How Pixar uses hyper-colors to hack your brain


Take the scene where the old Chicharrón ghost dies without remembering in the land of the dead. It’s a heartbreaking sequence, but the color palette is still going strong (although it leans heavily towards moonlight blue for now). Instead of removing the color, the scene is actually just less bright, lit not by virtual neon or glowing orange cempasúchil flowers but by just a few lanterns. “That was how we had to do it on Coco,Said Feinberg, “Just because it was a colorful and alive world, but we still needed to stir that emotion.” “

Control the lighting, control the colors, control the sensations. It’s cinema. As of this writing, the last 23 Pixar films – dating back to 1995 Toy story… earned $ 14 billion globally, and that doesn’t even take inflation into account. Children love them; adults love them. Even in a locked-down world without a cinema, the latest Pixar movie, Soul, grossed $ 117 million worldwide.

But I’ll tell you a secret: when it comes to twisting the emotion of color, Pixar cheats.

In a very Special screening room at Pixar’s corporate headquarters in Emeryville, California, is a very special screen. It’s not huge, maybe only 3 meters in diameter, and it sits at the front of a room dominated by a massive control panel dotted with five smaller computer screens and at least two. keyboards. The ceiling is covered with felt and the carpet squares are black instead of the standard gray at Pixar, to minimize light contamination.

Explaining what comes next forces me to deliver bad news. Do you remember the primary colors you learned in elementary school? Red, blue and yellow, right? So, yes, it is wrong. You were supposed to be able to mix them into all the other colors, but it never worked, did it? Blue and yellow were supposed to be green, but you turned brown. Red and blue were supposed to make purple, but you’ve got… brown.

This is partly because subtractive colors reflect certain wavelengths of light and absorb others. Mix them up and you absorb more and think less. Things are darkening. Unless you carefully manage the pigments and the mixture, and start with the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black primaries – the beloved CMYK of magazine makers.

This is also wrong because people often confuse light from a source like a TV or a star with the color that occurs when light hits a surface. These primaries are not the only possible primaries. But even Newton was a little confused about it. His primary colors are the specific base colors he identified in the spectrum he projected from a window onto a wall in 1665, locked away at his mother’s house as a pandemic raged at his university. You can understand, right? Newton shattered the whitish sunlight into a rainbow of colors and chose to draw the borders at seven: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and purple. He called it a spectrum, but of course that categorization leaves out a lot – “extraspectral” colors like pink or purple or, yes, brown. (Brown is just dark yellow. Hush.)

If you’re reading this on a screen rather than on paper, you see a concatenation of light generated by red, green, and blue pixels – a whole different set of primary colors, not by chance at wavelengths similar to receivers. color in your eyes are listening. A little more or a little less of each, and just like with CMYK pigments (and white light or white paper), you can create just about any color the human eye can see. The point is, the colors we see aren’t actually mixed from a list of available colors, like buying from a paint store. It is a continuum of light and reflection, interpolated by the biological sensors of our eyes and the not fully understood flesh of reflection just behind them.



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