Sunday, October 22, 2006

Color Theory 4: Pee and Poo colors versus Colorful Greys

DULL AND DINGY COLORS TO MAKE YOU THINK SOMETHING SERIOUS IS HAPPENING
There is one other color style that is sometimes used in features. When the feature directors want you to think they are doing some kind of serious statement, they use dirty colors. Colors of waste products and boogers. This is a sort of limited palette and is the opposite style of the all primary and secondary color palettes of most cartoons. It's not warm and rich or inviting.
These kinds of color schemes make you depressed. They are the colors of musty old animators who probably aren't having much fun anymore and their cartoons reflect this lack of joy.


Here are some pee and poo colored BGs from cartoons you are to take seriously as you contemplate suicide:


This looks like an overuse of art school color theory, where they tell you to mix yellow ochre and burnt sienna in everything to make it look like waste products.

So, all the above, to me seems to be the opposite of fun or mood or life. They sure don't say "cartoon". Dingy colors make me depressed. It looks like the painters never clean their brushes and all the colors are dirty and muddy.

On the other hand, limited color palettes when done by artists with taste can be very colorful and fun indeed.

Grey Can Be Colorful
Now, it's funny, but these color schemes from Blame It On The Samba are actually supposed to show that Donald and Jose are depressed and down, but when I first saw this cartoon it was like a color revelation to me. These colors look like candy, even though they are greyed.




WOW!




These Mary Blair trees have a bluegrey BG behind greyed down light green leaves. The leaves are close enough in value to the grey behind making them blend together to create a new total color as if they were mixed.

This blue-green-greyish BG lets the more colorful birds contrast against it and they really pop.

Almost every bird is its own bright color scheme. The colors that make up each bird are related-they harmonize to keep the bird a complete, non-broken up image. Notice that the shadow colors on the birds aren't the same exact tint as the color they are supposed to be darker versions of. This makes the colors richer and happier.

The birds are the important point of the picture and they stand out against the BG, unlike the dark and dingy stills at the top of the page where you can barely make out the characters from the BGS because everything is the same (sickly) color and value.

61 comments:

Nico said...

indeed! WOW!!!

Freckled Derelict said...

More, Hooray!
John, do you think Mary Blair is a good example of color done well consistantly ?

JohnK said...

Well I use Mary Blair's work as examples of great color, so yes I do.

Her colors are happy, harmonious and not predictable.

Gus said...

I really like The Triplets of Belleville and it's color. What do you think of the movie?

Gabriel said...

I agree with you on the first example, but I must admit I like Belleville. What exactly is about it that you don't like, John? Is it the lack of hues other than yellow and brown? If everything that's yellow was green would it still be as bad?
Have you seen Amélie? Most of the time the colors were like that, all yellowy or red and green. But they would always add some element of a complete different color. I remember this scene were Amelie is cutting up a letter and everything is red, but there's this big lamp on the side that's completely blue, it's so different that I think they added it by computer, later. What do you think of that?

Anonymous said...

One thing about the "Bambi" example... the characters' and the background's colors are pretty simple or subtle but they're not competing with each other. The color choices for the bg recede the way they're supposed to.

The "Triplets" thing... I never saw that movie because it really didn't appeal to me despite the acclaim. The sepia tones are pretty depressing. "The Iron Giant," on the other hand, I really enjoyed. I liked the 50s aesthetic in the art direction... they had some cool posters.

I can't remember enough of it to know if that one bg is representative. I seem to remember a lot of it taking place at night.

Kai said...

I'm glad you said that about 'Les Triplettes de Belleville' -- I was initially excited about a feature film with an animation style that was not following the Disney or Anime.

But I've never been able to watch Les Triplettes in its entirety, because I get bored and depressed by it.

Spizzerinktum said...

Yellow ochre is God's greatest abomination. The color alone is repulsive enough, but the fact that it is opaque and poisons every color used to cover it up, renders its continued existence untenable. They might as well change its name to Gastric Bilge, or Succubus.

That background for The Iron Giant looks like it was made with those hideous Dr. Martin's "watercolor" dyes. They make me sick. And talk about lazy! I hate them. Do you hate them too?

Adam H said...

Hooray color theory! Something I don't have a lot of knowledge in....*takes notes*

PCUnfunny said...

Hmm,I don't agree on your critisms of Triplet's of Belleville, I was hardly depressed watching it had wonderful animation and funny drawings,but I do agree on your views of the color scheme.

Martin Richard said...

Same topic, different industry..

http://www.aeropause.com/archives/2006/10/the_colour_of_n.php

Great blog btw John!

JohnK said...

I actually love Dr. Martin's dyes. The colors are very rich and deep.

JohnK said...

50s aesthetic? It looked totally like 80s Don Bluth to me. How was it 50s?

miles said...

grey is indeed "valuable" - poor Mary - she rocked but what a boozehound in the end there

S Dali claimed that naples yellow (aka yellow ochre) should be added albeit in microscopic proportions to anything a bit of shadow crept into - talk about being given to high drama - homegirl a genius but what a QUEEN! still - what facility and imagination

john - yes!

Ryan G. said...

The "good" color BGS you talk about give contrast to the image making the subject pop out to the foreground and easy to read. Bellville not so much but still I find very appealing along with the Iron Giant BG. The colors used in Bellville go along with the style.. Its depressing in parts but its supposed to be. Its different and original. Also, I really dont see a difference in colors between the birds in the tree and the Bellville image. They both have the same yellows and oranges and browns.. Slightly different greens. The birds image reads a little better but what exactly is the overall thing that sets you off?

JohnK said...

>>Also, I really dont see a difference in colors between the birds in the tree and the Bellville image. <<

??

They are blatantly different. The Mary Blair trees have a bluegrey BG behind greyed down light green leaves. The leaves are close in value to the grey behind it which makes them blend together and create a new total color as if they were mixed.

This blue-green-greyish BG lets the more colorful birds contrast against it and the really pop.

Almost every bird is its own bright color scheme. The colors that make up each bird are related-they harmonize to keep the bird a complete, non-broken up image.

The birds stand out against the BG, unlike the dark and dingy stills at the top where you can barely make out the characters from the BGS because everything is the same (sickly) color.

Will said...

John thank you for continuing to learn me good things about cartoons and art in your bloggings.

miles said...

if you can't read MB's colors pull a Mr Magoo and SQUINT ... then the colors will pop and hit you in the ocular cavity - they read from the moon and that's what set her apart from all teh other color stylists at DIsney - this according to Walt

the conclusion that dank depressing colors are "original" can only be made by one who hasn't observed a single painting from the last 7 centuries

sorry for jumping on in - i don't mean for this to be a gang bang - i hate that about the web

keep it coming John

Rob said...

Those Robin Hood stills had pretty good color. The characters definitely "pop" from the BG, and the BGs aren't made up of piss and shit colors either. I don't understand why you had those in there as examples of bad color. ???

Mitch K said...

Your points are made obvious when you can contrast the images on the same page.

Those colours at the bottom are so nice that I can feel them at the back of my throat, and in my teeth.

The Butcher said...

I like sienna. It looks like baby shit, but if you're going for gross, it works well.

Ryan G. said...

I see John..

Miles, I was talking about the movie and style in general, not the colors. I did see a painting a last century.

Vanoni! said...

This is very interesting stuff - though admittedly, I'm having some difficulty comparing apples to apples with the samples.
My kneejerk brain response is to defend a couple of those with logic like, "well of course that still's colors are muddy. . .they're obviously standing in the shadows. ."
before I question myself with, "why do the colors HAVE to be muddy in the shadows?"

You should assign homework on stuff like this like you do the Drawing Course.

- Corbett

Billy Bob said...

Dear Mr. K,
Your posts have been greatly informative and educational, especially the color design ones. However, I feel that it's more leaning towards something that would be best suited for the traditional cartoon. Like you said "cartoon" is a very specific type of animation. The triplets does have that over abundance of brown now that you mention it, but it seems to suit the feel of the film. The same with 101 dalmations, (although i do think Robin Hood was pretty ugly). The triplets and 101 don't seem to have the same feel as say classic comedic shorts from the golden age. Hmm, what did you think of the colors used in the old Fleicher Superman cartoons?

P.S. forgive me if i say something stupid, I'm stil a greenhorn.

The Mighty Robolizard said...

Hmmm... Triplets of Belleville, i think, is one of the greatest animated features to ever be put to film. Its color pallete being sad and serious IS THE POINT! THAT is why the final chase seen was so good, it was absurd, but done so seriously. Its color pallete I actually think shames some of Disney's best. Its all in opinion, but serious color can work beautifully...

Eala Dubh said...

I loved Belville as well, but I agree that it's not a movie for cartoon lovers - it's a movie for art snobs. It's Ingmar Bergman is animated form - intentionally dreary and depressing, rubbing it in the whole time that all the characters are either long past their prime, or that their aspirations will ultimately come to nothing, and either way their lives are going nowhere. And it's so very, very European.

The Mighty Robolizard said...

Hmm... but how would you color Robin Hood or Belleville? [i think the faded colors in Robin Hood also helped create thier 'mythicesque' fashion... not as gorgeously as Belleville, but not in any way bad...]

JohnK said...

>>I don't understand why you had those in there as examples of bad color. ???<<

I had them as examples of dark dingy depressing colors. The alligator shot sure has a lot of pee in it.

kungfukoi said...

This is interesting to me.

It's not REALLY fair to compare animation to cartoon colors is it? I guess one can say, good color is good color. I'd just think that an approach to color would differ for a Cartoon director than an Animation director. A Cartoon being Animation, but Animation not necessarly being a Cartoon.

I was surprised to see Iron Giant as an example of bad color. I thought they were pushing animation in alot of ways. ( not cartoon ) - Color and style pushed for feature animation anyway. ( perhaps not far enough? ) It was animated, but by no means was it a cartoon.

So would you site some examples of when 'golds' and 'sienna's might be appropriate!? Or do you dismiss them altogether completely?

Also, I'd love to hear a critique on the color for these examples:

Pulled from Brandon Blogo's Blog.
Image 1
Image 2
Image 3
Image 4


I wouldn't have thought his use of "Pee and Poo" color was done badly.

I am curious if it can be done correctly, dynamicly, and interestingly.

Thanks John.

Crumpled Up John! said...

I'm curious as to what your thoughts on the color scheme for Disney's 'Flowers and Trees' is.

Peggy said...

Looking like pee also says 'nostalgia'. Which 'Belleville' is certainly trying to evoke, and 'Cats Don't Dance' was also full of. Faded ink on yellowing paper: low-contrast, yellow. For that matter, 'Iron Giant' was a nostalgia-fest, too.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I feel like there's an undercurrent in this post and your discussion of "cartoons should never induce gloomy emotions". Why shouldn't animation go places that are not *F*U*N* sometimes? If only to make the happy parts happier by contrast - or just to make an overall gloomier statement sometimes.

That said, all the examples you hold up as excrement-toned could sure use a little more contrast in hue and saturation and value. The Belleville shots aren't too bad as greyscale, and I do wonder what colors the characters in the Giant and Cats shots were...

Peggy said...

On the other hand, the dominant color of my own website is certainly in the Pee Zone, so I may be biased.

Art F. said...

i like poo and pee, but i don't color with 'em. thanks John for the great color theory lessons. i'm starting to understand.

Max Ward said...

I've been waiting for a post on color theory, I can't really even find any books on color theory. Do you know of any good ones, or do you think it is better to look at paintings that alert our senses and try to analyze why we like the color in the painting?

Anonymous said...

The 50s aesthetic was mainly in the posters. They borrowed some design elements from Albert Kallis and Reynold Brown, then sort of flattened it out a little a la Saul Bass. For seasoning or class?

The character designs in the movie itself were Bluthian and bland. I enjoyed the homages to 50s B-cinema and nuclear era paranoia but the posters themselves were better- more successful as images- than the flick itself...

Which I think in itself works out to be a little backhanded tribute to that era too. Maybe not in the way they intended.

I'm a huge fan of the 50s style poster artists all the way up through some of the relatively more recent ones like Richard Amsel and Drew Struzan, and I enjoyed that they were at least trying to do something in the sci-fi/horror vein, rather than just another flat-out Disney clone like the others around at the time, the "Anastasia's" and "Sinbads."

Jorge Garrido said...

I'm colourblind so I don't see why one is better than the other. If I ever make cartoons I'll just make them black & white, I guess. I like The Henpeckked Duck.

>50s aesthetic? It looked totally like 80s Don Bluth to me. How was it 50s?

I loved it, but it did look kind of Cal Arts-y. Ihe Humans, anyway. It did have tinges of retro-futirism. Not in the character designs or colours, but in the way the Robot looked, the ray guns, the weapons when he goes berzerk,the comic books, etc... It's probably my favourite aniamted movie, sicne I dislike Disney. I didn't even notice the colours, though.

>Hmm, what did you think of the colors used in the old Fleicher Superman cartoons?

Thsoe are great! That was the best coloured Superman costume ever! Dark blue instead of that wimpy light blue he always has, the big red and black shield wiht the yellow border, it looks so awesome! The Underground World was very pee coloured, though, but I still love that background, and I especially love that black shield!

>yellow ochre and burnt sienna

What the hell is that? Is that like a artsy way of saying brown and yellow?

miles said...

ryan
no offense meant brother
i think it's refreshing to see MB's use of color as the dankness has lasted so long on painting - that's all i meant. the darker colors to me are Europeeing - that's all - moody and depressed like the landscapes in the old world come across due to their age

mary breaks away into a uniquely gleeful realm i wish we could all be live in

thechrisproject said...

I'm an animation retard so my opinion's from left field as far use you animation nuts are concerned, but I really liked The Triplets of Belleville. I thought it was one of the best animated movies I've seen in quite some time. I like the colors they used, too, I thought it evoked just the right feelings for the story.

Vanoni! said...

It's not REALLY fair to compare animation to cartoon colors is it? . . . I'd just think that an approach to color would differ for a Cartoon director than an Animation director. A Cartoon being Animation, but Animation not necessarly being a Cartoon.

I initially thought the same thing - but the favorable samples John has provided are from cartoons, animation AND books! He covered some pretty good ground there.

there's an undercurrent in this post and your discussion of "cartoons should never induce gloomy emotions".

I don't think John is saying that at all, based on the portion of his post regarding Blame it On the Samba
---
Now, it's funny, but these color schemes from Blame It On The Samba are actually supposed to show that Donald and Jose are depressed and down, but when I first saw this cartoon it was like a color revelation to me. These colors look like candy, even though they are greyed.
---

John - you must hate some of Elders' Little Annie Fannie paintings. Some of them are exclusively pooish and peeish.

- Corbett

Pedro Vargas said...

Thanks for the posts on colors, John! Yeah, this really reminds me that I should get back to doing more paintings. I miss doing colors.

Desiree said...

Totally Agree! I never liked Robin Hood or Dalmations they just look boring and empty. No Contrast.

Belleville may be all pee colored for a reason but it doesn't help the composition of things.

Even though the cover art sucks, I really like The Prince of Egypt. Some shots are garish and simplistic, but some others are just beautifully subtle and very atmospheric. I guess it's more on the realism side of things.

I think Iron Giant is somewhat overrated. It doesn't inspire me. I didn't like most the lipsync (I know it's hard to do though), nor are the backgrounds deep. I was dissapointed watching it after everyone had told me every animator MUST own the Iron Giant! But if I've missed something, I'd appreciate someone explaining it to me.

jessicaLynn said...

argh,,,,the first paintings give me the same feeling as waiting to get a physical at the doctors.The Triplets of Bellvile are colors that remind me of the smell of potatoes. I dont hate it,it's just weird.

Thad K said...

Is that first Mary Blair image from a Once Upon a Wintertime adaptation?

THAD

Joe Incognito said...

Great post, John!
I love all the pictures that you use to illustrate a lot of your points.
However, I still think Triplettes of Belleville is a great movie.
The colors are serious and depressing at times becuase I think that is the tone of the whole movie.
If EVERY single cartoon EVER made had 'Blair' colors and was Wildly cartoony, I think the medium would be as boring as music with only one scale.

Shitbitch said...

"Titan: A.E." definitely looked like dead cockroaches and rotten bananas to me.

JohnK said...

>>If EVERY single cartoon EVER made had 'Blair' colors and was Wildly cartoony, I think the medium would be as boring as music with only one scale.<<

I'm promoting a wild variety of color styling. The bad colors I'm using represent the 2 major styles of cartoon color. I want a variety, not the same old thing anymore.

Mary Blair isn't "wildly cartoony". She has a million color ideas.

Pee and Poo is merely pee and poo and has been done to death. So has pink and purple.

Kris said...

I agree that the pretty, colorful colors are more appealing than the yellows, especially set out all in a row like that.

But on the other hand, I don't think golds or "muddy" colors are completely useless. One thing I noticed in the more appealing images is that their GOAL is to give the viewer a feeling of joy, happiness, calmness, or well-being. Even depressed Donald and Jose don't make me sad or even sympathetic, just amused. They're pictures you could hang on your wall because looking at them will make people feel happy and content.

What if a scene in your film is intended to make people feel anxious, frightened, or sad? Perhaps "pee and poo" colors are not the best way to do this, but they seem to be successful anyway.

Could you provide an example of nice colors creating a tense or melancholy atmosphere?

The GagaMan(n) said...

For the people that do like Belleville, I have loads of screenshots here if any one wants them:
http://gagaman.blogspot.com/2006/05/belleville-rendez-vous-scenes-2-6.html

Personally, I thought the film had a beautiful, warm colour scheme myself, but your right in that the whole "pee and poo" thing has been over done a bit, and the Disney shots definatly seem to show that the animators are getting bored with their job.

akira said...

how come pee and poo is so common in french stuff?

eve said...

>I've been waiting for a post on color theory, I can't really even find any books on color theory.

...If you search "color theory" on Amazon, it'll give a looooot of books to look through. I was recommended this one, "The Elements of Color" by Johannes Itten. I was told it included all the knowledge about color theory. Wikipedia seems to have quite a decent entry on the subject too http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_theory

JohnK said...

Those color theory books are usually filled with the worst paintings and ugliest colors imaginable. They are about as useful as all the cartooning books out there.

David Germain said...

Looking like pee also says 'nostalgia'. Which 'Belleville' is certainly trying to evoke,

I believe the term is 'sepia tone'. It says 'nostalgia' because when black & white film stock gets old and is left unpreserved it starts to turn brown. I'm sure that definitely what Triplettes of Belleville was going for in the first few minutes.

Maybe if Sylvain went for more of a bronze instead of a brwon then John wouldn't be so quick to call it poop. Who knows though.

Raff said...

There's a particular color which seems to be particularly offensive, and it's that disgusting dirty green in combination with certain colors.

Robin Hood = disgusting dirty greens with cold colors.

Triplettes = disgusting dirty greens with garish yellows and oranges.

Old moldy nostalgia = dull brown with disgusting dirty green in it.

And the worst thing is that sickly greens are hugely popular in commercials and such - they took over from where suicide-inducing hospital cyans left off!

At least the 80s had deep space blue.

eve said...

>Those color theory books are usually filled with the worst paintings and ugliest colors imaginable. They are about as useful as all the cartooning books out there.

Maybe the colors in the book itself are ugly (though it's simply the spectrum of colors from light, which is the basics for anything), but all the content in there is the very base of understanding how colors works with each other. Contrasts, complementary colors, warm and cold ones, hue and saturation... It's all about knowing the basic stuff to be able to make your own choices and get the effect you want. Instead of going blindly about choosing colors, you use that knowledge to willingly pick the colors to get the effect you want.

JopK said...

What do you think of Jim Flora, John?

The Hyena said...

After a little thought, I'm thinking that you(John) aren't so much condemning each example to tell us never, ever to do this ever it always, always looks boring, and you should only follow Mary Blair, which is what it seems some people are taking this as. Its just that these have become so standardized that any quirkyness that they may have had on their own, is lost in the sea of mediocrity. Belville may have had more impacy had it been an anomalous example in color, however it's general likeness to so many other movies in the color range has diluted it down from the movie it could have been, to the movie that it is.
Same can be said with some of the other examples. You can find decent aspects to some of those movies in other areas, but they look so blah in the colors, even though some are justified in using them, it doesn't stand out like it should because so many other examples are using them too.
It's a case of "Hey, everyone, let's all do this untill we hate it because it worked here a few times...DON'T DEVIATE FROM THE PROVEN PATTERN!!!!!
It's cowardice driven mostly by merchandising, or need for acceptance.

The Hyena/Sorry for the typo's

Mr. Semaj said...

Hmm...maybe this is why I can't get around to seeing any of Don Bluth's films. They are subliminally uninviting!

With a lot of the VHS/DVD cover art, it's not just the sky that's wrong. It can also be the characters. I always wondered why on most covers, Jiminy Cricket is colored green when he was actually more peach-colored? Same with Pinocchio's clothes; his hat was a different shade of yellow than his shirt sleeves.

With Pochahontas, the background art always puzzled me. In a way, it looks like it was inspired by Sleeping Beuaty's forested setting, or some of Mary Blair's work. But the film tries so hard to be serious that most of the forest paintings are a dark, moody array of black, blue, and gray, with only a hint of green. The daytime sky, often leaning towards pink, is obscured by the gloomy forest.

Anonymous said...

Yes! Gray can be coloful. Thank you!

Tips hat.

Good day, sir.

Anonymous said...

I think that merchandizing colors for Jiminy Cricket went more green than flesh tone, was that they thought Jiminy was too phallic in skin tones. Also, I'm not sure exactly what restoration of Pinocchio I'm remembering either.

I didn't think Triplettes was pee and poo all the way through; Maybe John did, but I think he pulled those as examples. Is the color different for the grown bicyclist at home, than the young bicyclist? Perhaps it should have been, for story mood, but I don't recall. "Color" is not what I brought home from viewing triplettes.

What I remember most from Disney's Robin Hood, is the effects shots. Water reflections and that type of thing.

nickelsun88 said...

Maybe I don't know anything, but could you shed some light on this:
I disagree with you about this whole "Poo and Pee" colors Idea.

What you see as overuse, I see as lighting. Artists use a filter of color to show a mood, or an emotion. For example in the Triplets of Belleville pics, the yellow is used to show the warmth of the scene, with the characters all together in a small room and acting kind and loving.

What is so criminal about having a consistent color scheme?

Chris Bolmeier said...

Oh my God! When my daughter was growing up Ren and STimpy was her favorite program. She would play it so loud and her father and I just didn't get it. We just wondered who thought this stuff up, it was nuts. She is a very artsy, different child, kind've like her mother.

I'm thankful to have found you have a blog through painters keys and lots of other stuff. You are so funny.
Chris Bolmeier
I also have a cafe press store where I put some of my stranger stuff, but it's alot of work. Painting,Cafe Press (hate reading directions), blogging, and Web Site maintenance.

christerical.blogspot.com