Game Art for Gamers 104: Color Theory at Takuchat.com
by our user Isiac DaGraca
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This week we’ll be taking a basic intro to Color Theory before getting into the more subjective topics relating to color. This introduction is important because we need to have an idea of why artists choose certain combinations of colors when it comes to presentation. Be sure to check out earlier articles focusing on “The Elements of Art” and “Principals of Design“
Some of these topics i’ll be bringing up below do apply meaning to scenery and characters, but that’s not the focus of this article. Look forward to next weeks “Color Meaning” article for that.
A Brief Explanation of Color
I have no doubt you’ve seen a color wheel before. The color wheel is a representation of the spectrum of colors the eye can see. Below is a primary and secondary color palate using red, green, and blue. Kind of looks like a Venn diagram right?
This is what happens when you merge the primary colors of the spectrum. Merging red, green, and blue 100% creates white light. Here you also find the secondary colors of the spectrum Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow that are created when mixing only two of the primary colors.
So if you’ve used image editing programs like Photoshop and tried to make colors with a slider, you now understand why setting all the sliders to their highest results in white, and other variations create other colors. It is all based on the spectrum.
So the short explanation is that the color wheel is composed of the spectrum of visible light.White light contains all colors. The primary colors red, green, and blue can essentially be used to create all colors by adjusting each primaries value.
The Color wheel
So here we see the color wheel, this is our reference for a lot of what we’ll talk about in this article and in the future. As you can see very similarly to the image before, you have your primary and secondary colors, along with tertiary colors.
Now this is nowhere near a commonly used color wheel, but it does a great job of breaking down the colors. When it comes to creating color schemes you’d use a wheel that’s more advanced. Like the one below.
There are also some very important lines in the first diagram. A triangle outlining the three different primary colors. And then another line drawn to adjacent colors, for instance blue and yellow. These lines represent complementary colors.
Complementary colors are colors that tend to look good together, and provide contrast. Blue and Yellow, or Azure and Orange are easily the most commonly seen in media because of skin color; And also explosions…
If you look at the color wheel you’ll find that these color combinations I named are on opposite sides of the wheel.
Complementary is the most basic of color schemes. It’s very frequently used in Battlefield promo images.
Warm & Cool
If you were to draw a horizontal line across Violet and Chartreuse Green on the color wheel you’d have warm colors on the top then cool colors on the bottom. Clearly redder tones are warm, bluer tones are cool. This is an example of feeling generated by colors.
Here in this scene from Kingdom Hearts 2 you see Kairi’s home town outside of Destiny Islands, a similar setting can be found in Twilight Town also in the game. The tone of this scene might feel comforting and welcoming
The majority of SSX 2012 stages are bathed in tones and tints of blue or cyan, note how the rails and arrows are red since the complementary of cyan would be most visible. The tone here is clearly less homey, you certainly feel exposed to the elements.
Tints, Tones, and Shades; White, Gray and Black
Keeping this brief, in the context of the color wheel, tints contain white, tones contain gray, and shades contain black. Can’t get any simpler than that. These terms are often used wrong, I think people ignore tint and tone most of the time and just use shade for everything.
So adding white, gray, or black to a primary would give it one of these three names.
Lastly on this topic I’ll talk about some other basic color schemes often used. As with the previous concepts these can also present feelings and moods.
If you want to experiment with seeing these color schemes on characters or scenes I’d recommend using Adobe Kuler to play around.
You might immediately think “Black & white” but the usual ‘near death’ indicator isn’t restricted to just those colors. Monochromatic can be used for any primarily single color scene.
Probably one of the most well-known examples is the nuke scene in the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
And while CoD isn’t known to be a colorful game, this scene still provided an impressive contrast to the world you saw before. Grim and dust-covered. But monochrome isn’t just for depressing or dark scenery. It all depends on the colors used and context.
Some scenes use it to display fond memories and past events, or represent a change in emotion.
The short description is three colors on the color wheel next to each other. For instance Cyan, Chartreuse Green, and Green. Which is a good color scheme to represent a forest and sky. Like this screenshot from The Witness on PS4.
Triadic & Split Complementary
Triadic is an interesting color scheme that gives good color variety, It’s good to point out that more complex color schemes are where ideas like tint, shade, and tone become necessary to unify the colors. It’s important to identify where those colors start and what they’re mixed with.
Split complementary is cool because like complementary it uses opposing colors for contrast but in this case it uses two colors instead of one.
Imagine the points creating an elongated triangle on the color wheel, rather than the triangle we saw pictured before.
Kite from .hack//Infection is a great example of a Split Complementary color scheme, his color scheme is essentially Red, Yellow, and cyan seen here in the “Tri-Edge” version of his character design. I used this version cause I still think this design is bad ass…Just sayin.
Rectangle and Square
This one is interesting because the points would make a square on the color wheel rather than a triangle or line. Possibly one of the more complex and difficult methods to use effectively.
The best example I found is Lightning from Final fantasy XIII which uses a color palette that includes the 3 primary colors, and yellow tones.
Accent colors are colors used to emphasize parts of a design. They don’t make up the main color of the design, but they provide a contrast from other elements.
A good example is Milla Maxwell from Tales of Xillia on the PS3, You can see the pink ribbons and patterns on her arms are used to build interest on that aspect of the character.
For this week 1UP think of a character you’ve created in a game. So for games like Tony Hawks Pro Skater, an MMO RPG, or some other game that permits custom characters.
What colors do you usually use on the characters you create and why?
I for one have a particular fancy for dark-skinned characters with a bright hair color like white, light blue, or pink. The outfit usually varies for me but i usually go for a black outfit with red and blue accent colors.
Next week we’ll take a look at color meanings, and how its affected many of our favorite games. We’ll also talk about how those color meanings change between cultures and countries.
For instance, white flowers are a sign of love in countries like america, but in japan and many other cultures white flowers are a sign of death given on funerals. So in MGS3/4 a Japanese game, an american soldier Big Boss puts white flowers on The Boss’s grave. Is this merely affirming her death? Or displaying Big Bosses love for The Boss?
We’ll look at this more next week.