Wednesday, November 9, 2016

ZARAFA: a contemporary addendum to "Sumptuous Costume Colors"

The color schemes I described in a series of posts as "sumptuous costume colors" that were popular in animated features during the 1940s and 50s are still in use today. One fitting example is ZARAFA (Bezançon/Lie, 2012), a French film about a giraffe given to the King of France by the Pasha of Egypt. 

While the filmmaker's intentions of exploring historical injustice, among other things, is certainly noble and one cannot applaud its creators enough for trying to break away from formulaic family fare, the resulting film never really takes off.

Whenever the narrative seems to gain momentum, it returns to an overarching storytelling situation which kills whatever suspense there could have been. Perhaps 78 minutes are simply too little time to explore a cast of interesting characters as well as an epic journey through exotic sets. And unfortunately, too often the animation is not on par with the detailed character design.

Tasteful primary colors
But the artwork (especially some of the backgrounds in the later French part of the film, as showcased at the bottom of this post) and the colors are sometimes tastefully dazzling. When Maki, a Sudanese orphan boy, is saved by a wealthy-looking Bedouin called Hassan he is dressed in the same deep dark blue garments. In addition to four different shades of blue there is a very effective shadow layer that makes the costume look even more sumptuous (and realistic):
Naturally, these blue robes look very pleasing against the sand colored backdrop and the yellow giraffe - because they are almost opposite on the color wheel as you can see in the inverted image above.

Then they meet Mehemet Ali, the Pasha of Egypt, who is completely dressed in shades of yellow leaning towards orange which connects him to the giraffe and creates a smooth contrast to Maki and Hassan.
The five bright and warm colors of Mehemet Ali.
The unicolored costume approach makes it easy to distinguish characters clearly in long shots.

In the warm, yellow evening light inside the Egyptian palace (above), these robes look greener:
top: outside, plain sunshine; bottom: inside, warmer lighting.
Hassan's clothes are made up of these four colors plus a very effective shadow layer.

In different lighting conditions they tend towards green.
But intuitively, they still feel blue in contrast to the yellow and red characters. Note that the background in this deep focus long shot below is kept in soft shades of the same basic primary triad:
Red, yellow and blue/green characters in one frame inside the palace.
The aeronaut Malaterre who looks basically red is, in fact, rather brown. The colors of his costume are basically darker shades of Mehemet Ali's costume. Thus, they work well with both of the other dominant costume colors.

"Red" i.e. brown for Malaterre...
...and "yellow" i.e. orange/beige for the Pasha.
Brightness - and especially the expensive shadow layer - are crucial in underlining which character we focus on in group shots. What is obvious in this line-up of figurines...
 ...can also be seen in more subtle versions. In the first frame below, Hassan is almost completely in the shadow while the contrast of values and saturation is much higher on Malaterre. Although Hassan is in the center of both frames, he is only dominant in the second image below, where he seems to be more in the light than Malaterre:
The giraffe who completes the primary triad of yellow, red and blue seems to be less important in the shot above than in the shot below, however.

The costumes of Bouboulina (who is hoarsely voiced by the great Ronit Elkabetz, but whose narrative thread is too underdeveloped here) and her fellow pirates look more down to earth and are made up of more variable colors. Bouboulina herself combines another basic triad very close to the main characters: yellow, red and green.

top row: actual colors, bottom row: pure hues.
Once they reach France, the bourgeois and court people are also dressed in colors that are close to each other, but mostly they look soft and pastel. Most certainly, this is a coincidence - but are these court ladies supposed to be grown-up versions of Cinderella's stepsisters? They were French and affiliated with nobility, after all.
The stepsisters and Lady Tremaine from CINDERELLA (1950)... French court ladies in ZARAFA (2012)?
And if you're not already interested enough in the film by now, there are some astonishing layouts and background paintings that are certainly worth checking out:

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