Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The Color Palettes of Vincente Minnelli

Bells Are Ringing (1960)

I recently became aware of a Tumblr blog titled "Wes Anderson Palettes," a visual examination of the color palettes that predominate in the films of director Wes Anderson. Being a visual artist, and always on the look out for interesting color palettes, I was fascinated by the blog, but I was also reminded of another director, Vincente Minnelli, who as a visual stylist, also used color in a very stylized way. For those of you unfamiliar with Minnelli, other than as the father of Liza, Vincente Minnelli was one of the top directors at MGM from the mid 1940s through the early 1960s. Before entering the world of motion pictures, Minnelli was a set and costume designer and before that, he was a window dresser for Marshall Field's department store in Chicago. After directing several well received revues, Minnelli was offered a contract at MGM where, in 1943, he directed his first motion picture, "Cabin in the Sky." That was followed by "Meet Me in St. Louis," in 1944 and a whole slew of other musicals such as "Yolanda and the Thief" (1945), "The Pirate" (1948),"An American in Paris," (1951), "The Band Wagon" (1953), "Brigadoon" (1954), and "Gigi" (1958). Besides musicals, he also directed comedies and melodramas such as "The Clock" (1945), "Lust for Life" (1956) "Tea and Sympathy" (1956), "Home from the Hill" (1960) and "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" (1963).

Growing up, my family had a black and white television. It wasn't until I was almost out of high school that my parents finally splurged and bought a color TV set. Up until that time, my experience of Minnelli's films had been on a small black and white screen. My imagination had to fill in the colors. When I first had the opportunity to see some of Hollywood's classic films in color, it was an eye-opener. The technicolor films from the forties, fifties and early sixties, didn't look a thing like the films that were currently playing in theaters. Instead of looking like "real" life, these classic films looked they had drifted on to the screen out of a carefully designed dream.

I think even a casual movie-goer watching a Minnelli film will notice the impeccable design choices that went into the art direction, set design, costumes and overall look of his films. I think the first time I became aware of this in one of Minnelli's films was when I was in college and had an opportunity to see his wide-screen drama "Tea and Sympathy," on a big screen. Right away I noticed the color harmonies in each scene. It almost seemed as if the whole movie was designed to compliment star Deborah Kerr's red hair.

Whether or not Minnelli was responsible for all of the design choices in his films, I don't know. He did have frequent collaborators in the likes of Art Director/Production Designers E. Preston Ames, Cedric Gibbons, George W. Davis, F. Keogh Gleason, Edwin B. Willis and others. Many of these people worked on the films that are pictured in the examples below. But considering the fact that Minnelli's background was in set design, and as a particular film's director he was in charge of the picture, I would venture to guess that he had a great deal of input into the look of a film. Minnelli has been criticized by some as a director who put style before substance in his films. I suppose there are those who are saying the same thing about Wes Anderson's films. 

In 1968, critic Andrew Sarris said this about Vincente Minnelli:

"If he has a fatal flaw as an artist, it his his naïve belief that style can invariably transcend substance and that our way of looking at the world is more important than the world itself. Critic-film-makers like Godard and Truffaut pay lip service to these doctrines, but they don't really believe them. Only Minnelli believes implicitly in the power of his camera to transform trash into art, and corn into caviar. Minnelli believes more in beauty than art."

Below are a few examples of some of the beautiful color palettes from the films of Vincente Minnelli. I put these together from various still images that I found on the internet. In each case I tried to select the colors that I felt dominated a particular scene. You can click on the images to see them larger.

An American in Paris (1951)
An American in Paris (1951)
An American in Paris (1951)

An American in Paris (1951)
The Band Wagon (1953)
The Band Wagon (1953) 
The Band Wagon (1953)
The Band Wagon (1953)

Brigadoon (1954)

Brigadoon (1954)

Brigadoon (1954)
Brigadoon (1954)

Bells Are Ringing (1960)

Bells Are Ringing (1960)
Tea and Sympathy (1956)
Tea and Sympathy (1956)
Home from the Hill (1960)
Home from the Hill (1960)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Favorite Picture Book of 2013

Mr. Tiger Goes WildMr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first became aware of author/illustrator Peter Brown with his lovely picture book from 2009, “The Curious Garden.” I’ve followed his output ever since and with his latest book, “Mr. Tiger Goes Wild,” he has become one of my favorite author/illustrators. Using minimal text in combination with his wonderfully mid-century style illustrations, Brown manages to tell a surprisingly complex tale of bucking the norm and being true to oneself. Mr. Tiger lives in a society of animals that dress in human clothes, walk upright and are rigidly formal in their polite behavior. But for Mr. Tiger, always being prim and proper is a boring way to live. One day, he has a wild idea - he decides to walk on all fours! Right away he feels better, but when he decides to shed his clothes and run wild, his friends lose their patience and ask him to take his wild behavior to the wilderness. Without spoiling the ending, I will say that I found the resolution of this fun tale to be a delightful surprise.
illustration by Peter Brown from "Mr. Tiger Goes Wild"

The double-page spread where Mr. Tiger decides to shed his clothes is ingenious in its design and simplicity. A large public fountain forms the center of the two-page design (see last image at bottom). On the left page we see Mr. Tiger diving into one side of the fountain fully clothed. On the right page, we see Mr. Tiger emerging from the other side of the fountain but this time, without his clothes. Then we notice his clothes floating on the water. Turning the page, we see Mr. Tiger, standing on all fours, without a stitch of clothing to hide his magnificent striped coat. There is no text, words are unnecessary. His stance and the smile on his face tell us everything we need to know - Mr. Tiger has at last discovered his own true nature.

In this beautifully designed and humorous book, Brown presents the reader with a thought-provoking array of concepts - the stagnation of conformity, the joy in being different, respect for the rights of others, and making compromises. I highly recommend this book, definitely my favorite picture book of 2013!


detail from Peter Brown's "Mr. Tiger Goes Wild."


Double-page spread from "Mr. Tiger Goes Wild."






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Monday, October 07, 2013

Doodler Doodling by Rita Golden Gelman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rita Golden Gelman has taken a simple concept - a daydreaming girl doodling on her notebook paper during class, and turned it into a fun, tongue-twisting page-turner filled with great word play and escalating situations. The author is helped by Paul O. Zelinksy’s wonderfully zany illustrations. Zelinksy is one of the most versatile illustrators working today. His illustrations for this book are nothing like the Flemish style renaissance paintings he created for Rapunzel. Here he combines loose watercolor and ink drawings to create dazzling doodles that come to life as the girl’s daydreams get out of control. The story and illustrations climax with a double-page fold-out. This is a fun book that would make a wonderful read-aloud and the pictures are so much fun that kids will want to study them over and over again to see how they relate to the playful text.



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Monday, August 26, 2013

Illustration Friday - Rescue


Final image
This week's 'Illustration Friday' challenge is the word "Rescue," and I am submitting a piece that I actually created three years ago. It was a piece I did for fun, my attempt at creating an image that looked like it might have come from a Little Golden Book.

I always loved the Richard Scarry books and his illustrations showing towns populated entirely by animals. In my illustration, an elephant is being rescued by a squad of dalmatian firemen.

Before I began painting (the final image was created in Painter 11), I created a few thumbnail pen and ink sketches in one of my sketchbooks.

You can see in the first rough sketch that I originally had quite a different look for the dog climbing the ladder. I didn't like his snout, so I changed it to a more boxy shape.





Once I was happy with my character designs, I created a cleaned up sketch. From there, I began filling in blocks of color, using Painter 11's chalk and pastel brushes.
Cleaned up sketch created in Painter 11

Starting to fill in areas of color




For the final stepped, I gave the elephant a warmer tone and some reflected light from the flames. This helped her to stand out more from the gray building. 











Monday, July 29, 2013

Illustration Friday - Jungle

My illustration as a repeating pattern
This week's topic for Illustration Friday's challenge is "Jungle." Once again, I have submitted an older piece that I recently reworked into a repeating pattern.

This illustration started out as a portfolio piece depicting various animals of northern South America's rain forests. From the start I challenged myself to show as many animals as possible (including a few birds and butterflies). After consulting a number of photographic reference books, I came up with a sketch that wove the animals together into a leafy background, joined together and encircled by vines. If you scroll down, you can see images showing the progression of the piece.

Some of the animals included in my design are: Brown Capuchin monkey, Two-toed Sloth, Silvery Marmoset, Brazillian Porcupine,  Greater Bulldog Bat, Murine Mouse Opossum, a Jaguar and her cub and a Quetzal. I was going for a sort of vintage children's book feel so I took a little liberty with how some of the animals look. In other words, I tried to make their faces a little cuter.

After completing the rough sketch, I began to block in some color.  I painted the image in Painter 11 and in order to be able to easily make changes in positioning and color, I used lots of separate layers. I continued to add layers and to block in colors and refine shapes, adding darks and lights as I went. I worked on this illustration on and off for several weeks during 2009 and 2010.

My original pencil sketch
In June of this year (2013) I resurrected the image and turned it into a repeating pattern for printing on fabric that I sell through my Spoonflower shop. Creating a repeating pattern out of a finished illustration was a bit of a challenge and I went through a lot of trial and error.  To do this, I opened the image in Painter 12 and captured the original image as a pattern.  When Painter asked me to name the pattern I was also able to select an offset.  Since I didn't want a straight across grid-looking pattern, I chose a 50% vertical offset which would stagger the image when it repeats. Once I had the pattern saved to the pattern library I went to the pattern menu and selected 'Check out pattern." This brought the pattern up as a native Painter rif file that had edges which would automatically tile.  In other words, when I painted off of the right edge, the same line would continue to paint in the correct location over on to the left edge. The same thing would happen for the top and bottom edges. Working in this mode is very memory intensive and it helps if you have a lot of RAM installed. I have quite a bit, but I still saw my brushes slow down when they approached one of the edges.

Every once in a while I would stop and save the image in two formats - as a native rif file so that the tiling would continue to be active when I reopened it in Painter, and as a photoshop file so that I could open it in Photoshop and quickly create a sheet where I duplicated the image several times to see how various elements along the edges were lining up.  When I was happy with how everything was lining up, I again saved the final version in Painter as a photoshop file. After opening it in Photoshop and making last minute adjustments on brightness and saturation levels, I saved the image as a jpeg for uploading to Spoonflower.
Initial color blocking with the sketch visible on another layer

Starting to add darks, more defined edges and smaller details
The finished illustration