Monthly Archives: November 2015

Research Poster: Exploring Colour & Lighting As Effective Tools For Visual Storytelling

This is the completed poster for my research topic; Exploring Colour & Lighting As Effective Tools For Visual Storytelling. It took awhile to arrange all the information I’ve gathered into cohesive and understandable sentences. I think at this point of the research process my understanding of what I want to research is clear and I’m confident that when asked, I can explain and summarise the context of the research.



This research intends to understand and analyse how colour and lighting are used in films as tools to support and communicate a story. While there will be a primary focus on animated films, investigation into live action features will be referenced as well. Comparisons between various films including Tonko House’s The Dam Keeper (2014), Pixar’s Wall·E (2008) and Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak (2015) will discuss these concepts in relation to the creation of a compelling story. This research will also explore the methods that filmmakers – both student and working professional – can employ to safeguard the core theme of their narrative so that it does not become lost during the lengthy process of production.


From a research perspective, the cognitive examination of animated films represent challenges and explorative queries unique to its medium. Unlike live action films, the animator is not confined to logic or to the physical laws of the real world as they no longer exist, the filmmaker in this instance is confronted with creating the entire narrative space from scratch (Buchan, 2006; Buchan, 2011). The creation of the life and core structure of that visual world is only limited to their choices and imagination. Although the visual space and characters should have some roots in realism, for the most part animators have the freedom to defy laws of physics and bring life to characters and objects that are impossible to create within the confines of a live action film (Brunnick & Cutting, 2014). Every aspect of the project from the concept art, character design, environment design, modelling, layout, animation, special effects, colour, lighting, sound, music, rendering and editing must be considered and then developed by the filmmakers. This process of bringing the extremities of the believable and the fantastical together is immense, complex and intricate.


‘Visual storytelling is a vast topic that reaches far beyond the realm of lighting’ (Calahan, 1996). Colour and lighting in a film are meant to affect the viewer subliminally without being noticeable on a conscious level. The purpose of these principles is to add depth to the film’s story and to the viewer’s overall visual experience.

A change in lighting can alter the meaning of the story effectively. The Dam Keeper (2014) is an example of a film that sought to animate light itself. The light in each scene is designed as a separate cinematic component that resulted in a unique visual style of ever shifting images that resembled a children’s illustrated storybook come to life (Kondo & Tsutsumi, 2014). The filmmakers placed emphasis on colour and lighting to not only create mood and atmosphere but to also guide and connect the audience to that scene.

Since Isaac Newton’s discovery of the visible spectrum of light and the invention of the modern colour wheel, scientific discoveries regarding the perception of colour and its relationship to human emotions has influenced its use in art, design, animation and film. Guillermo del Toro’s live action period horror film Crimson Peak (2015) relied heavily on colour and lighting as narrative devices. With custom built sets that gave him complete control of lighting del Toro also made liberal use of strongly saturated contrasting colours as narrative cues. When a scene changed from bright and diffused to saturated and contrasting it was a visual signal to the audience of something supernatural and horrific about to occur on screen.

‘No amount of the best animation in the world will ever save a bad story, or a bad story reel’ (Lasseter, 2007)

Because filmmakers in animation have a more liberal amount freedom of creation, there is a risk for the story development of the film to become neglected as a result of them becoming lost in the technical and aesthetic aspects of production. When examining the film making concepts of several successful contemporary animation filmmakers there is often an emphasis placed on cinematic storytelling. They would utilise tools such as colour, lighting and composition in the form of extensive storyboarding and colour scripting before creating animatic story reels that become the ‘living blueprint of the finished film’ (Stanton, 2008). Wall·E (2008) is one successful example of an extensive storyboarding process. Over 80,000 storyboards were completed as the story arc evolved and reshaped over the years of production (Reardon, 2008). The filmmakers understood that the story reel should entertain and evoke wonder into the audience just as the final film would. If the story reel is unable to communicate the narrative to the viewer succinctly then there is little chance that a fully animated film would.


The objective of the research is to show the crucial role that colour and lighting play in the production of an animated feature. By focusing on the aforementioned examples the research will also reveal effective storytelling methods and concepts that animators can adhere to so that their work engages and resonates emotionally with their audiences.

METHODOLOGY Several methods will be implemented during the research process in order to investigate and understand these topics as thoroughly as possible within the given time frame. Practical applications and experimentation of colour and lighting theory will also be used to further support the research.

  • OBSERVATION Research, identify, observe and analyse films that empathise or rely on the use of colour and lighting as mechanisms of effective visual storytelling.
  • CRITICAL ANALYSIS Examining research to gauge an understanding of the different practices employed by filmmakers in their usage of colour and lighting during the production of their work.  Critical evaluation of these processes is intended to nurture deeper comprehension and implementation of such storytelling concepts during practice.
  • VISUAL DESIGN World building. Designing character and film concepts, storyboard scenes with focus on communicating narrative before transitioning to colour scripting to establish mood and the characters’ changing emotional states.
  • PEER REVIEWS Peer (both student and professional) interviews, questionnaires and feedback to examine and discuss their opinions and understanding regarding the importance of colour and light in animation.


  • December Research. Moodboard. Draft Script. Concept Art (Character & Environment). Story Development.
  • January Research. Script. Concept Art (Model Sheet). Storyboard.
  • February Animatic. Rough Character Animation Test. Rough Paint Render Test. Peer Discussion. Music Research.
  • March Story Adjustments. 3D Modelling. Character Animation. Digital Rendering. Backgrounds.
  • April 3D Printing. Animation. Digital Rendering. Screen Test With Audience.
  • May  Animation. Digital Rendering.
  • June Final Animation. Digital Rendering. Clean-Up.
  • July Editing. Credit Graphics. Rendering. Making Of Artbook.
  • August Touch-Ups & Editing. Printing of Artbook. Final Submission.



  • Brunick, K. and Cutting, J. (2014). Cognitive Media Theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, pp.124 – 138.
  • Buchan, S. (Ed.). (2006). Animated Worlds. Eastleigh, UK: John Libbey.
  • Buchan, S. (2011). Ghosts in the machine: Experiencing animation. In G. Hilty (Ed.), Watch Me Move: TheAnimation Show. London: Merrell.
  • Calahan, S. (1996). Storytelling Through Lighting: A Computer Graphics Perspective. SIGGRAPH Course Notes. [online] Available at: siggraph_courses/s96_course30.pdf [Accessed 20 Nov. 2015].
  • Stanton, A. (2008). The art of WALL-E. San Francisco: Chrotnicle Books. Reardon, J. (2008). The art of WALL-E. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.


  • The Dam Keeper. (2014). [film] Robert Kondo And Daisuke Tsutsumi.Tonko house
  • WALL·E. (2008). [film] Andrew Staton Disney, Pixar Animation Studios.
  • Crimson Peak, 2015. [Film] Guillermo del Toro, United States: Legendary Pictures.
  • Skwigly Online Animation Magazine. (2015). Lightbox – ‘The Dam Keeper’ directors Robert Kondo & Dice Tsutsumi (Pixar/Tonko . [Online Video]. Jan 13, 2015. Available from: [Accessed: 20 November 2015].
  • The Film Theorists. (2015). Crimson Peak and The Color of FEAR – Frame By Frame. [Online Video]. Nov 5, 2015. Available from: [Accessed: 16 November 2015].
  • Schoolism. (2014). Painting with Light and Color with Dice Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo. [Online Video]. 02 December 2014. Available from: [Accessed: 03 November 2015].

After Effects Class

We had a crash course with Malcom Finney today on Adobe After Effects. I’ve had experiences with the program in the past but I don’t use it that often even while I feel that it’s one of the programs I should be proficient in. He taught us basic animation, making use of the grids, keying out colours in a video for compositing, masking, alpha paints, camera tracking and compositing a 3D asset from Cinema 4D. All of this information will useful when the time comes for me to composite my 3D character into a live action plate, I’m not sure how I would fully go about it at this point but I have a better idea of the options I have now.

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 12.27.28

Basic Animation

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Keying & Basic Compositing

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 11.49.42

Masking A Moving Asset

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Masking & Alpha Paints

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Camera Tracking & 3D Compositing

About a week ago I took part in Pop Dundee‘s Christmas Market sale outside of the Caird Hall. As usual Vicki and Ashling were very well efficient, helpful and professional organisers. I had a long and very cold day out in the market but it was fruitful and a lot of fun!


Pop Dundee Christmas Market

Character Ear & Hand Modelling + Retopologize Mesh With Quad Draw

We continued with out character modelling lessons with ear and hand modelling this week. I had an easier time following and understanding the ear tutorial than the hand modelling. Seeing as I have problems drawing hands in 2D I wasn’t that surprised.  The ear began as a single flat plan that was rotated then sectioned, extruded and moved to fit the ten edge hole with left on the side of the model’s skull last week. The hand was modelled off of a basic cube polygon, when it came to the point of extruding and modelling the thumb it became more difficult for me to keep up. Thankfully I did.


Character Ear Modelling


Character Hand Modelling Beginning with Basic Cube Polygon


Character Hand Modelling (Thumb)


Completed Hand Model (Smoothed View)

During the last section of our day, Sang briefly taught us how to retopologize a high-poly Z-Brush model in Maya using the Quad Draw tool. This was immensely helpful for me considering I would need to the exact same thing once I complete my Primordial sculpt in Z-Brush and would have to bring it into Maya to be textured and rigged. The process he showed us was quite fun and surprisingly straight forward but I think he’s going easy on us at this point.


Retopologized Low-Poly Model & Z-Brush Sculpt in Maya

Musical Inspiration: Blood Eagle

For me, music is a great medium for inspiration when it comes to conceptualising characters and world building, even if its in my head. Having a soundtrack is enough of a driving force to get my imagination running. Around the same time that I was drawing concepts for our character design project I started watching Vikings, a historical drama series produced by the History Channel. The series is a sensationalised depiction of the Nordic legendary hero Ragnarr Loðbrók who is said to be the scrouge of England and Francia. In my opinion the series is very well produced, I don’t have the stomach to truly appreciate on screen battle and scenes of bloody assault but they are done well enough for Vikings. What I liked more than the compelling story and characters is the musical soundtrack. Most of the background music feature the talents of Wardruna; a musical project centred around Nordic spiritualism. In the second season, Ragnar executes the Blood Eagle onto his enemy Jal Borg in front of many witnesses. I will not describe the exact details of the Blood Eagle which is a slow, torturous and horrific death and the sequence featured in Vikings of this execution was six minutes of utter brutality. It was the music from that scene (featured in the video above) that gave me something indefinable that helped me to understand and develop the Primordial character on another level. I lack words to describe Wardruna’s music made and sung in a language and instruments I am familiar with. Having come from a different cultural background, this music is alien and compelling. Well, inspiration can be found in unlikely places.

On a personal note; what initially convinced me to start watching was how it portrayed Vikings exactly the way I had pictured them as a teenager. I was reminded of my 14-year old self living in Singapore and telling avid stories of the Norse Gods that I had read to my fellow classmates. Considering the fact that I was studying in a Traditionalist Catholic school at the time that turned out to be a very bad choice. Two years later I was in a different school and was taking Art for my O’Levels. I took that opportunity to paint what I wanted which at the time were my versions of the deities Fenrir and Hel. This was over a decade pass and I haven’t thought of the paintings in many years. All I have are faded pictures of them but it’s good to be reminded of such things.


Phoenix (Originally titled Hel), Painted in 2003


Crime, Painted in 2002

Character Modelling: Head & Torso

[Blog]CharacterModellingHead02Polygon Model of Character Head (Beginning of Face)

This week we had a more thorough lesson in 3D modelling with Sang using his character sheet. We began each character element with either a basic polygon cube or plane in Maya. But first we imported image planes of the character sheet to use as modelling guides. Using mainly the front and side view of the character, Sang introduced us to Maya’s (new?) Modelling Tool Kit side panel and taught us how to utilise it to add cuts, manipulate vertices and extrude faces in order to create the character’s torso and then his face. We ended at a place partially at the place of the skull.

I’m not sure if I would be able to use this process in Maya to create my own character as I had already decided to use Z-Brush.  SO after the lesson I had a short chat with Sang and he gave me some encouraging pointers on how to use Z-Brush to model the Primordial character.  He told me to familiarise myself as best I could with Z-Brush brushes, Dynamesh, Subtools, Polypaint, Spotlight and normal/displacement mapping.


Polygon Model of Character Torso (Unsmoothed)


Polygon Model of Character Torso (Smoothed and Subdivided)


Polygon Model of Character Head (Beginning of Face)

Character Design: Primordial (Moodboard & Concept Sketches)


Primordial Character Design (Reference Moodboard)

For the Character Design assignment I have my goals set to create a giant primitive monster. Visual references in the mood/inspiration board in the above picture are from Blizzard’s Diablo, Neon Genenesis Evangelion, Pacific Rim, John Carter as well as other various sources. I drew the concept sketches below trying to conceptualise a character that is ancient, primordial and destructive. I wanted it to have four arms with three fingers on each hand, an elongated body and no eyes.


Primordial Character Design (Concept Sketch)


Primordial Character Design (Concept Sketch)


Primordial Character Design (Concept Sketch)

My initial inspiration for the character was from Ridley Scott’s Alien (Xenomorph) creature which was conceptualised by H.R. Giger. I am fascinated at the concept of how creatures without physical eyes can still sense and navigate with confidence and in this case; a primal sort of malice and destruction.


Xenomorph/Alien (1979) Source: Tumblr