By: Elyse                Categories: AnimationBooks

What is the mood you want to create for your piece? Is it night or day? Are we in a happy place or a scary place? What is the atmosphere, the weight of the air, the temperature of the space? As soon as the film fades up from black and begins, an impression, emotion, feeling, or dramatic effect is created by the texture, color, lighting, and design elements of the location.


Everything in a location has a texture—the hard surface of a desk; the smoothness of a flower petal; the coarseness of a brick street. Texture is the fabric, material, fiber, grain, pattern, flexibility, or stiffness that gives a tactile surface quality to the objects in the world. The amount of texture defines the level of detail and reality in a scene. The more texture and detail present, the closer to reality the scene becomes for the viewer.

In The Animator and the Seat, there is a relatively low level of texture. This supports the boredom of the cubicle and desire of the animator to leave the space. The lack of texture also means there is a lower level of reality present which supports the believability of the unusual occurrences that take place in the space.

On the other hand, Respire, Mon Ami, is filled with semi-realistic, heavily textured locations. The reality of these spaces magnifies the weak grasp the boy has on his own sense of what is real.

High texture and detail give a sense of realism. Respire, Mon Ami, Chris Nabholz, Ringling College of Art and Design


Some colors that we use in a scene are dictated by what is called local color. These are colors that have natural associations. Grass is green; the sky is blue; the wood floor is brown, etc. Other colors are used to create emotion through visceral, psychological, or cultural associations. For example, green is associated with nature, growth, and rebirth. But it can also mean lack of experience, good luck, greed, envy, jealousy, or sickness. How can one color generate such a range of possibilities? The range of emotion often has to do with the value or saturation of the color. Yellow-green connotes sickness. Dark green is the color of ambition. Pure green symbolizes healing, safety, and nature. Colors have finite emotional associations. Reds and yellows are warm. Greens and blues are cool. Grays are neutral. Good design requires that you understand the range of emotion that a color can create so you can apply it thoughtfully in your work.

–        Red—warmth, richness, power, excitement, eroticism, romance, anxiety, anger

–        Orange—hot, healthy, exuberant, exhilarated, ambitious, fascinated, exotic, romantic, toxic

–        Yellow—happy, energy, joy, innocence, caution, cowardice

–        Green—vital, successful, healthy, fertile, safe, inexperienced, jealous, ominous, poisonous, corrupt

–        Blue—stable, calm, dependable, tranquil, loyal, sincere, passive, melancholy, cold

–        Purple—wise, dignified, independent, mysterious, mystical

–        White—innocent, good, pure, clean, cold

–        Black—elegant, formal, strong, authoritative, powerful, dangerous, evil, grief, death.

For every location in your piece, you will have a color palette that will define the emotion in the scene. The color of the scene may set one mood that remains constant throughout the scene or the color may change with the emotion of the character or the rising intensity of the action to support specific moments in the story. A color key or color script is used to plan the color scheme of a given film.

Color Script for Defective Detective, by Avner Geller and Stevie Lewis, Ringling College of Art and Design


This is the most important element in creating the mood of your piece. Many cinematographers refer to light as the paint for their canvas—the screen. Light is what shows or hides important details, defines shapes. Light sets the atmosphere, the tone, color and the drama of the scene through the quality and intensity of the light. Light determines what we see. It sets the composition.

Excerpt from Ideas for the Animated Short, 2e by Karen Sullivan et al. © 2013 Focal Press an imprint of Taylor & Francis Group.  All Rights Reserved.

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