Category Archives: Essay

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].

Abstract: Colour & Light as Effective Tools for Storytelling in Animation

My purposed work for Masters involves not only the development of technical and visual art skills but also the ability to tell a compelling story through the medium of animation. I intend to implement and develop these skills intensively in my class assignments and during the production of my final animation project; tentatively titled ‘Little Guardian’. The  animation will tell the story of the rivalry between a young animistic guardian spirit and a spoiled house cat.

The spirit in Little Guardian is a young entity that is ‘born’ when a animal statue is brought into a home and tasked with the responsibility to protect the home and its residents. This narrative concept of the film is the based on the spiritual perspective of animism. Animism is a term for a belief system that all beings including plants, animals and inanimate objects possesses a spiritual essence (Stringer, 1999).

For the visual style of Little Guardian, I am mainly inspired by “The Dam Keeper” (2014); an animated short film directed by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi. The film has a strong visual style with limited animation and made to resemble a children’s illustrated storybook come to life (Kondo and Tsutsumi, 2014). Another film that I take reference from is Disney’s animated short “Feast” (2014) which is told from the perspective of the dog. This concept is translated in the film through the use of low angle camera shots that presents the dog’s limited visual perception of the world around it to the viewer. As Little Guardian will be told from the perspectives of the cat and the spirit I hope to employ the same method. It is also for this reason that I am choosing to limit -or omit entirely- the use of dialogue and vocal narration in the short film and focus on telling the story visually.

Having a passion for painting, I am very keen to understand and practice a traditional realist approach to rendering an animated short film. My strengths lie in digital painting and I enjoy the flexibility of the medium. However, I find that I lack a deeper understanding and practice of basic artistic concepts like perspective, tone, form, value as well as colour and light theory. These skills play a pivotal role in the process of creating an animated film from story and world building through concept art, to story boarding, modelling, shading, effects and lighting for animation and rendering . Colour and light in particular are essential tools in storytelling as both add dramatic depth and complexity to the atmosphere of each scene (Rangaswamy, 2000). My goal has always been to be able to convey a story effectively and for this digital animation project I intend to focus on colour and light to visually illustrate the narrative.

In order to achieve this directive I intend to approach this animation project as an intensive learning process. Through regular tutorials, practice and tutor feedback, I will study and understand the fundamentals of understanding perspective, form, value, and the observation of light and colour throughout production. The animation of the film will be in 2-dimensions and slightly limited, but I will not neglect to study and practice animation principles. I feel that at the end of this project I will have gained not only knowledge and experience on the different aspects of animation production but also a greater confidence of my own capabilities.



  1. Stringer, Martin D. ‘Rethinking Animism: Thoughts From The Infancy Of Our Discipline’. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 5.4 (1999): 541. Web.
  2. The Dam Keeper. Tonko House, United States of America: Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi, 2014. film.
  3. Kondo, Robert, and Dice Tsutsumi. ‘Lightbox – ‘The Dam Keeper’ Directors Robert Kondo & Dice Tsutsumi (Pixar/Tonko House)’. YouTube. N.p., 2014. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.
  4. Feast. Disney: Patrick Osborne, 2014. film.
  5. Rangaswamy, Sudeep. ‘Visual Storytelling Through Lighting’. N.p., 2000. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

How Disney’s Frozen is Regarded and Disregarded As a Progressive Modern Animated Feature

In 2013 Disney released its 53rd animated feature entitled Frozen, a film inspired by Hans Andersen’s “Snow Queen” (1844). The original text was given a Disney makeover, with some characters and story plots getting replaced or rearranged to suit Disney’s vision of an ideal animated feature that will please audiences from all demographics. As Frozen became the most successful Disney animated film to date with worldwide earnings of well over a billion dollars it is obvious that Disney is well skilled in their knowledge and execution in producing films that engage and entertain their audiences. Frozen is considered to be a progressive and modern story set within a fantastical fairy tale universe and it is adored and abhorred by viewers and critics alike.

This essay intends to analyse the visual language and story execution of the film and how it created varying responses and different interpretations from its viewers.

The fantastic visual style of the film is inspired by Scandinavian culture. (Solomon, C. 2013) It borrows heavily from Norway’s natural landscape, architecture, decor and costumes that also make up the design aesthetic for the film in terms of light, colour and atmosphere. The filmmakers used advanced technological innovation to animated the realistic yet also stylized snow, ice and other effects of the film including facial expressions and hair and cloth simulation. Background and characters are conceptualised and modelled after Disney’s best hand-drawn classics as well as it’s previous successful fairy tale release Tangled (2010). As the film is a musical it employs appealing and catchy music sung by recognisable performers to support and further illustrated its story. The film’s most popular song “Let It Go” has been translated and recorded into 41 different languages (Keegan, R. 2014) and it is considered to be the film’s lead promotional asset within the international market.

While Frozen is undeniably a Disney film, it does stand apart from its predecessors through certain aspects of its story execution. Many have praised its decision to feature two main female protagonists whilst also turning one into a reluctant antagonist at the same time. There is also further personalisation of the main protagonists; Princess Anna and Queen Elsa as opposite characters in terms of strength both physical and emotional, independence, capability and attitude. These storytelling choices have been regarded as a positive representation of the nuance and complexity of the female psyche. Even secondary characters are fleshed out and engaging, they work together to drive the story and none are entirely redundant. However it is the film’s treatment of the concept of ‘true love’ and its emphasis on unconditional love between siblings that audiences hail as a milestone in Disney storytelling (Evenson, C. 2014). The overall themes of accepting and loving oneself for who you are, self control, self sacrifice and morality reassures parents of impressionable children that Frozen would be a film they can learn valuable lessons from. All of these factors coupled with its stunning visual style and engaging music is perhaps one formula for a financially successful animated film.

Yet despite the many positive responses the film has received much criticism has been garnered for it as well. The philosopher Stefan Molyneux (2014) in particular has much criticism regarding storytelling and characterisation of its main protagonists. Not particularly impressed with the theme of unconditional familial love, Molyneux compares this trope to emotional abuse for despite years of rejection from her sister Anna willingly sacrifices her life to save Elsa’s. Citing this apparent lack of realistic psychological damage as a delusion and insult to victims of real childhood trauma, he continues by addressing the rampant sexism he had observed to be presented in the film. He begins with the opening sequence of the film where a group of men are seen toiling and cutting ice for consumption with much effort. What he infers from this scene is the comparison of how the ice is a metaphorical currency and men have to work hard for that currency whereas the female protagonist controls and produces ice with the wave of her fingers; a metaphor of how women are able to gain and control resources by the merit of their beauty and charm.

“So – why is the grueling pursuit of excellence such a common theme in men’s movies, but not in women’s?” 

(The Truth About Frozen, 2014)

This is a reoccurring theme in the film. As an example Molyneux cites Elsa’s ability to master her repressed abilities to the extent of building an entire castle in less than a minute, abilities that by every means she should have difficulties to control regardless of her emotional state. He also dislikes Anna’s ability to survive the blistering cold and her physical skill and dexterity that enables her to save Kristoff twice; a man with a lifetime experience of surviving outdoors. She knows how to expertly tie a knot and drive a carriage. Unlike the film Tangled (2010) and Brave (2012) whose protagonists are seen practicing their skills in montages, in Frozen’s context Anna has only be seen dancing through the empty halls of her castle and is not portrayed as having any physical or mental pursuits. Neither sisters in fact are seen being taught the ways of ruling a country yet are still embraced as rightful rulers.

There is much evidence that discuss and conclude that while Frozen is perhaps a small step in the right direction towards progression and feminism, the film itself is suffers from problems in storytelling and is not as gender equal or progressive as it makes out to be. However, it is a positive sign that any film that garners this much debate at all amongst viewers proves that people care about what they watch and have the desire for intellectual discussion.


    1. Frozen. (2013) Animated Film. Directed by Chris Buck, Jenifer Lee. [DVD] UK:Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment;
    2. Solomon, Charles. The Art Of Frozen. Print.
    3. Tangled. Disney: Nathan Greno & Byron Howard, 2010. film.
    4. Rebecca, Keegan. ”Frozen’: Finding A Diva In 41 Languages’. latimes. N.p., 2014. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.
    5. Candice, Evenson. ‘How Frozen’S Treatment Of True Love Transcends Our Expectations | The Artifice’. N.p., 2014. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.
    6. Stefan Molyneux. 2014. The Truth about Frozen. [Online]. [Accessed 10 June 2014]. Available from: ;


  1. Andersen, Hans Christian (1983). The Snow Queen. The Complete Fairy Talesand Stories. trans. Erik Christian Haugaard. United States of America: Anchor Books;
  2. Block, Bruce A. The Visual Story. Amsterdam: Focal Press/Elsevier, 2008. Print.
    1. Joseph Campbell And The Power Of Myth – The Hero’s Adventure (1988) TvMini-Series. Directed by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers,[DVD] UK: Acorn;

KEY WORDS: Allegory. Cinematography. Characterisation. Sexism. Critical. Familial relationships.

Online Journalism: Google Glass


Google Glass (Image Source

On 15th of April 2014, for a single day only and in a limited number, tech-enthusiastic American consumers had the opportunity to purchase Google Glass Explorer, Google’s prototype device, at the cost of USD$1,500 (£894).

This has been the first instance when Google offered its device for sale to anyone across the United States, previously, having been available only via special invitation through its exclusive Explorer Program of prototype testers.

But even though it has been regarded as a pioneer in the era of wearable communication technology on its first testing in 2012, Google Glass has been in the centre of pro and anti-technology debates with a growing movement firmly opposing the use of it.


Google Glass (Image Source ).

Google Glass’ design, closely resembles a standard pair of eyeglasses which possesses a small optical display, shaped as a glass prism.

It is connected to the user’s smartphone via “Wi-Fi” or “Bluetooth” being designed for micro-interactions, via a touchpad that runs from the user’s temple to ear, or by “hands-free” voice command/actions.

But even though the device mirrors the abilities of many existing smartphones in the market today, it still possesses seven individual core functions.

Google Glass is able to record video, take photos, perform Web searches, navigate and get directions, send texts, make phone calls and instant message or video chat with contacts via Google Hangouts

Being able to be operated via voice actions, the device offers potential uses in the assistance of various types of clients.

Several conceptual uses have been proposed for Google Glass in education, emergency response and in healthcare.

For example, the Glass is being tested by educators, firefighters, police officers, doctors and surgeons among others.

One interesting example of its usefulness in healthcare is in Newcastle University.

Doctors at the university are trialling Glass to help patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

In collaboration with its users, the doctors have developed a programme that will remind patients to take their medication and to also swallow or speak up; behaviours that can prevent debilitating episodes of paralysis known as ‘freezing.’

From GPS to smartphones to personal computers and to the internet itself, the development of new computing technologies has almost always taken place exclusively in the realms of government, military and business.

So not everyone has praised Google’s more public approach into the exploration of more potential uses and usefulness of the device.

Several businesses have already begun pre-emptively banning it, a number of campaigns sprang, like “Stop the cyborgs” which encouraging businesses to ban Google Glass over concerns about surveillance and invasion of privacy, anti-surveillance group campaigns, and even a software subscription service called Anti-Glass.

The strongest backlash Glass received, has been from a social standpoint.

The rise of a derogatory nickname — “Glasshole” is one such example of the social stigma that has come to be attached to users of Glass.

To try and combat that way of thinking, Google has revealed its own Top 10 Google Glass Myths.

Concerns of social etiquette, electronic surveillance, invasion of privacy and other implications of misused have been prevalent in any discussion concerning Google Glass.

It also became a symbol of class division and gentrification.

Business Insider reporter Kyle Russell wrote about how “a mugger snatched his Google Glass off his face” and then smashed it into the ground while he was travelling through San Francisco’s Mission district.

Though initially confused at the scathing and negative reactions he had received in the wake of the incident, Russell was somewhat understanding of the feelings — writing that “anything associated with Google has come to represent gentrification in the city” thus acknowledging that he should have taken off his Glass.

Users rely heavily on broadcast technology, social media, mobile devices, video games and other innovations to enrich themselves whether in a business setting on in their personal lives.

Google or any company that is pushing wearable technology as evolutionary in the realm of communication technology have not yet effectively defined the utility of devices like smartwatches and heads-up displays, at least for general consumer use. Are they a necessity or a novelty?

 In the case of Google Glass, the use of the device can in fact, come across all too often as over gratuitous consumption.

With such a high price tag labelled onto a product that is technically still in development, experts and general consumers alike are questioning the logic behind the desire to purchase Google Glass Explorer.

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