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Color scripts

Color scripts play a crucial role in Pixar movies, unifying light and color vision before lighting begins. They visually map the film's emotional arc, highlighting key moments and differentiating scenes. By boiling down the story into essential visuals, color scripts enhance storytelling and evoke emotions in the audience.

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Video transcript

- Now that you've learned about the roles that lights can play and even how they can be used to say something about a character, let's back up and take a look at the overall process for lighting a movie at Pixar. You may be familiar with scripts, but did you know we have color scripts? I'm standing here in front of the color script for Coco. A color script is a snapshot of the whole movie with a frame painted from each scene. Through the color script, you get an idea for how each story moment will be lit, and its overall color and value structure. The color script also shows how each scene will look in the context of other scenes. It shows the progression of light and color throughout the movie. Similar to how a written script allows everyone to stay in sync on how the story points will develop throughout a film, a color script does this for the lighting. To better understand how these color scripts are created and used in the filmmaking process, I've brought Danielle and Bill to tell us more. - So we do these things called color scripts for the movie, and they are this really wonderful tool that we use where we can basically visually map out the whole film before we're in the thick of it, and so, we have a sense of what the story is, it's continually changing, but we're sort of mapping out visually what's happening. And so, the way to do that is you think about the sort of emotional arc of the film, and we, on Coco, there was actually a graph of the emotional beats in the film so that you knew the low points and the high points, key places in the movie where you know you have to kind of hit highs and lows and maybe some important scenes that maybe aren't super emotional but sort of set the tone of things, and start with those kind of key tentpole moments. On Coco, we had the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead, and so one of the initial things we think about is how do we want those to differ. In the Land of the Living, it's very warm colors, it's this very sun-drenched, dusty kind of Mexican town, and in the Land of the Dead, we have a lot of, we have every color, but it relies a lot on sort of cool tones of the moonlight, and these sort of purples and blues. Some things that I was thinking of as tentpoles in the Coco color script are, you know we have the moment where de la Cruz, we discover that he's this evil guy. That has to be a really, really visually evocative moment as is at the end with Mama Coco, and so thinking about those and really nailing those down early. And then you have something where, it isn't a high or low emotionally, but we know sort of visually, it's going to be the most kind of regular let's say, which is when they go to the Department of Family Reunions, and that's this moment that we actually want to feel like you're going to the Department of Motor Vehicles or something and has sort of that bland, bureaucratic lighting. And so that, in the Land of the Dead, is sort of the most, sort of regular lighting that we get to in the sort of least among of color variation in the lighting and so, as we start to find those things where you need to differentiate, that's where you get, and then you figure out how to kind of work into those and work out of them. - My name is Bill Cone, and I'm a production designer at Pixar. A production designer is sort of responsible for the overall design and look of a movie. What usually happens in these stories is there's a change of some sort. You know, a character goes from one environment to another, or some event happens. He gets in a car wreck, or gets a new job, or falls in love, and those are the moments, you'll know them in the story, you can see them, if the story is just like this, it's not a very good story. It has to have this type of quality, and you can find those, just think practically about what are they. You know, what are the experiences that the character is going through in the story, and that'll tell you these are key events, and those are the ones you gotta pick and visualize. I can show you an example of how I tried to boil down the story points into a color script with not too many frames. This is Cars 3, and at the beginning, McQueen has an extraordinary, happy career going, and he's feeling great about everything, but then he starts to lose races, and so you can see how bright and sunny it is here, and then, it gets darker and more shadowy. Eventually, he has a horrible crash. So, if you break that down, you can see, Life is great, some guy beat me, I really had a horrible wreck, and now I'm back in Radiator Springs trying to recover, in which case, we're showing this winter light with a dark sky and things like that. So, you can simplify even a feature film into this kind of smaller format. That's the whole joy of it actually is boiling down the movie into its few essential visuals as possible and being able to see the whole movie at once. - One great example of how we use a color script is on Wall-E. The idea was that we're on Earth, it's polluted, it's 700 years old. We have to do all this visual storytelling 'cause we don't have any traditional dialogue in the first 30 or so minutes of the film. And so one of the really pinnacle moments in that first chunk of the film is when Wall-E finds the plant. So Ralph's plan was that there should be no green anywhere on earth, nothing should have any green. So that when Wall-E finds that plant, it has so much visual impact for audience 'cause they haven't seen green for like 30 minutes. It elicits extra sort of emotion and reaction to things which is what it should because it's the first plant that Wall-E or anyone has seen on Earth in a long time. So that's one way of sort of using the color script and color and light to add this extra emotional sort of visual punch to things. - It's important to not get too involved in detail. It's better to sort of do as few as possible if you can, and if you think you have a, you know a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, it could possibly be only three paintings, but that there's really some change that's occurring. There's some resolution, there's some conflict, and you'll know where those points are in the story by just reading the script. If you can boil it down to, you know, less than 20, it's a good idea. You know, you could possibly do it in 12 or something like that, maybe four per Act One, four Act Two, Act Three, you end up with 12. That's a good place to start. It doesn't mean you couldn't make it more extensive than that, but if you can make it as simple and short as possible, you'll probably have the strongest statement of your ideas. - So to summarize, color scripts play an important role in clarifying and unifying a vision for how the light and color is used in a movie before we even begin to light. The next exercise will give you a chance to analyze some actual color scripts used here at Pixar. You will also have a chance to generate one of your own. Have fun!