Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Sumptuous Costume Colors: Saturation and Temperature (Part 3/5)

After looking at how the Disney color stylists always adhered to the same basic concepts even when experimenting with expressionist techniques, in this third installment I will focus on analogous colors within their own brand of naturalism/realism.

The individual cartoons of Disney's South American package features cover a lot of different color concepts. In THE THREE CABALLEROS (1944), there are natural rural animals that are based on very narrow analogous colors. The earthly colored flying donkey feels decidedly more down-to-earth than his mythological counterparts in FANTASIA simply because its earthly brown-gray feels more natural.
Left: THE TREE CABALLEROS, right: FANTASIA (Beethoven sequence).
Likewise, the brown country bird in the same story looks a lot less exciting than the exotic birds, although they are equally detailed. If so, the lavish impression does not only stem from analogous colors and level of detail but also from the hue itself.
left: brown bird on brown branch; right: blue bird on bluish branch.
These two frames above highlight the extent to which characters and backgrounds were unified by analogous colors. There is less conflict between dimensional backgrounds and flatly painted characters if their colors bridge the stylistic gap. We can clearly see the connection between the bird and the branch it sits (or sat) on: brown for brown bird, bluish violet for blue-violet bird. In both cases "realistic", i.e. yellow, beaks and feet contrast the respective colors. The same applies to the screenshots below:
Analogous color schemes with added spot color, backgrounds with soft versions of bird colors.

From Feathers...
As you can see on each of these birds, the basic analogous scheme is balanced by a highly saturated additional color. But there are also heavily anthropomorphized cartoon birds like the Aracuan or Donald's new Mexican friend Panchito.
Red, purple, orange: clearly distinguished (left) vs closely related (right).

This is probably one of the most difficult analogous color scheme. Making orange, red and purple work together is quite a task. But Mary Blair seemed to be an expert at this, as you can see from this "Penelope" painting (below right) that was allegedly made during her South American trip with Walt and El Grupo.
right: "Penelope" painting by Mary Blair.

Since Blair is not the only "art supervisor" credited on THE THREE CABALLEROS (Does anyone have exact information who worked on which segments?), I have always assumed that she had something to do with the wildly stylized Mexican fiesta in which Panchito appears. This hot color palette is prominent throughout the Donald segments and strongly defines the style of the pastels under the credits. The impact of purple and red is often increased by patches of complementary green.
Top row of color patches: actual colors as they occur in the frame; bottom row: corresponding hues, i.e. actual color with brightness and saturation adjusted to 100%.
All analogous colors except the green waggon.
...To Costume Colors
The same concept can already be found in SALUDOS AMIGOS (1942) in a less stylized environment which brings us back to costume colors. Here, we have no expressionist or hot background colors, just the soft unobtrusiveness reminiscent of a Tom & Jerry cartoon. Gently muted grays, browns and greens in bright summer light.

According to Technicolor realism and lighting conditions, skin tones (and I continue to identify Donald's white plumage as his skin tone) remain constantly "natural". This way, the saturated costume colors stand out quite strongly. Again the combination of deep orange and dark red/purple is balanced by green and teal.
Right: untypical in nature, therefore more exotic: colors arranged in rainbow order (red, orange, yellow)
Again green balances orange and red.
In this final image (above, bottom), the segment's full color palette with soft pastel colors against saturated warmer hues is nicely displayed.

Warm vs Cold
Even before BAMBI with its beautifully executed brown vs gray concept was released, the new 1940s concept of analogous costume colors to clearly contrast characters was implemented in the Technicolor segment about the titular character in THE RELUCTANT DRAGON (1941). Here, the character color palette is heavily restricted to two opposing hues: cold teal (bluish gray, if muted) and warm orange (brown, if muted).

While this extends to the whole composition in modern films that rely on the orange-teal color grading clich‚, here these character colors are balanced by natural skin tones and generic backgrounds (green grass, blue sky etc.). The young protagonist is completely wearing brown, i.e. warm colors, the extras with their rather detailed bluish costumes blend in with the scenery if we do not see their hair.
The boy vs the crowd: warm vs cold colors.
For MICKEY AND THE BEANSTALK in FUN AND FANCY FREE (1946), Mickey, Donald and Goofy received new costumes. While Mickey and Donald wear fancier versions of their respective trademark red and blue, Goofy's clothes feel considerably different. Yet, they are based on the same basic hues as his 1930s outfit: blue and orange. Mickey's yellow shoes have been replaced by a yellow hat. As a group, they represent the three primary colors red, yellow and blue (with secondaries green and violet reserved for the villain).
More variety within costumes, but with more closely related colors.

The primary triad as the basis of 1930s good guys: red, yellow, blue.
But why do these costumes look so much more unified and lavish when hardly anything in their design was changed? Looking at Donald (above), the lavishness certainly arises from the higher saturation (at least as we perceive it). Plus, Mickey and Goofy feel a lot warmer because they wear more red, orange and yellow. But to me, the key aspect is the close proximity of the colors. Goofy basically wears the same outfit as the boy from THE RELUCTANT DRAGON (below). The cloth colors are arranged so that they get successively darker the closer they are to the ground.
The boy vs Goofy: similar color schemes.
Apart from the blue hat, Goofy's costume looks like a more saturated version of the one worn by the boy.

In the case of Mickey, proximity of colors is so close that the three red pieces of clothing look like one. If we apply his colors to our Anna template, we get a rich looking gown that reminds me of Scarlett O'Hara's lush red dress from GONE WITH THE WIND (1939).
Left: Scarlett O'Hara; right: "Anna" wearing Mickey's costume colors.
To illuminate this comparison, let me approach it from the opposite angle: How would you translate the lushness of Scarlett's red dress into a practical cel animation costume? If I deduce correctly, there are basically two shades of red for two overall pieces of cloth. With only two different colors painted flatly, the dress looks rather lackluster despite the many additional lines. In reality, much of its tactile texture (creases, fabric quality) is communicated via light reflections and shadows. So what if we add basic shade and glow layers?
Left: Scarlett's colors look rather plain; right: the expensive 1930s solution: add shades and glow.

The second version certainly comes closer. Animating such an elaborate design would exceed most budgets (and nerves), though. So again, like with the harp (in Part II), it seems to be more reasonable to lay the burden on the ink and paint department and divide the dress into more different shades of red to simulate a more detailed texture. Although I have picked the different reds randomly, they look very similar to those of Mickey's beanstalk costume.
Scarlett's costume divided into many different colors (all picked from the photograph) looks more sumptuous than the plain version above without additional animation layers. Now it looks very similar to Mickey's.
There is another reason, the colors in FUN AND FANCY FREE look deeper and more sumptuous than in the shorts made a decade earlier. In the 1940s, Disney artists dared painting backgrounds more monochromatically. Just compare the following two screenshots of penguins in the natural habitat:

In the 1934 Silly Symphony PECULIAR PENGUINS (above left), the slightly blue ice is carefully balanced by gray rocks, green water and a sky that bleeds into yellow on the horizon whenever it is visible. Technicolor films were still a novelty exclusive to Disney (the first live-action Technicolor film premiered the following year) and "natural" colors were carefully balanced but seldom omitted. PECULIAR PENGUINS certainly could not be mistaken for a black and white film print tinted in blue.

By the time of THE THREE CABALLEROS (above right), the whole background - sky, water and ice - was painted almost monochromatically in shades of blue with only props in different colors. Similar to this monochromatically cold landscape, the droughty country in FUN AND FANCY FREE is almost monochromatically painted in shades of warm but dry orange.

Since the features were thought of as more serious than cartoons, the lighter gouache of 1930s backgrounds was replaced by more theatrical lighting which resulted in many darker areas that were particularly well-represented because of Technicolor's potential for dense blacks. In fact, Technicolor prints are usually a lot darker than what we are used to today. Thanks to the imbibition process, it was possible to recreate sculpting lighting effects like in a Rembrandt painting where the surrounding darkness makes colors appear deeper and more saturated.

Rembrandt: Portret van een paar als Oud-Testamentische figuren, genaamd 'Het Joodse bruidje'
Rembrandt lighting: Mickey in FANTASIA (left) and FUN AND FANCY FREE.
These two Mickey shots (above) may have the same basic lighting scheme. But in FANTASIA (1938-40) the lighting on the costume was achieved by the "realistic" and more expensive way of additional shadow animation whereas in 1946 Mickey's red costume was broken into three segments with hardly any shadow animation in the film.

The fourth installment deals with how the concept of analogous costumes is used in CINDERELLA (1950), PETER PAN (1953).

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