said...

Great colors! I wonder if you'd mind taking a look at my paintings and tell me how you think my colors look?

Regine! said...

Wow, I looked at the Hercules picture too long, when I closed my eyes I could still see the colors! I think maybe Disney was going for bright colors because the characters are on Mount Olympus, but I've always thought they looked a little radioactive.

Frank Wick said...

Is there such a thing in animation as mixing on the canvas? This is something I have done as a painted on flat, sturdy surfaces that allows my work to take on a very painterly but controlled look. You can get some hideous colors working in tandem in such perfect ways. I think in the background of Sponge Bob I have noticed this but I don't know quite how to describe it outside of what I have already suggested.

fandumb said...

The difference is:

'Ren and Stimpy'- Warm
'Adult Party Cartoon'- Garish.

Really, what was that pink colour your team used for the characters' tongues in the latter again?