As part of our storyboarding workshop, I did some research on colour theory and its relation to emotion in art.

There are a number of areas of interest here, from Fauvists distilling art into exploration of pure colour in the early 1900s, to the importance of colour in branding and marketing (very specific uses of colours can even be trademarked, such as the red outer sole of Louboutin shoes). The most relevant in terms of professional practise is the colour script, in which the use of colour throughout a film or animation is planned out ahead of time to help establish the mood and general look of the piece. Pixar in particular is notable for using this method for each of their films, and having released a book of their colour scripts used in the production of their films.


The above is a colour script for The Incredibles (2004), showing not only a strong and dramatic use of colour, but also composition. The stylisation, bold compositions and use of colour all create the film’s distinctive visual identity, so less guesswork is needed when the time comes to animate.


A more detailed colour script for a sequence from Finding Nemo (2003). The different colour temperatures create a sharp contrast between the moods of the different scenes shown here – the cooler colours are interrupted by strong reddish orange, an unexpectedly fiery colour to find in a water environment. Emotionally it functions here as a warning colour which creates suspense in the audience.

While there are some broadly reliable emotional associations to certain colours – such as excitement or alertness for red and competence for blue (Labreque & Milne, 2012), responses to colour depend very much on the individual viewing them. Because of this, it may not be a matter of finding the right colour to evoke a specific feeling, but establishing what the colours in a piece mean and communicating that visually to the audience. An example of this way of using colour is Pixar’s Toy Story 3 (2010):

The film’s director Lee Unkrich explained, ‘We came up with the concept of blue connoting safety and home. At the beginning of the film, Andy…his bedroom is blue, the sky is blue, his T-shirt is blue. He is in blue jeans, he’s got a blue car–these are not accidents. These are conscious choices. Everything in the movie is there for a reason. We are making a commitment to say that blue will connote safety and trying to avoid that in situations where we don’t want the audience to feel safe.

(The Art of Pixar)

As a final note of interest, MovieBarcode is a blog which posts almost a reverse-engineering of colour scripts, of sorts. The frames of a film are compressed and laid next to each other to form a ‘barcode’ for the movie allowing a quick overview of the use of colour over the whole work:

mv1Aladdin (1992)

mv2The Lion King (1994)

mv3And because I couldn’t leave out such a striking tonal shift as those deep blue night scenes, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).


Amidi, A. (2011). The Art of Pixar. 1st ed. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Gombrich, E. H. (2006). The Story of Art. 1st ed. London [etc.]: Phaidon.
Labrecque, L.I. & Milne, G.R. (2012) “Exciting red and competent blue: the importance of color in marketing.” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. 40: 711. doi:10.1007/s11747-010-0245-y.
David Lizerbram & Associates. (2012). Color as a Trademark. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Mar. 2017].
moviebarcode. (2011). moviebarcode – Aladdin (1992) [online] Available at: %5BAccessed 15 Mar. 2017].
moviebarcode. (2011). moviebarcode – The Lion King (1994) [online] Available at: %5BAccessed 15 Mar. 2017].
moviebarcode. (2015). moviebarcode – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Mar. 2017].
PIXAR. (n.d.). Colour Script. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Mar. 2017].
Rizvi, S. (2011). Book Review – “The Art of Pixar: The Complete Colorscripts and Select Art From 25 Years of Animation”. [online] The Pixar Times. Available at: [Accessed 15 Mar. 2017].