Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cold and garish

There are always two or three subjects in my head and usually I don’t have the time to put them down before the next one comes up. So I lose interest in some and keep being intrigued by others without ever having written anything about any of them.

I have to admit that I become somewhat obsessed with looking at certain things from all possible angles. More often than not I get carried away with studying and lose track of what I wanted to write about in the first place. Sometimes I come to a point where I forget about that first impression that got me interested in a phenomenon at all and I’m not even sure how I feel about it. This is usually the moment when I reconsider everything and decide not to write about it at all. It’s my own unsatisfying way of procrastination, because when you try to find out all about something you’re never done and in the case of blogging this means you never get around to writing the post.

In case you followed my 101 Dalmatians posts you might have noticed that I haven’t written about “Hell Hall” yet, although I announced it at least twice. I always wanted to find out first why I liked the color combination of magenta and turquoise there but not in more recent films.

Pink light illuminates the otherwise cold hideout of the bad guys. The cold colors that haven't been used in any other part of the movie so far succeed in conveying an eerie mood.

It first bothered me when I saw The Lion King in 1994. I was 16 at the time and besides my disappointment in the animation department, I was almost outraged by the “can you feel the love tonight” sequence. It thought it was a weak song, the characters looked strange and most of all the color scheme was not to my taste at all, to put it mildly. I wished pastel colors were banned from animation forever.

Simba’s escapist exile is rendered in the most saturated warm colors one can imagine. He has just recognized his former best friend and future love interest as the sun is setting. This provides a natural transition from warm to cold colors as is seen in the the above panel of screenshots.
But the problem weren’t pastel colors per se (which I didn’t mind in Cinderella or even the kitsch-Beethoven sequence in Fantasia). Technically a fairly saturated magenta is no pastel color since it’s neither soft nor pale.

The problem was, that for me it introduced color combinations into feature film territory that were popular in the worst kind of TV cartoon shows. Of course, this is all a matter of taste and reviewing the sequence the other day I was surprised how much worse it could have been done, but nevertheless, this was the sequence that paved the way for a monstrosity like Pocahontas where unnatural saturation seemed to be the main concept.

They literally tumble into a world of cold but quite saturated colors. On all of these pictures the characters are in the shadow and not even darker than the lush background but also less saturated. As is expected in a night time setting, all background colors contain blue. Magenta, blue and turquoise are close neighbors on the color wheel. Natural earthtones are almost absent from all of these backgrounds. This color scheme doesn’t look cheap or random but the mood it evokes with violet trees and turquoise logs makes me feel uncomfortable, but unfortunately this is all very subjective. It just feels fake and highly unnatural to me which obviously couldn't have been the intention here.

As I have stated here, character hues have been increasingly affected by lighting situations in Disney movies, especially following the "renaissance" of 1989. The Little Mermaid is a picture I'll be referring to time and again in the context of the 2009 "rebirth" of hand drawn animation. The one thing that Mermaid doesn't lack is variety of color schemes:

 These two images illustrate the same basic principles: pink light in the lair of the villain on the left, the absence of sunlight (thus the bluish gray overtone) that results in red becoming magenta and green looking turquoise.

Well, today John K. has probably said all about the subject of garish colors. But I think there is so much more to it than just plain bad taste and garishness, and the promotional material for The Princess and the Frog provides me with the perfect excuse to go on about it.

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