Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Milky Waif – cheating continuity – part 2

Daniel Caylor of On Animation posted the following link in the comments: The Background Stylings of Don Driscoll. In September he wrote an interesting analysis of some original T&J shorts and their Cinemascope counterparts. Even if I don’t share his enthusiasm for Driscoll’s backgrounds at all, the comparisons are well worth studying.

Some more on cartoon colors:
As I have already stated in the last post, the most important trait of these backgrounds is their softness so that the characters read clearly. This is done by way of saturation and also by way of having low contrast on almost everything in the background. Basically it is high key lighting.
Even in a light/shadow composition, the contrast is kept rather low. 
The large form is accented by white rims.

In terms of storytelling, this even high key lighting is paramount because the characters have to read in front of every part of the picture, not just a preconceived pool of light. So no part of the background should attract attention to itself. Additionally, perceived spatial relations and perspectives have to look more or less normal in order to make the paintings work as backdrops for such fully dimensional cartoon characters.
The Tom and Jerry palette is usually limited to a few main colors, different in every short, but always rather unobtrusive and as low contrast as a realistic setting allows for. In this example, cyan/green and magenta/red are rather dominant (in pastel versions of course) like in so many different works of illustration and art.

Note that in the green RR example, shades of red are merely absent, probably due to Roger wearing glaring red trousers. The red is not only complimentary but also much more saturated than the green making for a clearer hierarchy. He’s wearing only primary colors, by the way, a clear indication that he was conceived in the 80s, no matter how many 40s allusions…

So far I have only written about Tom’s realm (kitchen and living room). Almost the first two minutes play in Jerry’s “apartment” however:
In the establishing shot (and the later close-up with a different flagstone) you can see a clear pool of light. These backgrounds are variations of the basic blue-yellow cold-warm color relations, if rather subdued.
 The blue which is not really that dark is simulating relative darkness. Note that in areas to be perceived as dark there are no yellow parts worked into the carpet. This also comes in handy when they use the faintly yellow straws later on. Since these backgrounds never have to accommodate Tom, the blue-gray areas can be rather large and make Jerry standout easily. Walls in front of which Nibbles has to be seen are never plain gray. Everything is prepared for Nibbles to be have a good silhouette while hanging from the stick next to Jerry’s head later on. Here the props (blankets) are in soft pastel colors, not saturated primaries like the violent props in the kitchen. Apart from the obvious tactile element of softness, it enhances Jerry's (and certainly Nibbles') round baby appearance.

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