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to Color Key or not to Color Key?

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to Color Key or not to Color Key?

Hi everybody!

I need some advice. I am currently heading a project, and an issue has come up and I am not sure what the answer is/should be.
The question is...Should we take the time to create a color key for characters and environments.
It's a question because one of my responsibilities is to budget hours, and deliver on time.
It's not a huge show. It's 3D animation, large screen format, about 12 minutes long, style is supposed to be a bit Shrek-ish, saturated colours, with semi-realistic textures and lighting.
I have 6 animators, including myself, with 3 months pre-production, and 6 months production.
So....should we create color keys as part of the pre-production process, or is it not feasible with the resources at my disposal, and the semi/small callibre of production I'm dealing with?

thanks in advance,

ps, if the answer is "yes, you gotta do a color key always" then any pointers on how to go about it?

cool....i have no idea what you are talking about

in my termonology book a colour key is something in relation to colour keying aka pulling a matte aka green/blue screen

can you explain what your definition is?

cheers dude
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the fastest polygon in the west!


Colour keys present you with problem-solving and control opportunities.
Its just more of the old saw: "Fail to plan, plan to fail".

If you create character and location elements seperately, you run the risk of having colour elements conflict on screen when the two are composited together.
Doing keys gives you a chance to change a hue, or even a lighting value within a given scene and enhance the overall mood rather than detract from it. A charatcer should not be treated as a set-coloured object anyway, their hues can change depending upon the night/day/light/dark values in a setting.

To make the keys work, take your background, and consider the major poses the character will strike within that background. If colour values are very close along the path of action, you could have problems--but you can adjust them once they are spotted. All you are doing is creating still shot set-ups of the major poses of a given bit of screen business with the specific background(s) to see if it works all the way through.

Disney and others typically do a lot of their storyboards IN COLOUR to help work through this step at a very early stage.

The process doesn't take long, can be combine with a "layout" stage prior to animation, and gives you that much more control over the look of the final product.

"We all grow older, we do not have to grow up"--Archie Goodwin ( 1937-1998)

Ken is spot on. you dont want to take a chance with this. you could def do this process and get it done. you might not even have to pose them out overall, just have atleast one pose over the backgrounds you are going to be using. you lose some sense of lighting etc but its still more info than going in blind.

is that the same as a colour script?

or mood board?
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the fastest polygon in the west!


Here's an example of this:

You have a character that is going to leap into shot, land, and do some acting business, probably involving some bows and broad arm gestures.
The BG is a dark-ish room, with furniture, and a single lamp w/ shade on a table on one side of the composition.
The lamp is a tan shade, lit from within, and the characters skin is a fairly close shade of tan as well.
In the course of the planned acting, the character bends over so a body part ( head, hand etc) superimposes overtop the lampshade--and it "disappears" in the midst of that colour spot. Obviously, that would/could look horrendous on screen.
The keys in this case can help you identify this kind of conflict quickly, and help you determine whether you want to keep the lamp, get rid of it, or change the posing/acting of the character, OR change the colours of things.

You could move the lamp and table and then find that a arm gesture places a hand overtop the same lampshade--again, giving you an opportunity to change things.
Something like the lampshade could be changed from a tan colour to a terracotta, for example--providing you with constrast from the character, but not neccessitating any placement changes in the built enironment.
As I said before, the keys give you these options and control.

"We all grow older, we do not have to grow up"--Archie Goodwin ( 1937-1998)

ah right

i didnt realise that proceedure had a name beyond being called common sense

thanks for the lesson mr davis
for more movies and downloads

the fastest polygon in the west!


Mood too.

Color keys are really helpful with the mood in an animated film. Whether its at night or during the day- the weather, atmosphere, etc.... all the good stuff Ken said.


thanks guys, a million fold

OK folks, (especially Ken) This has been EXTREMELY helpful.
One thing we are budgetted for is to go out-of-house for environment concept design, and I've chosen a great artist who does everything in colour and also has a great eye for tones and atmospheres.
Characters....we already have them actually, we have been blatently told to re-use characters from a previous version of the show, because they are recognized here in Taiwan. We will upgrade the characters in many ways, obviously, and we'll also play with the colour tones of the character's clothing.
Which means, by placing character renders over top of the environment concept paintings, then playing with them together in photoshop, that should give us the colour keys we need. I hope.
You guys (especially Ken) were super-clear, and 100% right.