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Exploring a world of colour

23 May 2014

Exploring a world of colour

We live in a world of colour that is generally taken for granted, even though manufactured colour is relatively new, a Victoria University of Wellington academic says.

Professor Kirsten Thompson, Director of Victoria’s Film Programme, will deliver her inaugural professorial lecture next Tuesday, focusing on the night-time spectacleDisney’s World of Color, as well as considering the links it has with new media like Google Glass.

Professor Thompson’s current research is the first to consider animation's crucial role in a broader visual history of colour in American culture.

“Synthetically manufactured colour has transformed our environment,” she says. “Prior to the late 19th century, colour was derived from plant, shellfish or other materials and was sometimes expensive or time consuming to produce. With the ability to manufacture colour in the lab we suddenly had the ability to put colour everywhere, and to do it cheaply.”

Disney was the first company to adopt a leading colour process in film, says Professor Thompson. Its production of cartoons in colour in the 1930s using Technicolor three-strip, a new kind of colour process at that time, encouraged Hollywood studios to follow suit with colour films of their own.

“Early use of colour was associated with fantasy and the supernatural rather than reality—films like The Wizard of Oz. Today black and white is more often associated with art films or the historical past than with reality.”

With digital technology, she says, there’s an ability to paint the image which links back to the earliest days of cinema when films were hand painted in colour by teams of women. Yet digital colour is a faster, more precise tool today.

New media is also adapting the layering principles of animation, says Professor Thompson. This includes Google Glass—due out in United States stores at the end of this year—a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display that can be activated using voice commands or gestures.

Traditional celluloid (cel) animation was about laying clear cels on top of each other to create the illusion of depth, says Professor Thompson, and digital animation uses the same principles of layering data in the computer.

“That relationship between the transparent and the opaque is an essential structural part of Google Glass as well, where you’re able to see the world, but with a translucent overlay of data on top, transforming your everyday reality into a magical bubble-like world. So this old art form isn’t going away any time soon.”

What: The ephemeral immersive screen: Disney’s World of Color
When: 6pm, Tuesday 27 May
Where: Hunter Council Chamber, Level 2, Hunter Building, Gate 2, Kelburn Parade

To RSVP phone 04-463 6700 or email with “Thompson” in the subject line.


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