Saturday, December 12, 2009

Nostalgic and contemporary - part 3

What the colors tell us
This has been lying about for some time now and after almost two weeks of color guessing posts, it's a good moment to take a break. The guessing will definitely continue after the weekend. But for now, I'd like to focus on TPATF one last time before going to see the completed film. At the risk of stating the obvious, let me comment on the color schemes visible in that first-five-minutes-preview. In a nutshell: no surprises but lots of polish and warmth.
Nostalgic and contemporary - part 1
Nostalgic and contemporary - part 2

Warm yellow light

left: original still   -   right: with adjusted white balance

All the dolls on the shelves in combination with the dominating pink leave no doubt that we're entering a girl's bedroom. The whole room is bathed in warm yellow light. I have tried to eliminate the golden light (on the right) from the screenshot in order to see the "real" underlying colors. This little experiment tells us a lot about our perception of color constancy. Even in the first picture we instantly identify the top of the small carriage on the lower right as turquoise, when in reality we see a greenish brown (see color swatches below). But in combination with the salmon pink and the beige spotlights our brain immediately takes the warm lighting into account and makes us perceive the hues as they would look like in white light.
These color swatches on the left are taken from the exact same spots on both of these pictures. As abstracts they immediately demonstrate how strong the effect of color constancy can be. It also shows how much colored lighting (left square) unifies colors from different hues. As I have pointed out here, yellow light is always handy if you want the audience to feel nostalgic and warm. Without the yellow light, the picture looks a lot less heavy. After all, yellow light is associated with autumn and golden hour. The fresher impression comes from the delicate pastel colors and all the balancing white in the picture. Needless to say that without the nostalgic effect, the colors look like the standard "little princess" scheme that is exploited in every children's section of department stores as can be seen in the following "Disney princesses shelves".

Princesses are pink and frogs are green, aren't they?
As the title suggests that this is a film about a princess, it leaves us wondering who lives there in this very rich and ornate room.

This picture is interesting for two reasons: It immediately tells us that Charlotte is the one living in this room. In fact, if Charlotte wouldn't move she could be mistaken for another piece of fluffy furniture, she's so tone-in-tone with the room colors. Her face and the kitten are the brightest spots in the picture so our eyes should be immediately drawn to her. But the real contrast in this picture is one of hue and not of value. It's our introduction to Tiana and she's wearing roughly complementary colors. Her dark hair and brown face make her look like the complete opposite of Charlotte.

left half: background, right half: Charlotte  -  left half: background, right half: Tiana

If it hadn't been clear already, this illustration makes the point. 

Tiana is not only the foreign body in this nursery, she's also the one most reluctant to even think about kissing a frog. But her green dress connects her to the frog (or the frog-like cat).

High key lighting

The other reason is lighting: One advantage of yellow light is that it doesn't distort skin color all that much and thus is a lot less distracting than blue light, for example. It's interesting to note that the dolls and teddy bears next to the girls are not competing for attention because their faces are closer to the room color and there is no white in the eyes. This way, they can lie in the light and still don't attract our interest.

This is important because the whole color scheme relies more on contrast of hue than contrast of value. For me, it makes perfect sense because it helps overcome the problem of having dark-skinned characters next to white faces. Traditionally, Disney favored a kind of artificial lighting that based on high contrast of value (an animation equivalent of traditional low key lighting). Of course, within the characters it is not practical to have high lighting ratios, but compared to their immediate background they are either considerably darker or brighter, whatever looks best (think of Alice in Wonderland or even the underwater scenes of The Little Mermaid).

Even on a black and white TV Cinderella would stand out from the background by sheer contrast of value.

The different hue of her princess dress makes for a lot more contrast, but is not indispensable. Note that here the same pastel colors are used without any hint at nostalgia or warmth. She's living in the cold house of her evil stepmother after all.

Here now Tiana's green dress is by no means different from Charlotte's or from the walls behind her.

So rather than having to contrast the dark faces with even darker backgrounds to prevent them from becoming silhouettes, the lighting in these early scenes looks more like high key lighting to me, where everything is more or less evenly lit (not completely flat, of course), so the differences in hue stand out more. This is also underlined by a tendency to have almost monochrome color schemes. The whole high- vs low-value-contrast thing is rather subtle, though.

While Charlotte and her daddy are not too different from the room, Eudora stands out against the wall because of her darkness and because of her olive coat that connects her to the green of Tiana. But as we tend to focus on the bright parts of an image, she's not the main interest. The book under the lampshade is. It's also interesting that the parents' clothes are underlining their difference (white wearing white, dark wearing dark), whereas the children wear clothes of roughly the same values.

Two worlds linked by warm lighting

But there's also the other world, the one where Tiana's family lives on the other side of town. Not unexpectedly browns and greens are dominating over there. Since green is a blend of blue and yellow, the blue clothes of Tiana's parents fit in easily.
Tiana's family seems to be more down-to-earth which is reflected in the more earthly colors as opposed to the highly artificial pastel colors of Charlotte's bedroom. The dim hallway makes for a nice transition from one warm place to another.

 The cable car's warm brown interior is very close to the protagonists' clothes and faces. The whole image is basically confined to two hues. The cold blue of the night is present throughout the whole prologue, if sometimes only seen briefly outside the window.

If you watch closely, you can see the same kind of warm light emanating from Tiana's house as well. Interestingly, this isn't present in the next outside view of the house, where Tiana stands in the door inviting the folks to taste her gumbo. 

These screenshots show that the carpets in Tiana's home are the same colors (salmon and turquoise) as Charlotte's bedroom, only less saturated and here the green/soft turquoise prevails. As you can see from the beige frame of the magazine ad, warm light is still key. With a color scheme that relies on golden light and warmth so hard, it's no wonder Tiana's life's dream is associated with a yellow picture. After all, yellow is close to brown and green. And green under strong golden light results in a nicely tanned color.

Except for the blue of the night, there's a pleasant absence of pure primary and secondary colors throughout the clip. While the trailer still heavily relies on images of the eye-hurting, oversaturated kind, I'm looking forward to that film's color concepts. I'm still not expecting any surprises, though.

I apologize for the quality of the screenshots, they are from online sources as I can't get them directly from BD on my computer yet.

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