April 18 – Kathy Altieri – Storytelling With Color – In SCA 112!!

Kathy Altieri will give a special presentation entitled, “Storytelling With Color”, discussing the importance of color in feature animated filmmaking as it applies to production design, lighting, and storytelling.

Kathy Altieri has worked in the animation industry for 25+ years as a production designer, art director, and painter. Kathy was the first artist to be hired at the then, newly formed DreamWorks Animation back in 1996. Recently, she served as a production designer on the DWA Academy Award nominated film, “How to Train Your Dragon”.

Altieri was Production Designer on Over the Hedge and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. She also worked as an Art Director on the critically acclaimed film The Prince of Egypt. In fact, Kathy was the very first artist to be hired at the then, newly formed DreamWorks Animation back in 1996.

Before joining DreamWorks Animation, Altieri worked as a Background Painter and Supervisor on the Disney Feature Animation films The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Lion King, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid. Kathy has taught or been a guest lecturer at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American Film Institute, USC, Art Center College of Design, the School of Visual Arts (NY), Ringling College of Art and Design, Sheridan College, Rhode Island School of Design, San Jose State, De Anza College, AGIDEAS conference in Australia, Creative Talent Network Expo, and ICON (Illustration Conference). She also is part of various studio initiatives (internal Artistic Enrichment programs and external Outreach Programs) that draw on her solid instruction, teaching and presentation abilities..

Little Known Tidbit: Kathy is a fifth degree black belt and certified instructor in Aikido.

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32 comments on “April 18 – Kathy Altieri – Storytelling With Color – In SCA 112!!

  1. It was such a pleasure meeting and chatting with Kathy! : )

    I’m really glad that she actually talked about color and painting rather than just documenting her life. I think her talk was very informative. Several things she said are very similar to what I have heard from Will Weston, such as black receding and white coming forward, and using the path of lighter values to bring attention to the area of focus on a painting. But I thought the most valuable thing she said was thinking about what the colors make you feel and finding reference of paintings that give you those emotions. Then its just a matter of sampling or mimicking that color to get that feeling, and I think you can really learn about how to use color that way. I love the “who cares” attitude about color theory because I think really thinking about if the colors “compliment” each other can ruin the process, and really if you don’t get the right feeling at the end, then the color theory wasn’t of help.
    I also get frustrated with the inability to mix colors in photoshop as one would in paint. But lately, I’ve been thinking of photoshop more as a marker set than paints, because when you use markers you can’t really add a little green to darken that red. Instead you just get a weird greyish red. I think though knowing how to paint traditionally can only help you, and I hope I can learn to paint better because I really think you do develop a sensitivity to color.
    The photoshop color palette that she showed was also really helpful. I want to play around with that soon. I haven’t really been thinking about hue, but I see that is very important.
    I will definitely be thinking about a rise and fall in emotion and how the color supports that evolution in the thesis film.
    Also thanks for being such an engaging speaker and involving the audience for examples. : )

  2. Ruthie Williams says:

    This was a really usedful workshop for those of us that have little to no background with color theory and how to use it in film. Thinking about color early on seems to be a wonderful way to make sure you are getting all your ducks in a row. It makes you think about the tone of your film and commit to it, it makes you think about lighting and how you want to direct the emotions of the audience through your film, it makes you think about your characters and thier arcs.

    Kathy was a really instructive speaker and brought clear examples of the things she was talking about. This was awesome and helpful. Her emotional story arc/beat board gave me a good idea of how to approach designing the color in a film in a way that is clear and can be communicated easily to others. I will definitely be using color with more confidence in the future. Hopefully avoiding a foray into the Michael Bay of Color territory though :)

  3. Nesli Erten says:

    The practical knowledge embedded in this week’s upbeat seminar by Kathy Altieri was super helpful. Especially now, with production one around the corner. For me, this seminar couldn’t have come at a better time. So far in the program Color Theory has not come up in any of our classes. Which, to me, seems a little curious seeing as it is a very important part of the production process and art in general. In any case, hearing terms like emotional beatboards, color scripting, saturation, etc. made me realize that I have no idea about color. It was a good wake up call with the message “GO STUDY COLOR” in all caps. Unfortunately the seminar was too short to cover all the elements of basic color theory, but I appreciate very much the bits of information that was dispelled and will use what I have learned in the projects to come.

  4. Cecilia De Jesus says:

    For me personally, I thought this seminar was one of the best seminars so far. Though I studied color theory in my undergrad studies and had a pretty formal arts foundation with painting and drawing, I always enjoy hearing how to apply color theory knowledge in film. It seems quite simple, but it is really easy to forget about color when you’re worrying about so many other things in your film. Kathy gave some really useful pointers and information about creating mood, tone, and life to film. Color is one of those elements that can go unnoticed when it’s working well in a film. So it was nice to see the examples from films Kathy has worked on.

    It was also nice to see how a classically trained painter has continued with animation into the age of 3D CG. I’m glad to know that someone who really knows the power of color is bringing that knowledge to CG films. That is definitely essential in creating a beautiful film that works on many levels. I’m happy Katzenberg saw how valuable Kathy is to creating his films. Dreamworks is very lucky to have her and it was great to hear her insights.

  5. Robert Calcagno says:

    Having taken Color Theory and initially being a painting focus at UTSA, not to mention being a self-professed colorist in my own right (perfect color vision SUCKAHS!!!), I was very familiar with many of the concepts that Kathy brought up in the class. Color is a very important factor with animation, even the absence of color can speak volumes.

    And what I’ve appreciated in recent Dreamworks Animation features, especially in comparison to the rather sterile/clinical color scheme of their earlier CGI work, is the level of chromatic complexity. To the super-saturated and vibrant animation of Kung Fu Panda 1/2 and especially with the more subtle and nuanced colorization of How To Train Your Dragon, DWA has really stepped up their effort to make some really beautiful and dynamic color to their features.

    I though it was especially cool, and encouraging to me personally, that animated features really do need someone that can essentially dictate the visual dramatics entirely through color schemes. With the access to the digital colorization tools, the industry NEEDS people that can communicate a story through color and can enhance a feature by doing that, be it animation OR live-action.

    It’s almost disappointing that mediums like video gaming have become trapped in this grunge/brown hue to everything, it’s especially disappointing considering that if there’s any field that can be creative chromatically it’s video games. Look at Fez or Journey or Skyward Sword or even a game like Skyrim, which manages to make a wintery tundra into a varied beautiful landscape. Don’t become a victim of the mud-monster!

    In fact, I’m actually shocked that USC doesn’t actually offer a course in Color Theory in any of the schools here. It’s infuriating to me to see some of the live-action shorts through Production and the Starks Program that barely uses color correction or relies on lazy modern colorization techniques like the “teal-orange” method or just copying Traffic or the Matrix.

  6. Wow! That was one of the most informative and helpful few hours of my life. USC should really have a color class or something, because now I feel like there is this treasure trove of knowledge that was hidden from me. I’ve been looking at all my favorite animated works now, examining their use of color based upon what Kathy said.

    This presentation was one that I am going to remember for years and years. I’ve definitely going to have a lot more in mind whenever I choose colors in any project I make.

    Also, wow, she was right. So many video games have awful colors. Ugh. Everything is so much more hideous now. Video games have now been ruined for me. My life is in shambles.

  7. Amy Lee Ketchum says:

    That was a fun and informative lecture. The main thing I got from her talk was that even though color is really complex, success comes with sophisticated simplicity. I agree with her that looking at painters who studied the real world as opposed to relying on our memory or on internet images is the ideal way to study color next to actually studying color in real life.

  8. Dan Wilson says:

    Kathy’s reaction to us not having a color design class in the animation school wasn’t surprising, “Oh God.” But knowing it’s offered elsewhere in the university makes that not as bad. What resonated most with me was a difference between CG and 2D that she pointed out. 2D tells story with color far more than CG. CG uses lighting in many situations where color would be more carefully designed in 2D. I’m not too adept at color design or lighting… My thesis lends itself well to a mix of both of these techniques, in preproduction, production, and postproduction.

    The most important thing Kathy mentioned was that if your film doesn’t make sense in grayscale, it won’t make sense. Even though I’m not trained in “proper” color, using grayscale is a fast and easy way to ask myself if it’s working or not.

  9. Eric Tortora Pato says:

    Kathy’s color work and lecture were awesome, and reminded me of how much I miss the opportunity to regular get by brushes and hands dirty in paint and color. Still, I think it’s interesting that we are finally reaching the point where the overly technical software and hardware that was killing our sense for a generation is now, finally, giving us ways back in. In particular, a few of the iPad apps that I discussed with Kathy (and Mike and Candace) present an excellent bridge between tactile traditional wet media and the refined digital. These two in particular are Adobe Color Lava, which is adobe’s specialized, 3 dollar color theme creation tool, which lets you take either an existing picture or a blank slate, mix it like watercolor, and select 5 color themes from it (ready to sink up instantly with CS5.5), and Artrage, which is a $9 traditional media emulator (ala corel painter) on the ipad, which translates working and mixing with paint remarkably well. Not only is it the color logic of these programs, but the very nature of the touch interface that allows them to be so much more intuitive. The device can really seem to disappear in your hand, and it just feels like your a kid playing with paints again, trying to understand what colors make what other colors. Definitely recommend both of them.

  10. Liffany Chen says:

    Kathy is one special person. I like how she was so matter-of-fact and clearly very knowledgable about what she does and how important it is.

    I appreciate her color-theory-in-a-nutshell which is more of a “this color makes you feel _____” as supposed to the very technical and stuff “this color complements this color” and so on. It’s really more effective for story art and illustration, which is what made The Prince of Egypt so freaking cool and dynamic. (Also, now I know what an emotional beat board is.) Kathy was so straightforward with what the work entails that I learned a lot more from her than just “I do this and I don’t do that and back in my day…”. She had a simple but very informative presentation with very clear examples that helped make her point. I always took good color schemes for granted, but now that Kathy’s brought it to my attention, yeah, now I do know why game art is so….game…art…y.

    I like Kathy. Bring her back!

  11. Tristan Dyer says:

    What Kathy had to say was very helfpful. I think color can be approached systematically like most problems, which for me is essential since I am color blind. I especially liked the advice that if your image doesn’t read in black and white then it is a compositional problem. That explains why black and white photos and films have to be compositionally graphic. I would have liked to hear a few more professional anecdotes rather than have it be a color 101 workshop, but I still a lot away.

  12. Andrew Malek says:

    I really like when an industry professional can come in with extremely condensed and effective rules of thumb to work by. It shows that they know their craft intuitively and can feel the solution to problems as opposed to thinking about them. This is the impression I got with Kathy, that she is someone who really knows what they are talking about, and how to communicate those ideas. Some of the best things I learned included the idea of reducing things to black and white before even attempting color, and that they way to make something look darker you put something bright next to it.

    Since I have more of a cinema background rather than an art background color theory is something I have never taken a class in but I know is really important, thanks to Kathy now I have a few ideas about color.

  13. Color Theory is my white whale. No pun intended. I know it’s out there, I’m constantly searching for it, but usually failing in the capture.

    Still, I believe color to be one of the biggest and most important aspects of composition. Not for its decoration aspect but in the sense of the things that light can do for guiding your eye and telling your story.

    I don’t come from a painting background, that may be why I find the theory so elusive. But I appreciate the digital tools because they have given me enough room and confort to experiment and develop my own taste. Hit an miss is what I always say.

    Ms Altieri gave amazing tips and opened many doors that I’m really excited to enter. I’m really interested in a more rigorous follow up on them.

    Also, I didn’t know you went color blind from staring to much into a color. Now that I know, I’m starting to notice it more.

  14. Joseph Yeh says:

    Kathy Altieri had so much to say about color and her presentation has me really becoming more aware of color. One thing that she seemed to emphasize strongly was juxtoposition of color- finding the balance or the big versus the small. Furthermore, I found it very interesting that color speaks with emotion much like music. Not knowing much about color, I found that her comment on making an artistic choice in color applies to every aspect of great film making. It is so important to be aware of decisions and to put color and lighting into the thinking process for the whole film to come together.

  15. Einar Baldvin Arnason says:

    Kathy’s presentation was very interesting and she made sense of o a lot of things that have been floating around in my head. I really liked her explanation of photoshop color and how having every color available to you as opposed to having to mix it yourself (or buy it) was of much value. Digital work is often plagued by this, the fact that everything is available and that artists often lack the experience or restraint to know what to stay away from. I also liked Kathy’s presentation of the material very much, it was fast and to the point.

  16. Lauren says:

    This seminar was extremely useful to me, espeically right now as I am trying to come up with a possible color palette for an animation project. The emotional beat board she displayed is a device that I am going to try and attempt to make. I have never seen one before and glad she showed it to us. I found it interesting how she exlained that we must work 40 times harder to get away from a dangerous/angry/lustful vibe when you want to show happiness in a scene or character. I also found it interesting how she mentioned that bad characters are usually neutral and their scenes are lit monochromatically. Perhaps I ought to pay more attention to villains now. This seminar could be turned into an entire class/workshop on color. I really wish there was an entire class on ‘color in animation’ in the DADA ciriculum. That would definitely be awesome!

  17. Lisa Chung says:

    I absolutely adored Kathy and everything she had to say about color. In fact, I would love to see more of these types of lecture where the artist focuses on one topic. I learned so much in those 3 hours. Some of the main points she made that made a whole lot of sense were:

    1) Test your image first using the saturation level. If there is no contrast. It’s broken!
    2) It’s all about how one color works with another when placed next to each other.
    3) When looking to create a certain mood for your film:
    a. Look through a bunch of photos and stop at the one that gives you that feeling.
    b. Analyze why it makes you feel that way
    c. Use it!
    4) By adding the complementary color to an existing palette, it will only make your frame stronger
    5) Do not support 3D stereoscopic films☺

    I remember Mike mentioning that Kathy’s background is similar to Evengi Tomov, Production Designer on Tales of Despereaux. You can really see that connection in that the both refer to Art movements and Renaissance paintings for visual inspiration and mood reference. Now only if I can remember this invaluable information when I am stuck on the art direction for my animations.

    • Brandon Lake says:

      Personally I felt this was a great seminar and Kathy was a great presenter. I’ve never really been one with strengths in conceptualizing color and so I always enjoy when someone comes and opens up a dialogue on the subject. While she stated it was a lot of elementary information, it is still information that I feel can use discussion. Overall I feel that I am most thankful because it reminded me to think about the color schemes and moods of my later projects and not to solely be lost in the process of moving forward.

  18. Simo Liu says:

    I’m so glad that we have Kathy to talk about color in the film in this week’s seminar. I’m also very interested in color. I did some landscape and still life paintings when I was in high school. At the beginning, color painting was really hard for me. It was really difficult and I didn’t know how to range it when I looked at the true landscape and true color. When I practiced the color painting for several times and learned some theory about it, I knew that I’m not drawing the color from what I exactly see, I’m drawing the color from what I feel and what I want. It’s a way to use my heart to feel about the color and deal with it subjectively. I think learning color is not easy. It’s a feeling with many subjective factors. Meanwhile, the theory of the color is very important which can help you make your color better. I totally agree with many points Kathy said about color. I’m also glad that she didn’t show us only the good color from films. She also showed us with many great fine arts works. I think fine arts paintings are the best reference to learn color. Meanwhile, I also have the same feeling with Kathy when she talked about the color from the CG games. Actually, the CG painting looks really cool, but I’m not really like the color. It just looks like to change the paint from black & white and color it just with the Hue. There is fewer factors of thinking about color from the environment, refection,light,etc. In many opinion, the color in CG painting is much simpler compared with others. I’m so glad we have Kathy to talk about color in this seminar. She talked about many points which I have neglected or forgotten. Thank you so much, Kathy.

  19. Yang Liu says:

    It was very useful lecture for me and I think Kathy Altieri was very prepared for the talk. The color theory is extremely useful for any filmmaking especially we are in the digital period. Although I already knew some of the idea she talked about, I still found interesting about the way she explains it. She also mentioned the traditional method of mixing color is very helpful for students to understand colors, because that way forces us to think about the relationships between the physical colors. I do agree that the photoshop spoiled a lot of talents who just skipped the process of traditional painting. However, I don’t think that is absolutely true. Indeed photoshop doesn’t have color mixing tool, but it doesn’t mean that students’ minds are empty in understanding color theory. We all learn color through our observations on real life, no matter if the medium is painting, photography or digital drawing, the real world is always the ultimate reference. As long as the reality exist, color theory won’t die even if students never paint by hand.
    Kathy Altieri also said students need to be disciplined if they only use digital tools to learn about color, and I totally agree. However, traditional painting also requires discipline…everything too if you want to be good at something.
    Some students asked question like “how should I apply the color theory into live action filmmaking?” and I was a little annoyed by these questions, because I think that’s what we need to spend our time on, isn’t it? It’s like asking a broad question about “how can I make a good film?”

  20. Gregory Jones says:

    I found Kathy’s talk to be very informative. Fortunately, having experience with Bruce Blocks’s class was a tremendous benefit for better understanding her talk as well. The relationship between color and mood are too important to be glossed over and I’m glad we had an opportunity to explore more in depth. With my thesis project relying heavily on color influence, this was perfect timing.

  21. Brandon Lake says:

    Personally I felt this was a great seminar and Kathy was a great presenter. I’ve never really been one with strengths in conceptualizing color and so I always enjoy when someone comes and opens up a dialogue on the subject. While she stated it was a lot of elementary information, it is still information that I feel can use discussion. Overall I feel that I am most thankful because it reminded me to think about the color schemes and moods of my later projects and not to solely be lost in the process of moving forward.

  22. Louis Morton says:

    We’ve been fortunate this school year to have an in depth peak at each of the departments involved in producing a major picture as epic in scale as How to Train Your Dragon. We’ve gotten to hear from the directors, some of the animators and now the color and production designer, Kathy Altieri. It’s fascinating to see how each of these units fit together to make a smoothly functioning film. I must say that I find the color and design unit to be the most interesting. To be able to step back and see the film as a whole in terms of color is truly admirable. As many have mentioned, I also think a color design and production design class in the animation department at USC would be very valuable. Not only would it help students preparing for a career in the industry, but having a solid grasp on color will be a must for anyone wanting to make their own independent productions.

  23. Miguel Jiron says:

    I think it’s been really cool to have these in-depth seminars with Dreamworks professionals that can go deep with one aspect of the production process. Kathy was a no-BS, straight to the point speaker which made an engaging and energetic lecture. I’m familiar with working in color, but its always nice to refresh yourself on how important and influential color can be in any medium you’re working with. It was especially funny to realize why so many games in their complexity still look unappealing as Kathy pointed out: let’s please move away from single monochromatic blues and browns as conceptual art!

    It was also interesting to me to get a glimpse of her life and career as a colorist. It’s no stretch to see her a strong leader and with big and quick opinions- but to also see her having time to devote to painting on weekends. This balance intrigued me, as I often assume big career responsibility in the arts often is detrimental to doing your own work in your own time. I really admired this balance Kathy suggests to have.

  24. megatoe says:

    Kathy’s seminar was very entertaining and informative – I love her energy!

    I am glad that Kathy mentioned what colors mean not only in films, but just in general, our perception on different colors. For instance, red means lust, danger, excitement; yellow could be family, baby, happiness; grey can be related to sober, hopelessness. They are sometimes so obvious that we forget about the fundamentals, which could lead the audience to misinterpret the intended message. It is also very informative how she mentioned a bad example of colors used in a film, where we could learn that the use of colors can make a big difference in storytelling.

    – Margaret

  25. Lanzhu Jian says:

    I love Kathy’s theory about the color, we don’t deal with the color first but we deal with hue/ saturation level. So don’t make ourself so hard and thinking about too much things in one time, we can just focus on working with the tone level we want to be in the film first, It is also very interesting that she mention the how deep or how light a color is to put it next to another one, which actually have the same theory in TAO, the secret of universe is the contrast. If you want some color brighter, put some darker color next to it and it sure will make that color brighter, I made many mistakes before with just go straight add more brighter color into it, but sometimes it doesn’t work. Now I have a better idea how color works in another way and thinks things different in another way. Color also represent different emotions. She gave us an example about how color works in film to indicate the mood of the film and to imply the emotions, for Example in Billy Elliot, The ultimate goal in the film is happiness in the end but underneath the depressed life. So they Place Billy with yellow color and hide yellow in many ways to indicate the story. I went back to this movie several times later after the class. I did found lots of idea of color in the film which we would ignore but it indeed bring influence on us.

  26. Di Gu says:

    I really appreciate that we can have Kathy taught us about color. Even just two hours. I learned a lot new things. The theory of color she said is kind of totally fresh to me. All I learned about color are just from the traditional painting training without computer assistance. And through her explanation, I understood that the most basic rule is the contrast of black and white, which makes me feel more confident to do more challenges about color. Also most time , when I do my own staff, I ignores the function of color. I think this seminar, the best thing is arouse my interest about color.

  27. Linda Jules says:

    I am really sad that I had to miss this seminar. Based on the comments above, it seems like Kathy gave a wonderfully rich lecture about one of the key aspects of successful film making. I think that having a thorough understanding of hue & tone, especially as they apply to creating mood & feeling in a film is one of the most overlooked points by young (in terms of experience) film makers. I hope that I can find Kathy to hear her lecture sometime in the future.

  28. chaoqi zhang says:

    Wow, she open my eyes to see the story of color, never thought of how color speaks.
    I love the color Messege from Kathy Altieri. Before I enjoyed the color and composing and design of the prince of Egypt. Now it’s a great honor to learn from Kathy Altieri about storytelling with color from my favorite animation. She tells the story lin clearly only by color bar from each scene,color’s hue, value and saluation should been changing along with the emotion and story line. I agree her opinion that tech color is sucks, and get useful tips to adjust it as to choose color from a hand drawing painting, and get inspired by her way to keep fresh color view by continuous daily sketch color drawing.

  29. LaMar Ford says:

    I appreciate Kathy’s presentation on color. Her talk about color theory reminds me of an experiment I found online called Cinemetrics. The video shows a film’s fingerprint. The fingerprint analyzes the film’s color scheme and movement.

    Thinking about the film’s color scheme can be a great filmmaker’s tool, and I would love to learn more and put it to practice. From the live action perspective, majority of present films are shot in a neutral color palate. The colorist and the DP color correct the film to give it style. I appreciate animation more than ever because there’s more emphasis on per-production. You have to think about the color scheme, the layout, and everything else before you animate, and once the footage has been approved, it’s hard to go back.

  30. Laura Cechanowicz says:

    I truly appreciated Kathy’s presentation. I think color design is actually my favorite aspect of filmmaking, and it was interesting to hear from such a seasoned color expert. I especially found it enlightening when Kathy asked certain people to stand up and analyzed their outfits. In some cases she remarked on how brilliant their color schemas were for highlighting their facial features. It was interesting for me to think about personal color composition in that way. Kathy’s presentation helped me think about color, character and world building on an even deeper level. Nice seminar!

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