Thursday, August 28, 2008

Color in 101 Dalmatians: 3. Cruella DeVil

I know this has been long overdue, but I hope people are still checking back here...

In plain daylight

Before we leave “the married couple’s house” for good, I’d like to fill in the blanks of the last couple posts: Enter Cruella and her companion – the color red.

For once we share Pongo’s point of view peeking through the living room window. The outside world surrounding the white pigeons looks quiet and peaceful. Bright daylight reveals neutral greys and browns. In the greenish shadow area we are inconspicuously reminded of the existence of cars in this story’s world (a first in a Disney feature, excluding package features).
So out of this scarcely saturated green shadow comes a flamboyantly exaggerated sports car whose rich burgundy body makes the red pillar box in front of the window look pale by comparison. The high contrast tires, radiator grill and headlights draw our attention away from the dark cockpit.

Perdi is promptly hiding when the car arrives, instinctively or because she (as Anita’s dog) knew her already. Upon seeing her car (“must be Cruella, your dearly devoted old school mate”), Roger closes the curtains to visually shut her out (the lighting doesn’t change, but we feel more protected). After Roger has started singing, he too hides, leaving Pongo and Anita to deal with the excentric woman. This always reminded me of the introduction of Monstro the Whale. It always works to generate anticipation of a character’s awfulness by having other characters hide at the sound of his/her name.

Of course Nanny has to get the door. After she is squeezed for the first time (this is gonna be a running gag), she also must be hiding somewhere, as she’s never seen during
Cruella’s rant.

The first we see of Cruella is her silhouette perfectly framed by the front door glass window. The first time, the door area is a little on the green side, in the next shot of the same BG it is almost earthly brown. The important thing here is, that the door is in the shadow and the outside is brighter than the inside, yet parts of the walls are in a faint pool of light. In spite of all that, Cruella is not seen in silhouette (darker than the surrounding background area) but brighter than anything else.

So the first time we see her, we learn that she likes a theatrical entrance. There is nothing of the sinister dignity of, say, Cinderella’s stepmother or Maleficent. Cruella always has to stand in the spotlight. She herself is very much like an angular and skinny version of Nanny with black and white hair and a black dress. But her massive, heavy beige fur almost obscures her grey skin, so she actually looks like a walking fur coat with red hands and feet. The grey outside behind her is slightly on the green side.

As if to make way for her, yellowish green cigarette smoke precedes her in bullying Anita and Pongo. It’s interesting how Roger’s white (therefore not nasty) smoke never bothers anybody during the film. We see immediately that Cruella is into fashion (from the car to the cigarette) and not humble about it. She must have money to fulfil her selfish needs. She is not the family type and therefore no good by the other characters’ standards.

Like the red of her shoes and gloves, acid green is completely absent from the rest of the films color palette.

It’s very interesting how Cruella is always in the pool of light pushing everybody else out of it. From the moment she arrives, Anita is pushed to the side, making her reside on the sofa (her favourite spot). Yet Pongo cannot go back to his spot on the window sill and is driven into the corner by her. Sitting in the shadow he is considerably darker than Cruella. Although the Dalmatian is still perceived as white (and much lighter than the background), he is considerably darker than Cruella’s hair and even than her coat. The ring on her finger really stands out (bottom left).

In this beautiful, digitally re-created pan (taken from the old DVD version) by Rob Richards (Animation Backgrounds) we can not only see how the sofa and the armchair are highlighted by value, but also, that the different sides of the living room are strictly distinguished by color, making orientation easier for the viewer. Inkeeping with Anita’s general appearance, her favourite spot is rather sober with clear design, whereas the Dalmatians (and obviously Roger’s) chair is warm, orange and padded. The sofa reads because of its high value even if it’s in the shadowy area of the living room. Opposites are further strengthened by a green and dark orange pillow respectively. This is the pan used for the couple’s dancing after Cruella’s exit.

I generally think that it is paramount to include characters in analyzing background styling or composition, because that’s what these pictures were designed for and the only way audiences will ever see them on screen. However, Rob Richards excellent re-constructions are invaluable because it’s always a special treat to see those backgrounds (especially the larger pans) as only the artists could have seen them previously.

But back to Cruella, because wherever she’s at, it’s all about her, no doubt. To enhance the stage entrance experience she not only stands in the spotlight but is also framed by the burnt orange curtain. She actually behaves like on the catwalk. There’s always some slightly green object next to her, making the red stand out even more. Be it a book, her ring, often a plant or a pillow.

I think it’s especially clever to just make the interior of the coat red, so she can be high contrast and keep her fury under the hood, too. Whenever she makes sudden rushes, we see flashes of red. Usually this concurs with specifically selfish behaviour, like when she says: “[furs are] my only true love, darling, I live for furs, I worship furs”. She’s totally engulfed by her coat, it’s like her second skin. I love how they gave it two different reds to achieve depth without further shading.

In terms of saturation, Anita has simply become part of the background, we don’t even notice her at first. Cruella is so much stronger. The cigarette is held in negative colors: turquoise and purple, while the turquoise ring looks almost blue compared to the green pillow (it’s always the context that defines our perception of a color.

The black and white version not only reminds us how close in value all of the background is compared to the high contrast Cruella, but also how much effect the hues have. The curtain, gloves and cigarette are only distinguishable by their red.

Here Pongo is still hiding behind the (now much darker) sofa while Cruella passes by in the pool of light. Her shoes appear to be much more saturated than everything else.

On her way out, again Cruella slams the door and is framed by the front door window (the same BG with the plant on the left). In fact, she really had to stand out to make an impression, considering that she was only on screen for almost exactly two minutes.

Not long after my last post in this s
eries, Michael Sporn pointed out these layout plans for “the married couple’s house”, apparently approved by Ken Anderson:

It partly solves the mystery of Cruella’s entrance to the kitchen, even if it raises more questions about a room supposedly lying between the living room and the kitchen, which doesn’t seem to be existent in the movie.

At night
Cruella’s next appearance is also limited to little over 2 minutes. Of course, this economy of screen time helped Marc Davis to be able to animate her all alone through the film.
In sequence 3 the windows are repeatedly illuminated by lightning. Yet as a kind of anticipation to Cruella’s surprise visit, the lights inside the room go down a little and a lightning followed by an immediate voltage drop makes all the characters (Pongo first, as he is our narrator) turn their heads to a previously unseen door on the right behind Roger’s chair.

This is about the only shot that almost falls out of the theatrical setup as the camera is on a much lower angle. Yet contrary to the front door, we just see one solid color behind Cruella, so we’ll never know what’s outside this backdoor.

The special effects in this sequence are quite imaginative. During the lightning flash for a few frames only, we see Cruella as a complete silhouette while the BG is just darkened in. Apart from that, Cruella is again completely in the light (the fixed lighting from before has been adjusted to spotlight the backdoor). Her beige coat stands out even more against the blue surroundings.

Now the wall behind her is a lot darker than before. There is simply no pool of light anymore. Again Cruella looks more like a walking fur coat, as her grey skin color doesn’t contrast too well with the rest. These three frames show some strong lines of action by the way. The red lining is mostly concealed now.

It’s also interesting how the beige clothed puppy is much less saturated than before, because again, Cruella is dominating everything.

The inside of Cruella’s purse is also red. Her head is always in the shadow part of the BG. Her beige coat makes her look much stronger than Roger who with his bleak green and brown is closer in value to the background. But Roger has to face her this time. With the ink spots, he even looks like a human equivalent of Pongo as he is reluctantly articulating what Pongo would say to Cruella, could he speak. Like so many times in this movie, Roger seems almost paralyzed.

After Cruella has taken in that Roger indeed is not going to sell the puppies (“that’s final”) she gets really angry and completely loses her temper. Look at her coat and her hair. The red lining flashes while tearing the cheque.
The only hint at a different lighting in the kitchen at night is (apart from the usual shot to shot variations), that Cruella’s skin tone is measurably darker than in sequence 2. Her ring and ci
garette are bluer. This might be an adjustment because now she is facing a green Roger, while she was performing opposite a blue clad Anita earlier, or it may have just happened during color correction. Like always, we can only guess why certain things came out the way they did.
After that, Cruella smashes the door off screen and Pongo is barking at her until lightning strikes again. After that, Roger and Anita never see the “Devil woman” in person again.

All in all, her second appearance can be seen as an escalation of the first. She not only gets more out of control (she’s contradicted by a “sir gall
ahad”) but also breaks the glass (foreshadowing the many broken windows of Hell Hall). Colorwise, her fur is contrasting the blue stronger than the brown of the living room. Her appearance in front of a black plane is also more dramatic than in front of the pale grey outside. This time she didn’t even ring the bell before she entered.

the flipside of the coin (hiding in the dark)

In sequence 5 we are introduced to the Baduns out in the street. Although they come by car and are silhouetted by the front door window similar to Cruella, their intruding is quite different from Cruella’s. As we have already seen in post 02, they are much less self-assured and basically sneak and hide avoiding every spotlight.

This time it’s night with considerably more light outside. We see their size relations in silhouette. Again Nanny has to get the door and gets squeezed behind it.

Now there I am comparing again: I’ve been stating on different occasions that the skin colors (saturation/general hue) remain relatively unaffected by different lighting (there have to be obvious differences in value, of course). Now look at the frame from the old DVD: it looks as if it were either lit by blue light or more likely was color timed and tinted blue in postproduction. In this analysis I go with the restoration, but we never know if this color timing (on the left) was planned all along or just occurred in later re-release prints. It is also possible that some color concepts have been exaggerated/”corrected” by the restoration team.

Anyway, the point I want to emphasize here is, that whereas Nanny’s skin remains fairly saturated, the Baduns’ complexion is much more affected by lighting. Their eyes are white, grey, green, yellow, salmon, whatever suits a shot.

Note how the curtain now frames Nanny. While her dress in the dark and shadow (the pool of light is not extending to that part of the room) are more or less the same, in the 2000 edition everything looked more or less blue, with little subtlety in the grey/brown dichotomy.

To make sure, Nanny’s skin looks rosy in the upstairs music room, similar to her complexion seen from outside the door. But Jasper is dark, almost grey. Nanny’s achromatic clothes make the desaturated room look subtly blue.

A villain's natural environment

In sequence 6, a female voice rambles about the stolen puppies in a mock empathic voice. Only the yellowish green smoke (Cruella’s Leitmotiv) tell us that this is Cruella, who subsequently laughs her head off about Roger and Anita. We see her for the first time in her “natural environment”. She’s now wearing a black fur coat with purple ribbons to make her grey skin stand out more. Moreover this is completely in keeping with the general black and white concept of sequence 6. Now her surroundings are unsurprisingly painted in shades of red.

The framing red curtain of the four-poster bed looks quite heavy, whereas the ugly pink sheets and cushion combined with the salmon colored pillow look pretty eccentric. Combine this with a few lilac stockings and other laundry carelessly hanging all around and you’ve got the perfect single diva bedroom. Again the props around the bed tell us that she’s a chain smoker and that fashion and decadence are what her life is all about. This really is a departure from similar shots of Cinderella’s stepmother in her typically stylized violet room. Cruella looks more like a selfish human being than a cold menacing force. A heavy picture frame hanging tilted from the maroon wall gives the room an ancient heaviness. Again this is seen in natural light. The wooden posts, the nightstand and the papers are all grey. This balances the composition and makes the strong colors look even more saturated.

Of course her telephone is glaring red (next to a green bottle for complementary balance). In a later shot, the eyes on the telephone are also red. This may be by accident but it also makes sense since the phone now is less important than Cruella’s dialling with her cigarette holder (which is very in character). Again she’s present for almost 2 minutes, with much less time (barely a minute) onscreen though, as half of the sequence we just hear her voice over the phone. We never get to see more than this single bedroom of her house.

When the Baduns call her, we get a very constricted glimpse at their whereabouts. It gets tight for the Baduns and we sense this immediately. They even stand in the shadow at home. This is one of those rare instances where talking characters are silhouetted. They must be standing in the shadow because their eyes are much darker than at night. Additionally, even the shadow areas of the BG are lighter. Note that the silhouettes are never solid black in this movie. This BG is composed of warm and cold greys like the kitchen later in this sequence.
What’s most interesting to me is, that every room’s dominant color so far has reflected the inhabitant’s feelings or colors, yet the Baduns’ room is completely colorless even in these expository (and only) shots.

This not only ties them visually to the Dalmatians, it also leads to the assumption that they don’t have a color of their own. This room doesn’t represent anything at all. They simply blend in everywhere. They are shadow creatures who adapt to any circumstances. This is further supported by the fact, that their skin color is not as constant as the other human characters’. Earlier, we saw them drain color from a formerly warm living room, now they are where they live, in a completely colorless environment. We don’t get a hint at where they are!


It was nothing groundbreaking for a Disney film to introduce red with the clothes of a villain (think of the coach driver to Pleasure Island, Cinderella’s Stepmother, the Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook). There were also villainesses who hid their violet clothes under a heavy black cloak (the Wicked Queen, Maleficent), but still they were associated more with darkness than anything else.

Cruella’s color model thus was quite a departure from those conventions. Like an eccentric diva, she always has to stand in the spotlight and (because of her fur coat) is always brighter than anybody else in the shot. She doesn’t have to be clad in red to make an impression. Red only dominates when she whirls around and we see the lining of her coat.

It totally works that her skin is grey, since after she entered the Pongos’ lives everything gets grey and lifeless (in sequence 6). Except for Cruella’s bedroom, The living room is still the least grey and most hopeful location. It’s where life is, after all. It now makes sense that Anita is wearing green because that makes her the most distant from Cruella’s bedroom by complementary colors. She used to be blue in a beige surrounding, blue in a beige surrounding and now green in a red/pink surrounding (if you see it in the context of the sequence of course).

We have also seen that sequences 2 and 3 are split into two halves all which are symmetrically constructed.

The Baduns may be introduced similarly to Cruella (car, silhouette in door), but they are the antithesis of her in more or less every conceivable way. Where she is always standing in the spotlight, they prefer to stay in the shadow. There is no real color to represent them, they are just shadows thems

It’s interesting to see how much of the light and darkness concept is already there in Bill Peet’s story sketches. His boards of the first two encounters with Cruella are reprinted in John Canemaker’s Paper Dreams and can be seen online on Michael Sporn’s Splog (scroll down). While Peet doesn’t claim to have had a hand in the color styling, he always felt that Cruella was at least as much his creation as Marc Davis’, as can be witnessed in his sometimes bitter and provocative answers to John Province also published in Walt’s People Volume 3. There’s also a nice text about Cruella by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas in their book about Disney Villains, where Peet is mentioned right in the beginning. It’s funny how many of the stills in this book have been color corrected to make Cruella’s grey skin look more natural.

Color reference (not scientifically checked):
All screenshots are from Platinum Edition DVD, RC: 2, 2008 unless otherwise stated. All the pictures are the property of Disney, used here for educational purposes.
Sequences labelled according to the final draft (posted by Hans Perk) and Mark Mayerson’s mosaics

Friday, August 22, 2008

Inbetween II

Here are some color studies based on a photo I took in a nature park last year. This setting intrigued me because the tree in the foreground kind of divides the picture into two separate framings.
These value sketches are all based on the pencil sketch (bottom left). As you can see, I'm far more comfortable with a pencil than a brush...
Pencil and Photoshop

Acrylic (based on a slightly different sketch)

acrylic and pastels

sky color adjusted in Photoshop

Although I have always been interested in studying color and painting, most of the time I’m shying away from actually trying my hand at painting. So these studies didn’t quite turn out the way I imagined them, I sure need some more exercise with brushes and pastels.


fineliner and Photoshop (completely flat planes with only one shading layer)

Monday, August 18, 2008

French Auteurs in CGI

Last week I have seen two French films that use computer generated 3D animation in explicitly non-photo-realistic ways. I finally managed to see Azur et Asmar (a synopsis can be found here) which has been around for almost two years now. In addition to that, I had the opportunity to see Skhizein – one of my Annecy favorites – again on the big screen. Both of them deal with delicate subject matter. As different as they may be stylistically, they display a few substantial similarities. For one thing, both of them rely heavily on straight front and side views as well as integration of two-dimensional elements.

Jérémy Clapin’s Skhizein tells the story of a lonely man who is exactly 91cm besides himself. This premise is taken seriously as we share the protagonist’s perspective. Although it allows for some amusing scenes, we always empathize with the misunderstood man. The escalating schizophrenic episodes feel neither ridiculous nor sentimental. Right from the beginning we are completely immersed in his distorted world. The tension then builds carefully with perfect timing and pacing.

A lot of shots are either head-on or bird’s eye. These strict setups reduce the three dimensional space to mere planes, so we can clearly see the 91cm distance between the protagonist and his world. Un-hasty camera moves and occasionally different angles support the atmospheric narrative flow gently.

Although the character looks quite different from the sets, we accept him as part of the 3D world without difficulty. His simple two-dimensional face is mounted on a 3D ball which works perfectly. Also his head is much bigger than the rest of his body due to the fact that this is all in his head.

I believed in this stylized character much more than in Michel Ozelot’s stiff “princes”. In fact, the awkward character animation prevented me from enjoying this modern fairy tale all that much. Nevertheless, I found it highly interesting and sometimes stunningly beautiful.

It is definitely worth a closer look because stiff animation may only be the most obvious reason why Azur et Asmar is less accessible to general audiences than traditional fairy tales. Contrary to films like Snow White (or even Skhizein, for that matter) we are not asked to identify with either of the characters. Ozelot escapes the pitfalls of psychological realism by adhering to abstract types rather than specific individuals. Relatively generic character design and stilted voice acting are further emphasizing this distancing effect.

Most of the time, the movie feels as emotionally distancing as an oriental version of Brecht’s epic theatre. The simple story is told in a manner that prevents immersion. We as spectators are required to critically look upon the characters’ action and draw our own conclusions. Simple as it looks on the surface, this is a fairy tale with a complex message at its heart. As a result, I found myself questioning my own (unexpected) reaction to ethnic stereotypes throughout the movie. In the beginning, I automatically thought of Azur as an arrogant brat, mainly based on his aristocratic origin and his racist father, although he looked and acted absolutely the same as Asmar (his Arab foster brother). The downside of this is that the plot is becoming increasingly uninteresting.

There are other things to marvel at, though. While the characters’ plastic doll faces have not been working for me, I still liked the fact that their clothes were mainly flat color planes without any shading or outlines. It is interesting, how Michel Ozelot sticks to his trademark side, front and sometimes ¾ views even in 3D. I couldn’t help thinking how wonderful this film could have been, had it been made with cut-out figures. Often, Lotte Reiniger’s Prinz Achmed comes to mind, which certainly is no coincidence given Ozelot’s past.

Being a movie about tolerance, it has to address questions of belief. It does so by contrasting (fictitious) superstitions rather than religion. Although we see the Arab world from a distinctly Western point of view, we don’t share Azur’s perspective for two reasons: first of all, he speaks French and Arab, yet we never get subtitles for the Arab dialogue. Secondly, Azur chooses to be blind while exploring the Arab world, because his blue eyes would offend the locals.

This is exploited by the talkative Crapoux, a character who is visually fairly different from the rest. He looks at everything from a frustrated Frenchman’s perspective, his whole life is based on lies. So he actually has a more specific face, with eyes hidden behind heavy glasses and clothes textured with dirt. I’d even say, he was animated differently, more cartoony.

It’s symptomatic that he complains that “they have no grey” while being carried through a vibrantly colorful marketplace. Sometimes there are more saturated primary and secondary colors competing for attention than I have ever seen on a movie screen before. Somehow this is in-keeping with the basic theme that everybody may be different yet no one (color) should be favoured. Although at times I was hopelessly lost in terms of where to look at, there are some beautiful compositions involving geometric shapes and a wealth of details. The more muted settings seem to be associated with poor people.

In the most stylized scenes there are touching and strikingly beautiful moments, for example, when Azur opens his eyes to prove his identity to his foster mother or when the fairy of the Djinns illuminates the hall of obscurity.

Both of these films show us what might be possible in CG animation (without even attempting subtle acting) with the necessary restrictions and a strong personal style.

Jérémy Clapin’s website

Skhizein: official site

Clapin’s Une histoire vertebrale (backbone story) on youtube

Azur et Asmar: English official site

While both of these films are clearly targeted at adults, the Arabian Nights feel of Azur et Asmar might also attract younger children. In fact, if you look at the English trailer, it comes across more like a low-budget Prince of Egypt than a poetic tale in the tradition of Cocteau’s la Belle et la Bête (1946).

Ozelot’s Prince et Princesse on youtube

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Complementary colors

A friend showed me a link to this online applet:

As we all know, two colors are complementary if they cancel each other out, i.e. they produce grey when mixed equally. If you play around with it you’ll notice that if, for example, you enter the RGB code for Anita’s shirt, you’ll see that its RGB complementary color is blue. Obviously, you get the same effect, if you invert the picture in Photoshop (ctrl + i). But, as you may know, complementary colors are different for each basic color model. If you invert the same picture in the CMYK mode, you’ll get completely different complementary colors.

To make sure we are talking about the same thing, I’d like to define how I normally use the term “complementary color”.

When we refer to complementary colors, traditional artists usually think of pairs like red – green, blue – orange, yellow – purple. These are based on the subtractive RYB model of primary colors red, yellow, blue. As you can see in the color wheel, a primary color is opposite to the secondary color mixed by the other two primaries.

This same principle is true for the additive RGB model (red, green, blue):
red vs. cyan
(mix of blue and green)
green vs. magenta
(mix of blue and red)
blue vs. yellow (mix of red and green)

Sometimes red and green (RYB) are called complementary while red and cyan (RGB) are called negative colors. In order to avoid confusion I will adhere to this distinction. (So the wackerart-applet above gives you the negative colors.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mr Fun

Just a quick note: the address of Floyd Norman's Blog "Mr. Fun" has slightly changed. You'll find it here:

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Color in 101 Dalmatians: 2. In a different light

Although I’ve expressed my reservations about the way Disney digitally restores their masterpieces, my analysis is based exclusively on the 2008 restoration for consistency reasons (and because it positively looks superior to the previous DVD). In some cases I will consult the old edition just to remind you that the best looking version doesn’t necessarily have to be the most accurate.
Large parts of sequences 4, 5, 6 and 17 (the happy ending) take place within the kitchen and the living room (established in preceding sequences). Here, I explore the differences in lighting. As the story progresses, color schemes are not as clear-cut anymore.
So far I’ve been analyzing almost exclusively high key lighted scenes. So first I’d like to write about a few concepts involving value. Since the Dalmatians are black and white, they are predestined for studying some basic concepts that can be found in many animated films. To make it easier to focus on value I have converted all of these examples to grayscale pictures

Character values

“It’s a matter of what the mood is supposed to be. For instance, if there’s a character working in the shadows, maybe it would be good to have a darker character. You know it’s the same one because the silhouette will tell you what he is, and the colors, though subdued, will still identify the character. And then in order to make it read, of course, you have to have the background a little bit lighter behind him. In a reverse situation, where we have a light value character, it will have to work against a darker background. A character is […] either generally a silhouette or generally lighter than the background they’re working on. And it depends upon what kind of mood you want, how you paint it.”
Al Dempster, 1972 (WP5, p.277)
Except for the church scene we haven’t seen silhouettes so far, because the first three sequences were basically done in high key lighting. Even so, the Dalmatians’ values change quite a bit from shot to shot. Normally, Pongo is slightly darker than Perdita. When they appear as parents though, they are usually equally treated.
Now look at Pongo crawling under the stove: whenever we see his backside (which faces the unseen light source), the whole dog is almost white (providing the lightest value in the picture, with the head and the black ears forming the area of highest contrast). Now the reverse angle (middle picture) shows us the shadow side, therefore the whole character is darker than the pool of light behind him. But in relation to the dark area under the stove we still perceive him as a white dog. The closer Pongo gets to Perdi (completely in the shadow), the darker he gets. This is only possible because we always cut to reverse angles in between. We’ll see this throughout the picture (and to a lesser degree in all the Xerox features). As we have seen earlier, due to the high key lighting the characters don’t need cast shadows to be tied to a background. So if the larger part of a character is in the shadow, the whole character is dark. This treatment of shadows replaced the tedious process of animating and superimposing cast shadows as can be seen in earlier features like Cinderella or Alice in Wonderland. In this film, cast shadows and double exposure are only used for two or three standout occasions where they are absolutely necessary.
Although we are again in a theatrical setting (not even windows), sequence 4 basically consists of a series of shots and reaction shots, which is a purely filmic technique. While the room was supposed to be illuminated by exterior daylight in sequence 2, the curtains are closed now and the TV set seems to be the only light source (look at the pool of light between TV and Dalmatians in group reaction shots). Thus, the room is darker, the colors more subdued. For the first time, there is no hint at outside lighting. We enter and exit on a dissolve to an up close TV screen.
Apart from shadows, this is a clear example of hierarchy of values: Even in a freeze frame we can’t help looking at the TV where the contrast of value is strongest. But the dogs themselves are pretty close in value to their surroundings and thus seem to blend in. In other words: they are passive, while the TV “actors” are active. It is interesting that the two puppies who actively look to the screen (“come on, Thunderbolt”) are a little lighter than the others. This may be unintentionally caused by cel overlay, but as we’ll see throughout the film, there are always deliberately different shades of white to prevent the puppy group from becoming flat.

This sequence feels like a contemporary equivalent of the familiar “dinner table scene”, where we get to know the relationships among individual family members. This whole sequence is only possible because the humans are absent. Normally the puppies are a little lighter than their parents, because they are much smaller.

Although we get to know some of them as (one-dimensional) individuals throughout this sequence, they are generally treated as a group character. Note, how Patch – the cheeky one – is always absent in group shots where his patch would stand out if re-used. For once generic design makes sense both economically and artistically.

Excursus on restoration
I’d like to compare a few shots from the two available DVD versions in order to remind you of the fact that we have to be conscious of what we are analyzing. Keep in mind that the older inferior transfer looks like it was done from a somewhat faded re-release print and therefore everything is a little on the magenta side. In this example we see that the color of the cel overlay has been corrected, the matchlines are retained though. While I would agree that such minor cosmetics are true to the artists original intentions, it nevertheless makes it harder to look at the film from a historical perspective. But look at the following two shots near the beginning and the end of this sequence (2008 version):
The cels have obviously been painted differently, some of them have even been cleaned up differently (look at Perdi). But look at the ashtray on top of the TV. It has changed from turquoise to mauve for no apparent reason.
And to my surprise in the old version it stays turquoise throughout the sequence. Of course this may have no impact on the overall impression of the background, yet I’m curious why someone would do this on purpose.The important difference between these (virtually) identical shots is that in the second one (with the black TV) we notice Pongo and Perdi looking at each other as an anticipation of their telling the kids to go to bed. Even though we have seen the exact same animation earlier, we didn’t pay attention because the TV was much more attractive. Therefore, it makes sense, that the puppies aren’t brighter than their parents. I’m not sure, if the lighting difference was supposed to be as strong as in the old DVD version. Compared to sequence 2, the living room looks less tidy. We can see that this is the puppies’ playground (slippers, ball, paper on the floor). Like in Roger’s music room, all the objects are painted in their respective color even in the dark area around the TV as if to contrast the bright black and white serial on the screen.

In the establishing shot for Sequence 5 the human characters are only seen in dark silhouette while the white dogs stand out a bit more. We then dissolve to a medium shot with the focus still on the dogs. But the dark clothed (in very subdued complementary colors) humans aren’t silhouettes anymore (they are not in the shadow). They then pass a grey car with silhouetted figures behind large newspapers. Again we dissolve to a closer shot of the same scene (as if our focus shifted) where the hands are “normally” skin colored. As the papers are lowered we discover two crooked figures watching Roger and Anita closely. Their overall brown appearance contrasts with the cold gray background.
This introductory scene shows the Baduns in their most normal color. Even despite their darkness they are highlighted against the background. As they approach the house, they are silhouetted again, because we have to recognize the now highlighted window (and mustn’t pay attention to the rotoscoped dummies inside the van). Like in previous sequences, window colors are used to connect parts of a façade to interior rooms. Surprisingly this time, the living room window seems to be connected directly to the kitchen.

Swapping colors

The layout tells us we are in the kitchen (actually we see the wall next to the where Cruella came in), but the room looks neither blue nor cold. Even though we have seen it at night in sequence 3, the supposedly artificial light is now rather ochre than white. This affects the tile floor and the brick walls alike, but not the characters. To prevent them from falling out of the picture, the backgrounds are balanced by desaturated areas of pine green. This provides the warmest environment for the puppies just before they are taken out into the cold. Again we see logical value changes from shot to shot. The most dramatic lighting (and framing) occurs in the middle picture when Nanny sees the puppies for the last time.

When Nanny discovers that the puppies have been stolen, the kitchen looks just a little less vivid. We also learn from the calendar behind her head, that Christmas is near and it’s going to be even colder outside. Here we have more “odd geography” that works perfectly from a filmic point of view: When the Baduns ring the bell, Nanny goes off to the right and enters the hallway from the left which looks totally natural (of course the orange window was on the left of the door, but inside it should be laterally reversed), yet when she discovers the theft, she leaves the kitchen again to the right and enters the living room from the left (like it was established in sequence 2). But both work perfectly because the hallway and the living room are held in the same color.
In sequence 5, the living room is also inverted. All the lights are off, because there is no one there (of course the characters could switch one of the numerous lights on, but they don’t want to spoil the mood). All the large shapes are rendered in tones of the same bluish gray hue. The arbitrary, faint pool of light that makes the silhouetted Jasper visible could be interpreted as coming from the window. Again, the details are in the line work but not painted distinctly, as it is harder to distinguish details in the dark. Although the almost neutrally brown floor prevents the BGs from becoming monochrome, there is absolutely no warmth left in the living room or Roger’s music room. Now all the parts of the house except the kitchen are unified by the absence of light.
We unexpectedly see the connecting corridor between living and music room as well as the window (the one that was always hinted at by the hanging binoculars) we know from the outside. Note how even the Baduns’ ghoulish skin color reads as brown against the bluish gray of the background. Nanny’s shadow side is considerably bluer than her neutral appearance.
Here again, it pays off to have the two rooms in such different lighting/color conditions. We don’t even have to recognize the door or see the movement in Horace’s bag to know where he’s coming from. While it might not be the most common thing to have a swinging door in your apartment, it certainly helps here. Whatever side a character comes from, he never has to break the dynamics of a run in order to pull the door open.
Outside vs Inside
Since all the lights are off, the hallway now is even darker than the foggy dusk outside. So inside, Jasper is blending in better. This makes sense as he is a burglar whose goal is not to be seen in the dark. According to this, Nanny’s skin color is much paler when affected by bleak exterior light.

As we have seen in sequence 3, if a character looking/coming through a door/window is the important part of a shot, we hardly ever get to see, what’s behind it. A uni-colored area without visually distracting details serves the purpose much better. We see right away that: it’s dark inside (left), it’s foggy blue outside (middle), she’s coming out of the kitchen (right).Of course, it’s hardly possible to have just a pale blue, flat area behind Jasper, when there’s nothing else around him. So the foggy feeling is created by values that are close to each other. This looks downright dull (which makes sense, because it shouldn’t catch our eye) compared to what Nanny sees when she’s looking out of Roger’s window: By the time the Baduns’ getaway car drives off, it looks as if the streets were wet. If you look closely, there is nothing in the layout that suggests anything different from what’s seen before. While some live-action cinematographers (e.g. Janusz Kaminski) go to great lengths to water the pavement because this looks considerably more dramatic, Walt Peregoy’s background painters “simply” filled the backgrounds with vertical shapes in different blues and greens to suggest reflections of the buildings, while also serving as a pool of light for the dark van. First the saturated head and tail lights stand out, then we notice faint yellow streetlamps that haven’t been there before.
If you compare the first and last shot of sequence 5, you’ll notice that we practically see the same content, yet the final setup looks much more dramatic with the camera still head-on. While the establishing shot (left) is almost completely symmetrical and shows the streets in central perspective as we have learn to expect it, in the end (right), not only has the sky darkened, but the story has taken a new direction, so to speak. The dark houses are now almost overpowering the silhouetted Nanny, while yellow is provided more by the streetlamps than the windows. Note how the two framing trees are on different planes now. While up to now everything was flat and close to each other, this last shot already foreshadows the depth of the darkness to come. Nothing is safe anymore.

it's a dreary world
However, before the dogs finally leave their home, sequence 6 shows the human way of outside communication: through media and over the phone. First we see a black and white press photo of Nanny in the empty kitchen. At the end of the sequence we then discover that indeed all color (and therefore all life) has vanished from the kitchen. While normal colored humans would have stuck out inside the gray kitchen, the press photos maintain the dreary mood.
Hard white light illuminates the empty basket like a white hole. The overall grey background is achieved by colder and warmer tones according to importance and material. The dogs are almost black, yet we instantly recognize them as Dalmatians rather than Labradors, because of their darkened eye and collar colors. I’m deliberately leaving out Cruella’s and the Badun’s whereabouts, because at the moment I’m mainly interested in Roger and Anita’s home. While we have seen that almost all color is drained from the kitchen, the living room on this gray and rainy day is also less colourful. Again the lighting is influenced by the weather outside the window, again everything is lighted unobtrusively. We accept it as neutral, because the characters retain normal skin tones. Interestingly, blue is mainly absent. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that the (formerly blue) kitchen is gray now.
Although the orange and green pillows are as saturated as in sequence 2, the spread newspaper – it must be the same that Cruella and the Baduns are holding – gives the shot a more neutral overall color. While it fits that Roger and Anita both wear grey shirts at first, it comes as a surprise that Anita suddenly looks green. In the old DVD version, she doesn’t change that much, but the skin color is so off in this sequence that this can hardly pass for reference (you see the difference below. While the predominantly western rule of screen direction (left to right = forward, right to left = backwards) is maintained throughout the film, I think it’s safe to say: While the humans (especially Roger) have turned away from hope, Pongo is still going forward to see if the twilight bark works where Scotland Yard has failed.

The warmth returns
Sequence 17 starts with a radio playing a popular rendition of Roger’s “Cruella DeVil” and ends with Roger actively playing the piano. Even if Anita hadn’t said that Roger’s first hit had made them quite rich, we would have immediately found out from the backgrounds alone. Not only does the fireplace look much more golden, but the whole rendering of the now neat place looks richer. Compared to sequence 2, some of the backgrounds are painted following the layout lines far more precisely. Also there are less arbitrary shapes, so it comes closer to a conventional Disney setting. Although the puppies haven’t returned yet, the living room looks warmer than before, because the orange curtain and furniture are stronger. On top of that, it’s Christmas eve. Yet the characters are still sad. While Roger’s lethargy hasn’t changed, Nanny is still emotional (serving tea like in sequence 2) and Anita again seems to be most down to earth. For her, everyday life has taken over, she even decorates the Christmas tree. Anita’s blue clothes make her stand out color wise like in the beginning.
Nanny still is the most “canine” – as Pongo puts it – as she is always black and white (with a red collar button). No wonder she’s the first to hear the dogs bark.

Sequence 4, 5 and 6 all ended on variations of their respective first shots. These final pictures add noticeable visual depth to initially flat stagings (4: TV characters vs Dalmatians in front of TV screen; 5: flat terrace vs. into the distance; 6: press photo vs. real situation).
Throughout, relatively flat high key lighting without visible light sources makes cast shadows obsolete. Even in the dark, the light is relatively diffuse. The large painted shapes are representational enough to separate shadow from light. In combination with rapid cutting, character’s values can be easily adjusted without changing them within a scene.

Sequence 17 is the only sequence where the living room seems to be lighted by artificial light, since there’s no light coming through the window. Note that the light never comes from one of the many lamps as strong light sources would draw attention to the inexistent cast shadows. Although light bulbs are somewhat warmer in tone than sunlight, this effect is achieved rather by accentuating the warmer colored furniture than by tinting the whole setup with yellow tones, like it is done so often nowadays. There are still balancing turquoise elements and neutral colors. It is only consequential that in full light even smallest details are di
The pure opposite happens, when the Baduns steal the puppies and the living room is totally devoid of light. Therefore we can only identify large shapes. The almost desaturated background color is nevertheless perceived as blue because of the strong ochre tones of the kitchen. In sequence 4 the living room lit by the TV is completely unobtrusive although there are many details visible. It’s always clear that the black and white dogs are part of a varicolored world which is much darker than the TV screen. That leaves us with the telephone scene, where according to the dreary weather neutral and green are emphasized over the warmer aspects of the setting. This of course is subtle. Watching the movie, we constantly accept it as the same living room.
This is a little different with the kitchen: Even though it looked totally blue at night before, it is inverted in sequence 5 to balance the dark blue living room. Later, even all the color is drained from it, to match the bleak emptines
s. The overall grey still consists of warm and cold neutral tones. Interestingly, I used to remember the kitchen as three different rooms because we also get to see it from a different angle every time.

Whatever inside lighting we perceive, it never affects characters skin tones. Of course it gets lighter or darker according to the concepts above, but the hue itself is hardly affected (the Baduns are a special case). This constant lets us perceive the background colors as completely natural even though they are not realistically painted. Speaking of neutral tones: black and white objects (Dalmatians, TV, papers) are always more or less painted in values of gray scale, only slightly affected by ambient hues.

An established color scheme is always consistent during a whole sequence, so it doesn’t attract our attention. It also has to fit all the mood changes within a sequence. The dramatic sequence 5 has a very strong but narrow color scheme (just dark blue and bright ochre). It disorientingly disrupts all the previously established color relations while plot-wise the puppies are stolen. It is framed by quiet sequences with large black and white parts and otherwise subdued normal colors. Obviously, color schemes were planned along the lines of narrative sequences.
Color reference (not scientifically checked):
All screenshots are from Platinum Edition DVD, RC: 2, 2008 unless otherwise stated. All the pictures are the property of Disney, used here for educational purposes.
Sequences labelled according to the final draft (posted by Hans Perk) and Mark Mayerson’s mosaics.