Rare Expressionist Experiments
During the early years of three-strip Technicolor, live-action cinematographers were discouraged from overtly using colored lighting on actors' faces by all-powerful Technicolor advisors like Natalie Kalmus. Although exotic or fantastical sequences (apparently including anything animated) were exempted from most of the rules in Kalmus' "Colour Consciousness", Disney's striving for romantic realism and sincerity encumbered expressionist use of color in his animated films following the failure of FANTASIA (1940).
|Unusual skin tones were mainly reserved for fantasy creatures (FANTASIA).|
In SALUDOS AMIGOS (1942), the seemingly expressionistic colors of different layers of silhouettes add depth cues to an otherwise graphically flat composition. In addition to creating overlap, the values in these dark-on-light compositions draws on our unconscious knowledge that darker silhouettes are more closely to the camera. Therefore, the resulting images look rather impressionistic than expressionistic. In one scene, musicians' hands that look like silhouettes at first glance, turn out to be highly detailed drawings painted in very similar shades of orange. Overall, these colors convey the illusion of a red filter or red lighting.
|Values simulate depth (darker objects appear to be closer).|
|The costume colors (left) and seen through a blue filter with animated spots of green.|
|Color casts (probably added in post production): yellow (left) vs green (right).|
|The same dancers in red light before the transition to an animated cockfight in silhouette with glowing rims.|
Subsequently, Donald is seen in a yellow spotlight rendering his white "skin" (plumage most likely) muted yellow and his blue sailor suit green. Without the context of the lighting effect, Donald's colors look almost psychedelic.
|Donald in yellow light: blue turns to green.|
|If the yellow light affects the background, too (left), the skin tone appears more natural than against an unaffected background (right).|
This impression is further enhanced by staging Donald against contrasting colors. Now his colors - different shades of only one basic hue - are NOT justified by overall lighting and therefore feel purely expressionistic. Donald's face and beak really ARE green, there is no way color constancy could make us believe that they were any other color.
|Again, overall shapes of characters and objects are clearly visible because each element has shades of only one basic hue.|
|The yellow light version of Donald (left) vs the monochrome green version that makes the skin look really green.|
|Analogous green character against analogous red characters and surroundings (left) vs analogous red character against green character and surroundings (right).|
|Top row: actual Penguin/Hammock colors; bottom: corresponding hues.|
|GERALD MCBOING BOING (UPA, 1950)|
Instead of the strongly restricted color schemes of "cartoon modern" films like Bobe Cannon's GERALD MCBOING BOING (1950), Disney opted for the more lavish and harmonious path in MELODY and TOOT, WHISTLE, PLUNK AND BOOM (both 1953) that experimented with 3D (MELODY) and cinemascope (TOOT).
MELODY takes place in a class room full of birds. Their design takes the analogous color scheme to new heights. Even most of their beaks - Disney beaks were usually painted yellow or orange, no matter what - are in analogous colors. This way (and with the benefit of very unobtrusive background colors) the art direction manages to cram all the colors of the rainbow into one shot.
|The sheer amount of character colors called for a very muted background.|
Organic diversity is achieved by a varying range of hues. The pink girl (below), for example, is based on one single hue whereas the green girl is based on an analogous triad of yellow, green and blue. In analogous triads, there is usually a dominant and a supporting hue (yellow and green, in this case). The third (blue) is used as a spot color. On a narrower scale the same goes for the blue bird with closely related violet as spot color.
|Four birds in analogous colors including beaks.|
On the one hand, reinforcing contrast is provided by props and abstract "paintings" on the walls. These colors separate the planes (foreground vs background).
|Blue Donald behind red, green and yellow books in SALUDOS AMIGOS.|
|The pale bird surrounded by saturated books.|
|Preliminary artwork (left) vs finished frame.|
|Contrasting spot color: magenta on the left, orange on the right.|
|The blue boy looks like part of the background while the tiny boy stands out by saturation and variety of hues.|
|Faces match background colors, costumes clash with them.|
|Both faces and costumes match background colors in hue but not in brightness and saturation.|
|The compositions are mostly tinted by one single hue and thus highly harmonious.|
|Contrast is only achieved by values (relative brightness).|
|Changing skin tones communicate the aging process.|
|Random colors (left) arranged in rainbow order (right).|
|Contrasting hues are only employed against a green background.|
|The cycle starts with soft pink (the baby) and ends with empty outlines against sky-blue.|
As soon as we leave the human family and enter the realm of abstract cartoon animals, more playful color schemes are on display again. But even here, the artists refrain from clashing colors in favor of deeply harmonious ones.
|Warm and cold analogous color schemes unify these abstract designs.|
Real forays into more modern, clashing colors are extremely rare but not entirely absent, however:
|Unusual color combination against an almost colorless background.|
In the cinemascope sequel TOOT, WHISTLE, PLUNK AND BOOM, the color palette is basically restricted to warm analogous colors from yellow to red against cold analogous colors from blue to purple. This may sound simple, but narrowing the range of colors to two-thirds of the color wheel (with blue, purple and orange as dominant colors) leads to a much more sophisticated look.
|TOOT, WHISTLE, PLUNK AND BOOM covers a range of cold and warm colors from yellow to blue.|
|All the birds are painted in warm colors with plumage that resembles human skin tones.|
|A very pale green skin tone balances the dominant red and purple.|
|Interesting blue skin colors and strong primary contrasts look most flashy.|
At least in some orchestra scenes, UPA's "empty" skin tones are imitated. Naturally, these are embedded within sumptuous analogous color schemes (every drum is painted in a different shade of red or orange, for example).
|Disney's color design is luxurious and excessive...|
|...compared to the economical approach in UPA's GERALD MCBOING BOING.|
Since realism and therefore natural skin tones prevailed in the features, the next installment will focus on costume colors again in package features like THE RELUCTANT DRAGON (1941), SALUDOS AMIGOS (1942), THE THREE CABALLEROS (1944) and FUN AND FANCY FREE (1946).
|The end of experimenting: MELODY vs TOOT, WHISTLE... : all in the range of yellow, red, blue, without green.|