16 09 2008

everybody who has ever painted outside in nature knows how difficult it is to judge what colors he sees and how to translate them onto the canvas/computer-screen. the problem is that we know the basic color-direction, yellows, reds, blues and so on, but there are millions of shades of each of them. and – even worse, the colors surrounding the color we are concentrating on influence our perception of that color. imagine, the same red inbetween dark greens or light yellows will look to us completely different. that makes it tough to mix the right color either in oil or photoshop. well, when you are a background painter and you are supposed to choose the colors for a layout, you need to invent all those colors. of course you can use reference photographs or look at paintings and study how the ‘masters’ were dealing with that problem. but in the end – it will be your choice. it has a lot to do with your education, how much experience you have, how much you have ‘seen’ and stored in your brain, your cultural and geographical background ( artists from southern, lighter and sunnier countries use more colorful color combinations than the ones from northern, cooler countries ) and of course there is ‘taste’.

look at this recreated pan-background from disney’s BAMBI. the first reaction is – nice forest colors, all different greens. but what kind of greens? that becomes clearer when you separate some of them. then you see that there are only a few pure greens, most of them are mixed with greys and browns.
as you can see in the patches I add below.

the bottom row shows the more ‘pure’ greens. that’s how most backgrounds in tv-productions today look like. nothing wrong with it, they look fresh and friendly. nothing for me though, my eyes start to hurt after a while and everything looks artificial. below an example how that background might look today…

actually – as far as I remember the sequel looked a bit like that. there might be reasons for that. the executives during that time liked bright colors. during MULAN I constantly heard criticism from them – why does it have to look that dull? and can’t you add a bit more detail? the audience will say, disney can’t afford some richer look. anyway, it’s nice to look at the ‘old’ treasures and dream…

© disney enterprises, inc



8 responses

16 09 2008

agreed! I love the old treasures.

16 09 2008
Nancy Beiman

Hans, wouldn’t digital painting have something to do with this? The colors tend to be hotter than hand painted colors, somehow.
And someone could order the colors ‘tweaked’ when the film was composited, couldn’t they?

don’t know how this answering sysem works – sorry – hans…
no, nancy, I don’t think so. I paint digital now and it is even easier to keep the colors balanced and under control than in the old days with felt pen and gouache. with the layering system in photoshop I achieved color compositions I could have never done before. it is in my oppinion the changed time, the influence of mtv like fast produced visuals, the whole game scene crap. or maybe we get old? that’s what the kids will say…

16 09 2008
Michael Sporn

Boy, I couldn’t agree with you more. The original colors sing; the ones produced today scream. Bambi’s distinguished and beautiful backgrounds are not possible in the current system. Art is hard to locate, these days.

17 09 2008
Nancy Beiman

Different artistic references. BAMBI was art directed based on the subtle combinations of color that the great Chinese artist Tyrus Wong brought to them…the original was highly European in design, and I’m told “Walt got tired of looking at leaves!”

17 09 2008
Nancy Beiman

and yes, I agree, I can actually PAINT now that I have digital paint, and get some nice subtle effects, whereas I wasn’t very good at it on paper.
But the computer does allow you to ‘tweak’ and as you know, the producers sometimes ask for ‘hotter’ color.

23 09 2008

Maybe someone has covered this already, but to me the main distinction of how and why color has changed has less to do with taste and more to do with technology. Back in the day they never had to deal with issues of rgb colors that were only available when seen on screen, instead they delt exclusively in terms of colors as they appeared either in print (CMYK) or the colors they were able to achieve by painting.
In fact I would challenge anyone, just as a practice in color theory, to try to create a digital painting of equal vibrance and saturation to an RGB painting, by working in CMYK instead. CMYK or color for print has a fraction of the uber pop n’ glow that rgb has. And todays digital colorist know that. When coloring digitally, for a digital medium like videogames or cartoons, you don’t have to worry about how your colors will translate to the end product. For all we know, maybe the original art for the bambi bg was more colorfull then it ended up looking when it was shot for film.

24 09 2008

Well, answering chris’ challenge. Look at the CMYK digital work of the “disney storybook artists” over at Disney Publishing. Some great paintings! Done in photoshop and painter, made to look like rich oil paintings.

9 09 2019
Jina Kim


I just found your blog. Its amazing! Thank you for sharing with us your knowledge!

Also i want to thank you for dream worlds. My sister brought it to me here in Siberia. Great book! Gives me an inspiration a lot

from hans –
thank you, jina, this is amazing – siberia! I am very happy, that I could give you some inspiration. maybe you can even find there my latest book VISION. all my best wishes to you

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