Friday, May 23, 2008

Still more on Horton

Part III: A little more on color choices and stylization

From the establishing shot (with the directors’ credit overlayed) the already implicated cartoon-ness of the setting is largely expanded. As the sun is now illuminating a blue sky, high key lighting takes over. Mood lighting as done so masterfully in this beginning is reserved for special plot points such as the introduction of Vlad or the field of dandelions.

Both of these examples apply a very limited color palette as you can see in the screenshots. Both of them are expressively lit (Horton’s ears’ secondary action overshadowing his face for example). While Vlad’s cave is almost monochrome making dramatic use of cold muted blues and hard lighting, the magenta of the immense clover field is unified by salmon colored magic hour sunlight. Thus the sky is a balancing neutral beige that corresponds to the stone Horton is standing on. The tone in tone composition certainly helps to emphasize the vastness of the clover field. The areas of highest contrast as expected are Horton’s face, the falling flower and Horton’s backlit body.

Compositions in the open jungle in full daylight are not as impressive anymore. Still all the plants and rocks are shaped in organically curved forms and there is a limited range of colors such as green for the vegetation and blue and pale red for special plants and fruit. Unfortunately set ups like the one below (there are similar ones in the actual movie) tend to have a generic feel to it and the jungle vistas sometimes look more cluttered than well composed.

Horton himself gets introduced in much the same way as the movie starts (unfortunately I can’t provide any visual reference). First we see large palms and trees swaying (not unlike the blowballs in the opening sequence). Hence we anticipate some large force (supported by the slow heavy thumping on the soundtrack). As we see only fragmented parts of Horton’s elephant body, we assume him to be some kind of pompous Colonel Hathi type elephant. Even when he starts bending down a tree this matches our expectation. But then we suddenly see his face and all the supposed heaviness is lifted for good. We absolutely know that we are in a light hearted movie when Horton dives into the water in a silly, cartoony way.

Talking about color, it is certainly noteworthy that Horton himself is completely grey as you would expect an elephant to be, whereas the other animals (the kangaroo is violet for example) all seem to have fallen into paint buckets or – in the case of the Wickershams – seem to be made of Playdoh. Their colors are a little oversaturated to my taste but since they come in all sizes and already compete for attention with the colourful jungle, they cancel each other out. So Horton is the one that stands out from the crowd by not having any color at all (besides he’s the biggest and talkiest of them all). Apart from that it makes sense to have Horton look much as we expect him to look, because he is the protagonist whose viewpoint we share and thus we shouldn’t be distracted by his appearance.

Have a look at this b/w-version of a high angle on Horton teaching his supposed pupils. Do you immediately see the little buggers (two of which are actually called Tommy and Katie, btw, am I the only one who sees a pop reference in this?)?

Now look at the color version from above again. Their saturated primaries and secondaries make them stand out although their light value doesn’t contrast with the red earth.

In the next post I will finally deal with the cartoon poses and the actual animation.

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