Color is a fascinating and sometimes confounding subject. Colors come from many sources. Some are derived from minerals found in the earth, some from chemical reactions, and some are made using the skeletons of insects. Duplicating a color takes understanding and craftsmanship, and a little help from friends.
ENTER THE COLORIMETER
A colorimeter or spectrophotometer, as you can likely guess, is a tool for measuring color. We have three of them at S/R Labs, thanks to Konica Minolta, one of our sponsors. Each reads a different-sized field, but all operate basically the same. The meter reads in several different color spaces, i.e. RGB, CMYK, LAB, and so forth. Each is defined a little differently and the color is expressed in numeric values. The result is an accurate color reading that can be conveyed to anyone in the world allowing them to achieve the precise color as read by the colorimeter.
Okay, we use a colorimeter. But is it a big deal? Can it tell us how to mix to the precise color or just give us an indication of which direction to follow? The answer depends on the sophistication of our equipement. Without boring you to tears, suffice it to say we know which direction to travel.
But it gets better. You see, S/R Labs digitized the entire Disney color library spanning its entire history. We provided Disney with a fully working color program so any Disney artist can specify any Disney color in one of several ways and utilize that information anywhere around the globe. A digital representation of the color together with its color space is ideal for any application from filmmaking to printing T shirts. Mickey’s shorts and Donald’s sailor suit will be the same color worldwide. And, we have the complete Hanna-Barbera color reference in both wet and dry samples, the Warner Bros. color samples, the Filmation color references and much more.
So, do we have the correct color? We are proud to say absolutely. But wait! There’s more!
Matching colors accurately is one thing. But what is the true color of, say, Snow White’s skirt. Now you might think yellow is yellow is yellow. And, to be sure, yellow IS yellow. But which yellow? There are many different yellows such as Hansa yellow, toluidine yellow, Arylide yellow, one of many of the cadmium yellow pigments? Which one is it? Not the shade, but the actual pigment that makes the shade. Some yellows are redder and some greener. And, regardless of what the colorimeter tells us, we need to know the pigment that makes the color.
In the case of cels the pigment is right there if you know how to look. The paint visible to the camera on the front of the cel is faded and, to complicate the matter, the viewer or camera it through a cel that has changed its color over time. In the case of Snow White, the cel is at least 80 years old as I write. No meaningful color measurement can be performed from the front of the cel. The back of the cel is usually dirty and often has paint or glue or some other substance on it making a color reading difficult or near impossible.
We developed a technique to read the color at the center of the paint layer. Yes, the layer is thin, but the only place the true color of the paint layer can be registered or measured. Besides being able to read a pinhead-sized field with our colorimeter we can see the color in even a smaller sample thanks to our friends at Olympus Instruments. So, the color is accurate and our references of pigments available through history, thanks to the National Paint and Coating Society, makes honing in on the pigment actually used to make the color itself possible.
Thanks to the generosity of Morehouse Industries, our high-speed paint mill is able to produce the finest animation paints and inks, surpassing even the Disney Studios in quality. As far as we know, S/R Laboratories is the only facility in which Disney animation paint continues to be made. And, of course, we make paints that are consistent with the colors of other studios as well. There are about 10,000 standard colors in our color library.
IN THE END IT’S ABOUT CRAFTSMANSHIP
Knowing the correct pigment to get the correct color to make the best paint or ink is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to animation art conservation and restoration. It’s all about craftsmanship. The formula for our brand of craftsmanship includes a hearty amount of passion—passion to get it right and to get it right every time. Our craftsmanship has never been duplicated. In the end it’s all about the “color” of our craftsmanship. Do we have the correct color? You know the answer. What are you waiting for?