Saturday, November 24, 2007

Unusual Color Selections and combinations at HB

What color is the sky? Painting things colors you wouldn't expect automatically generates some surprise and interest.
One thing I look for in cartoons is clever and unique color combinations. You wouldn't think it would be hard to find that, but it is. For this post, I'm not talking about technique. Merely the choices of colors.

It's so easy for an artist to just grab blue, red, purple, pink, green and orange straight from the tubes and slap it on the paintings. It requires no forethought or creativity. Most paint sets come with those colors.

My favorite paintings, whether they come from Disney, Hanna Barbera, Genndy Tartakovsky or Illustrators are the ones where the artists choose odd colors. They mix each color in non-mathematical proportions with other colors, and then combine them with other odd choices.

What's a mathematical proportion? 50-50. Orange is 50% red, 50%yellow. Turquoise is 25% yellow, 75% blue. That's what you see in most cartoons-even in really expensive cartoons that could easily afford good color stylists.


I like to be surprised. I think creativity is largely about surprising the viewer. If you just do what they are already used to seeing, then is that really being creative?

For about 3 years, the Hanna Barbera cartoons were filled with creative colors and color combinations.
Interestingly, the title cards tend to be less creative. They are more primary and secondary.
I like colors that are hard to name, like in the painting above. What would you call that ground color? Burgundian Umber?

How about the sky? Olive-mustard? And how many people would think of putting those two colors together in the first place?


I like the kind of overall color stylings that start with one basic dominant color - like this sky color that doesn't have a simple name.
The other colors then are related to the dominant color.

Art put some brighter colors in the reeds. The smaller details are the best places to put more pure colors, because then they add some extra interest and punch without dominating the whole scene and taking away from the focus, which in a cartoon is usually the character.

He still was judicious in his reed colors. Light blue, purple and army green. He didn't put the whole rainbow there. He also applied the colors lightly so that some of the sky green blends in with the brighter colors and harmonizes the whole image.

These paintings are pure eye candy to me.

Here are slightly more normal colors, but still with harmony and a limited palette.

Title card with pink and yellow. Yeeesh.

A little too pure blue for me, but there is still something odd about it.

I really like clever uses of browns. Nature is full of an infinite variety of brown colors and inventive artists will take advantage of this much wider range of creative choices than what most cartoons allow.
What would you call the wall color below?

The greens in the grass have been blended with milky white to keep them from being too pure. I wonder why they didn't choose colors as odd as the sky colors for the grass.

Colors Out Of The Tubes

I actually don't remember the Rescuers looking like this. This may be the product of remastering. They take a lot of old cartoons and get rid of any mixed colors and turn them all into neon primaries and secondaries now. Especially pink and purple. They also seem to turn up the contrast so that dark objects turn solid black. The new Looney Tunes disk has some of the worst examples of color tampering I've seen yet- but not on every cartoon.

These colors don't need a color stylist to choose them. These are the first colors every kid chooses when they start coloring their pictures.
If I had a lot of money to spend on cartoons, I would expect my artists to come up with new colors and combinations all the time. Wouldn't they want to?

You know where to get good color ideas (besides from nature)? In fashion magazines-especially the European ones. I'll save that for another post.


trophiogrande said...

Great post! I love color, and thinking about color. I have stalled working on a painting, and it is color that has made me stop working on it. You have giving me a lot to think about as I go back to working on it. Thanks!

Sean Worsham said...

I guess my network hasn't been picking up your new posts lately (either that my I need to erase the cache or whatever). Nice posts lately on colors. I wished more people would pick complimentary colors around the primary color not to mention split analogous and complimentaries so that the whole image reads more overall. I don't know why loads of people think the whole picture has to be a rainbow in every frame to look like money is spent. 2 primaries in one pic is usually a no no and could lead to confusion.

Anonymous said...

Even though they don't need to hire color stylists for modern stuff, I bet they do anyway. Just to choose the best shade of "underwater blue" or something. I assume they're hideously overpaid as well. Am I wrong?

Barbara said...

Really? I don't see anything terribly wrong with the title cards, especially since they're there to serve such a simple purpose of introducing the cartoon. Isn't the thought process behind title card colors simply something that reads easily and grabs your attention? I know the colors look fabulous in the actual cartoon, but I might get turned off by a big puce-colored title card that read "Mark of the Mouse" versus a friendly salmon-colored one.

Emmett said...

Your posts on color are excellent, even though they make me question some of my own perceptions.

I always figured color should be connected to how one would remember it later on. What you are saying about Art Lozzi's backgrounds works to that effect: when I think of the background of the image, I get a very complete visual memory, as opposed to something flashy.

On another note, I don't understand the problem with THE RESCUERS. Its one of my favorite Disney movies, and I never thought there was anything wrong with the coloring.

Bitter Animator said...

Well the pocahontas one has blue leaves. Does it win any points for that? Of course it loses points for the nuclear war sky.

WJC said...

I'm really appreciating the posts on colour at the moment. It's always been a massive issue that I avoid tackling but now i'm going to give it a proper go.
Thanks John and Art!

lastangelman said...

What the hell DID happen to the color on The Rescuers? They always have to screw with original to justify their jobs, don't they?

MikeSnj said...

Very informative posts John.

Chris Rank said...

Have you seen how electric the green is on the Grinch, on the remastered DVD? it's awful.

Chuck Jones must be rolling in his grave.

great post John

Tim said...

Those old Yogi backgrounds are really soothing to look at. I want to wallpaper my room with them.

Kali Fontecchio said...

Thanks for the shots!

"If I had a lot of money to spend on cartoons, I would expect my artists to come up with new colors and combinations all the time. Wouldn't they want to?"

Yes I want to!

Adam said...

I found a bunch of old Architectural Digest magazines from the late 70s at a flea market once. If I was a background painter I would've snatched them up. They would have made hilarious and eyecatching backgrounds.

Also, I remember watching A Clockwork Orange and being reminded of Hanna Barbera, I think a lot of it had to do with the color choices, and the flat planes of the interior shots. I bet a lot of those interiors in that movie would translate well to a cartoon with a little massaging.

Brian said...

I'm willing to forgive finding nemo's pallette, because that movie was all about bright colors. besides, those are tropical fish

aalong64 said...

Yeah, the Rescuers never used to look like that. My god, that looks terrible. My copy has nicer, more subdued colours.

Agustin Croxatto said...

this is an excellent post, another thing that its really helpful at creating color harmony its to only use black or white only as accents, and if you want to light something you can go to yellows and if you want to darken then to go to blues it gives more depth to the overall illustration.

Beck said...

I agree John. I've been looking at fashion magz especially vintage ones and they are chock full of colors! Stuff modern artist are afraid to pair or use.

Love your blog. :)

Mr. Semaj said...

I'm about to begin my next painting in art class, which involves a winter setting (which is certain to include plenty of grays and whites).

Also, I keep re-reading a post you made last year...

...and I still find the transformation to simple colors scary. I'll need to re-check if that last Hokey cartoon was from 1960, since I don't recall HB's art becoming horrible until about 1965.

Jim Rockford said...

Eye candy is a good way of putting it!
Not only are the H-B cartoon color choices inspired and beautiful,but the designs are very striking,they're highly stylized have clean lines.
I love that mid century "atomic" styling. even as a kid that style caught my eye. it pervaded every aspect of living in the 50's and early 60's.
We really did try to live in a "jetstons" world during that time.even our cars had fins like jet-planes and rockets.
Back then the we envisioned the future as bright and wonderful....boy did we have another thing coming!

roz said...

i gotta say..normally i like your posts John, but i have to disagree this time. i really hate ALL of the examples you posted. i dont find a single one appealing. the HB stuff actually makes me a touch queasy with all that ochre and brown...