Saturday, 6 February 2010

Codehunters and Complementary Colours

Codehunters from axisanimation on Vimeo.

I just saw this short animation film and thought it was worth sharing.

It's directed by Ben Hibon and the excellent CGI is by axis animation, based here in the UK. They specialise in spots and cinematics but this has a filmic and heavily sylised feel to it thats quite different to their previous work, with a pallette consisting almost entirely of blue and various shades of beige and gray. It seems films, animation in particular, are following complementary colour rules more and more. I like restricted palettes but I also think that if you restrict your selection of colours then you restrict your tools for creating emotional impact with colour. A short like this can get away with it because a short can still be good if it only has one mood, but there's nothing worse than watching a feature film sit on the the same 2 colours througout. Features and TV shows should go through different moods and emotions, and colour choices should reflect this, even if it does mean straying to green and magenta territory. For anyone unfamiliar with the theory of complimentary colours, read on.

The theory of complimentary colours is basically the idea that colours that are opposite each other on a colour wheel will complement each other better than colours that are next to each other.

With most color correction now being done digitally, it is easier to manipulate the colours in any shot either from a digital camera or scanned from film (the animation above is obviously CGI but the choice to use a very restricted pallete was still deliberate and a response to the same rules). So with tools like hue offset wheels and curves etc. it becomes simple to restrict the number of colours in a shot so that it better obeys the complementary colours rule. Because skin tone occupies the region of the wheel between red and yellow, most of the time this means pushing everything else in the shot towards blue or cyan. Two of the most blatant examples of this technique in recent years have been Micheal Bay's 2 Transformers, graded by Christopher Savides and Stefan Sonnenfeld (for the sequel).

As you can see in the picture above, this in not something that is only thought about after the fact. The set dressing choices also lend themselves to this colour scheme and makes the colourist's job easier.

I like this style a lot and it very easily creates pleasing images, but at the same time I avoid it like the plague so that I can differentiate myself from what anybody with a copy of After Effects is doing. Unless a scene is specifically calling for a very sexy look then I try to go down the much harder route of complimenting my skin tones with adjecent hue's (actually straying into the green and magenta hues, which pretty much nobody is using these days, making my choice by seeing what works for the scene and echoes its content in some way) or going for practically monochromatic looks, either cool with desaturated skin, or warm with everything in the scene occupying the territory between yellow and red.

Something I want to start doing more is getting involved with set design and imposing a colour palette before the fact, rather than reading off what has already been done in production and having to search around for a look that works for each scene. My friend and sound designer Enos Desjardins (check out his blog Sound and Motion) is talking all the time about a greater roll in pre-production for people who have traditionally been only post-production. He sees this as being the way forward for the film industry and I agree whole heartedly. I have heard people spout such nonsense as "It's nothing to do with a post-production person, what the Director and DOP choose to shoot". This assumes a level of authorship which I have never been glad to accept. Sure a Director makes a lot of the most important decisions in a film, but many hundreds of people do work which directly influences how effective that film is (I use effective as a broad way to describe how good a film is because no matter what the genre or style a film can be judged at how effectively it communicates what it wants to say). If one person doing a job differently can make someone's work more effective and hence make the film more effective, then it should be considered, even if that person is the director or DOP. The thing I love most about film is that it has to be collaborative and so it challenges you to find ways in which you can combine your own artistic vision with someone elses and create something entirely different than either of you had in mind.


  1. You're probably going to shout at me now, but you should check out the colour pallettes in Mass Effect 2. Absolutely stunning, and they work perfectly. A few examples:

  2. Nice short animation. In fact, I had seen it some months ago but really enjoyed watching it again! I like the detailed and dreamy sound design and use of music too :)

    Also, I vote yes to having post production people like ourselves more involved in pre production! Like you mentioned in the post, I truly believe that is where we can truly keep pushing creativity in film. It is important to see the bigger picture and only that way can that picture truly make an impact!