One of the best parts of working in the film industry is the fact that each project we work on requires different approaches. As a result, I've had no choice but to expand my skill sets and learn new things. Painting color keys was not something I very experienced at ( I used to fancy myself as more of a character designer). When I first started, I had to struggle a bit because I didn't fully understand the difference between making a pretty illustration and painting a color key. In illustration we can cheat lighting to make something look good. With color keys, we have to try and make images that the lighters can actually use to realise the final look of a film. Painting keys forced me to have a better understanding of the principles of light, shadow and color.
Here are some of my keys from the film Ice Age the Meltdown.
When I work on color keys, I usually have all of them on the same page and go back and forth between the diffent keys. I find that if I build all of them up at the same time, the paintings will work together better as a whole. It's important to think of keys as a whole, because they have to work not only as a progression of shots in a sequence, but also from sequence to sequence, in relation to the whole film.
When I work on these keys one of the biggest challenges for me is to not getting hung up in unneccesary details. I think that good color keys are able to read clearly when they are the size of a postage stamp. The sequence above is from the second act of the film. The world is not nearly as sunny and pleasant as it was in the first act. Our characters were at a cross roads at this point in the story, because they were not really trusing eachother. We tried to design a color and lighting scheme that would complement the mood of the story.
As we get to the third act, the story is at its dramatic peak, we tried to make the color and lighting feel ominous and dramatic. We tried to do this by sucking a lot of the warm light out of the keys and using a very cool yellow light that makes the set look less inviting. This is is at the climax of the film and we wanted it to feel epic.
This project was really fun to work on. My job was made tremendously easier, because of the crew that I was lucky enough to work with. Xiangyuan Jie (affectionately called Master Jay) painted a stunning color script that helped guide us in painting our keys. Master Jay is probably the best painter I have ever met (we don't throw around the title "Master" to just anyone). Sitting next to him was kind of like going to graduate school. I also worked very closely with my Art Director/ Painting buddy Tom Cardone. Tom is an amazing painter and is a true student of painting. He also helped me score a Dean Cornwell painting so I am forever in his debt. The other color key artists on Ice Age The meltdown are Vincent Nguyen and Ron DeFelice. While sitting next to Jay was like being in grad school, sitting next to Vincent and Ron is like going back to grade school. Aside from the fact that they are both pretty hilarious, and we enjoy mercilessly teasing eachother, they are also really great painters. If you aren't familiar with their work, you should definately check them out. Vincent is a really accomplished children's book illustrator, while Ron is a great landscape painter (and my nemesis in Ping Pong).