Summary of Chapter 4 and 5 of “Animated Storytelling” by Liz Blazer
In Chapter 4 of “Animated Storytelling” Liz Blazer demonstrates how color is a very powerful element in any animation. Used correctly, the element of color is just as powerful as sound in your story telling. It can create rhythm, structure, mood, accentuate important points in the story and even express feeling beyond the characters movements and script. But before we jump into that, lets do a quick review on how color measurement and vocabulary in film is different from other mediums such as print and web.
First, broadcast, video and film use the RGB spectrum of color. This is the richest spectrum as it emulates vision, white light passing through a spectrum to create range. Print and web are limited both by ink pigments and monitor reproduction using the CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black) and Hexadecimal (RRGGBB) value spectrum for consistency. That said, there are three distinct measurements in RGB:
- Hue: Common color name, examples: Red, Blue, Green. Think of a basic 32 pack set of crayons.
- Saturation: The intensity or purity of color. Highly saturated colors look vibrant.
- Value: The relative lightness or darkness of a color. How much light the color is exposed to determines its value.
Blazer explains that creating a “color script” is essential to the storyboarding process. You or your design team need to be deliberate about color selection. That can be done in production and post production but the plan needs to be there in pre-production. Often, if you are working on a commercial project, the client will have an existing color palette in their style guide that you can draw from for your piece. The color script should emphasize key moments. Use color to move the story along, similarly to how we used ‘beats” in previous chapters. Below is a color script created by Lou Romano for the PIXAR animated movie “The Incredibles” in 2003-2004. Color was so important in this movie’s process that they began working on the color scripts in 2000 and they were original done in watercolor. If you want to see this in action, check out the amazing use of color and motion in the final credits of “The Incredibles”
Now that we are conscious of color. There are a few guidelines that we should consider as we infuse our story with color:
- Limit your palette – Don’t distract the viewer’s eye, use color to support the story not just create a series of beautiful pictures.
- Support your subject – Don’t upstage your action or subject with overuse of color in your compositions and backgrounds.
- Select One Thematic and One Accent Color – Choose a dominant thematic color to unify your entire piece and a color to compliment it.
- Use Saturation Mindfully – Use saturation in important places and moments when you need a character or story point to pop.
- Use Surprise Color for Punctuation – You may strategically introduce a surprise or jarring color at a key moment for plot emphasis.
- Design For Movement – In your compositions, colors in your still elements should not compete with moving ones.
- Make Your Own Rules – These are just tried and true rules of thumb, but every project is different. Feel free to experiment and if it works, go with it.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better” – Samuel Beckett
And speaking of experimentation, Learning how to “fail better” is a perfect segue into Chapter 5 of the book. Blazer encourages us to make “bad art”. This means to not be afraid to create something unpleasing to the eye. To experiment with different styles and techniques until you find the right way to animate a piece or communicate an idea. Do not just experiment with color, test movements, materials, lighting, makeup. Your “mistakes” are an important part of the process, known in corporate circles as “research and development”, your next mistake , the leaning tower of pizza, may be the next breakthrough to genius. Note: the digital age is wonderful and so forgiving, just make sure you back-up and save a copy of your original work before you ruin it. Just kidding, kind of.
Work at the edge of your skill set. Work in your area of expertise, but always try new things that make you uncomfortable within that medium. Things that make you think..”Oh no… that may be too advanced for me” or “Oh no….that may take me forever” That is exactly where you need to be all the time. Go channel your inner Bob Ross and make that shiny little world, with some happy trees and maybe some snow caps in the distance, whatever you imagine in animation….it is possible.
Make the work you want to be hired to do. Include personal and experimental projects in your portfolio. Do not allow yourself or others to define and limit what your potential is. Recently I was doing some research on stop motion photography and came across a company called Sumo Science (post here), 8 years ago, they did this “Fluid Test”. Since then, they have gone on to set two world records in animation and a bunch of award winning work.
Now that you’ve had a little pep talk on color and commitment, go out there and make some eyes sore! Or better yet some eyes soar. Rock on.
Shawn is an Information Technology manager in Washington D.C. and a graduate student at Quinnipiac University pursuing his masters in Interactive Media and Communications.
Blazer, L. (2016). Animated storytelling : simple steps for creating animation & motion graphics. San Francisco, CA: Peachpit Press.
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