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The power of color in animation

Have you asked yourself before about the color magic? About the color emotional effect, Stir feeling, and attract attention to artwork? Or how is the colors serve the message that you want to send through animation? If you have not thought about it before, we think you have to know about color script concept.

Color script definition

It’s an animation term has popularized by Pixar and it’s become a quite valuable tool for them, it’s an early attempt to map out the color, lightening, emotion and moods in film. They released a book which is dedicated to Color Scripts called “The Art of Pixar: 25th Annie.: The Complete Color Scripts and Select Art from 25 Years of Animation”.

The book was written by Amid Amidi, co-founder of animation blog Cartoon Brew, and features a foreword by Disney ex-pat John Lasseter, who worked for the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm that would become Pixar after Steve Jobs purchased the company in 1986. It’s not about making a single pretty piece of art, the color script evolves throughout the early stage of the film, hand in hand with the story development.

Here's a nice step back from all the intense amount of detail we've been seeing from the hi-res photos that have been released for Disney/Pixar's Toy Story 3.

The color script for the Lee Unkrich-directed Toy Story 3 was done by Pixar art director Dice Tsutsumi, and is used to gives you (and the animators) a good look at how the color arcs in a film relate to the story.

The importance of the color scripts

  • Provide a road map for shifts in color, lightening, emotion and moods in film, plus providing the help to visualize the whole movie.
  • The color script will not make or break a film, but it’s a way to make the director see the film in better way.
  • It helps the studio to evolve their ideas and figures out of different approaches to the story they are telling.
  • Allow to map out the experience from start to finish.
  • To keep look and feel consistent.
  • Shows what the look is support to be like.

How to create a color script?

The best way to improve your skills is to practice, so why not set yourself a goal of creating a new color scheme every day?

There is a science of choosing the color schemes in a movie to keep it more attractive and provide psychological assists, and how designers use a complementary pair in a movie’s art design.

First, You have to know about color theory in animation

First, when you ask yourself why color is important!

Colors when used correctly can guide the viewer’s eyes to what’s important in the scene like the white duck in the image below from the ugly duck film animation:

We can use colors to tell the story or completely change the mood of the scene entirely, it can make or break your scene very important to get it nailed down.

But what about saturation and value of the color?

Color saturation

It refers to the intensity of color in an image. In technical terms, it is the expression of the bandwidth of light from a source. The term hue refers to the color of the image itself, while saturation describes the intensity (purity) of that hue. When color is fully saturated, the color is considered in purest (truest) version. Primary colors red, blue and yellow are considered truest version color as they are fully saturated.

As the saturation increases, the colors appear to be more pure. As the saturation decreases, the colors appear to be more washed-out or pale.

Colors value

It refers to the lightness or darkness of the color.

Making the balance between saturation and values of the colors, because highly saturated colors not only look incredible fake but using saturated colors everywhere gives your eyes nowhere to rest, but at the same time increasing the saturation focus attention on the colored object.

In terms of cartoons highly saturated or bright colors can actually work in your favor because it can immediately note the viewers that they’re looking at something which is fake and it really plays to its surreal unrealistic qualities.

In up animation film from Pixar you can notice that:

Brightness and saturation can even adjust your mood as you see in this shoot the colors are very vibrant. There was a lot of yellow and oranges. There was fluorescent grass. This was to signify the joyous happy moment in their lives, but then in later turned to sadness.

The colors changed to very DE saturated tones, a lot of gray’s, a lot of browns. That helps you to feel coldness and the loneliness that the characters are experiencing.

Production designer Harley Jessup likes to exploit the contrasting textures of different locations in the films he's worked on like Monsters, Inc. and Ratatouille. His colorscript for Ratatouille emphasized the damp underground sewers against the warm, rich tones of the human world that Remy yearned to be a part of. —Amid Amidi

Saturation and value in nutshell

  • Don’t overdo it
  • Use it to guide the reviewer
  • Use it to tell the story
  • Use it to change the mood
  • Draw attention in something

Use the color harmonies for pleasing combination

1. Monochromatic (one color)

Monochromatic color schemes are derived from a single base hue and extended using its shades, tones and tints. Tints are achieved by adding white and shades and tones are achieved by adding a darker color, grey or black. This design should not be called as monochromatic in strictly scientific meaning.

In this shoot of the toy film animation they used only the yellow color and its grading:

2. Analogous (adjacent colors)

Analogous colors are any three colors which are side by side on a 12-part color wheel, such as yellow-green, yellow, and yellow-orange. Usually one of the three colors predominates. Complementary colors are any two colors which are directly opposite each other, such as red and green and red-purple and yellow-green.

The image above is a scene from finding nemo film animation from Pixar which depend on using Analogous by the three colors grading (red, orange, and purple):

3. TRIADIC (equally distant colors)

A triadic color scheme uses colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. Triadic color harmonies tend to be quite vibrant, even if you use pale or unsaturated versions of your hues.

To use a triadic harmony successfully, the colors should be carefully balanced - let one color dominate and use the two others for accent.

In this example the harmony creates by using the three colors grading blue, orange, and little green:

4. Complementary (Opposing colors)

Colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel are considered to be complementary colors (example: red and green). The high contrast of complementary colors creates a vibrant look especially when used at full saturation. This color scheme must be managed well so it is not jarring. Complementary colors are tricky to use in large doses, but work well when you want something to stand out.

Note that: Complementary colors are really bad for text.

In this composition they used just the two colors (red and green) with its grading:

5. Split complementary (one complementary and extend)

The split-complementary color scheme is a variation of the complementary color scheme. In addition to the base color, it uses the two colors adjacent to its complement. This color scheme has the same strong visual contrast as the complementary color scheme, but has less tension.

This color scheme has the same strong visual contrast as the complementary color scheme, but has less tension. The split-complimentary color scheme is often a good choice for beginners, because it is difficult to mess up.

In this character the main three colors are red, blue, and orange which mixed in a great balance to make this result:

6. Square color or Double complementary (two pairs of opposing colors)

The square color scheme is similar to the rectangle, but with all four colors spaced evenly around the color circle.

The square color scheme works best if you let one color be dominant.

You should also pay attention to the balance between warm and cool colors in your design.


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