The Colors Out of Space

by John Holbo on October 5, 2008

I’m sure there’s nothing to this so-called ‘financial crisis’ that wasn’t explained adequately in that classic Sutherland instructional video, “The Wise Use Of Credit”. If not, then in that companion volume, “What Makes Us Tick”.

We have a friend who travels on business to India a lot. He was discussing how maybe next week isn’t the best week to be away from home because if the whole system melts down he’ll get stuck in Bangladesh, with the airlines unable to buy gas for the planes because money has seized up globally. Getting back to Singapore would be like a cross between Burmese Days and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Not that he really thinks that. It’s just that everyone is thinking that. I mean: it almost definitely won’t happen.

I’ll just talk nonsense for a while. Because: what do I know? I praised Scott Morse’s art a couple weeks ago. Since then I bought a new collection of his stuff, Scrap Mettle [amazon]. You can check out this preview from his upcoming Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! . (If you missed my first post and don’t know who Scott Morse is, you can read his wikipedia entry, or check out this site. I linked to his blog above. He’s done animation stuff and other stuff.)

OK, first a technical point, then a more philosophical one. Mettle is probably not for beginning Morse fans, since it’s a big fat sketchbook. As such – as the author himself says – it contains material of varying quality. It’s divided by media – ink, watercolor, cell vinyl – and therein lay a breakthrough for me. I figured out what the hell it was that I was liking so much: cell vinyl. if you browse the sites I linked you’ll see this strong-lined, yet expressionistic stuff. Cartoony, obviously, so did he even paint that? It’s like nuclear gouache or what the hell is it? I’ll quote Morse:

It’s sort of like the Tonka Trunk of the paint world, this cell vinyl. When I was first introduced to it, Maurice Noble insisted we use it. The idea was that as an art director or production designer, the people who worked under you would have to use the same medium as you. Since the studios already had the background painters using cell vinyl, the art directors should use it, so that there was no conflusion when translating color or texture. Maurice was old school, from a time when they still painted everything. Photoshot and telecine color corrections made him cringe. If you went into painting something with the intention of changing it in the computer later, you weren’t doing your job right. You were half-assing it. You should have painted the color you wanted the first time and moved on. Think twice and paint once.

Anyhow, about this paint being like a Tonka Truck. It’s tough stuff. It’s durable and resilient. When I was at art directing at Hanna-Barbera, before it became Cartoon Network fully, they’d have us use the old paint in their closet, stuff in huge jugs, some of it dating back to the sixties. This was left over paint from THE FLINTSTONES and THE JETSONS and CHARLOTTE’S WEB, and some of the people you worked with were from that era, so they confirmed it. This stuff, you’d grab a jub and shake it up and pour out some paint into your smaller bottle you brought in, and it would gloop out, chunky and wet at the same time, the extender having separated from the paint pigment, so you’d have rivers of weird translucent liquid in with your paint. Then you’d try to use this stuff and half the time the thick chunks would clog your bottle. Still, this helped, as it showed you what the paint could do if it was a bit dried out, or too wet. You could get different effects, when you applied it. So you’d experiment on different papers and boards, and you’d end up with new ways of using this old paint.

I add concentrated watercolor sometimes, to punch up vibrancy. The cell vinyl, though, can give translucent effects, opaque effects, layers, etc., with a versatility that other paints can’t readily offer.

So now I know. Anyway, I think it would make a great H.P. Lovecraft, “The Color Out of Space”-style story – but set to Carl Stallings’ soundtrack. Old-timey animation pioneer finds mysterious space goop like no known point on the color wheel. He uses it to make his unique productions. Now rival teams of animators are racing to find the last known barrel of the precious goop, but little do they know …

And speaking of the Flintstones, ASIFA had a good post last week, so you can know your Flintstone animators. They have some fascinating clips – no, really.

OK, the philosophical point. No, wait, it’s getting too late and the post’s too long. I’ll leave you tonight with: Happy Birthday, Lindsey Buckingham! Ok, I missed it by a few days. I haven’t bought his new album but I just got his album from last year, Live At the Bass Performance Hall, and it has some really good versions of “Holiday Road”, “I’m So Afraid”, “I know I’m not Wrong” and “Big Love”. Here’s a free cover of Buckingham’s “Trouble”, courtesy of French Kicks. I also really, really like Ray LaMontagne’s “Meg White”. It’s not stupid (don’t say that). It’s beautiful. I don’t usually like LaMontagne, but this time he sounds like Colin Blunstone from the Zombies, so that’s all to the good.



Roy Belmont 10.05.08 at 7:32 pm

What makes us ticks.


BrianZ 10.06.08 at 11:57 am

Sounds a little like Alan Moore’s “Splash Brannigan.” That would be a great story: Splash vs. The Color Out of Space.

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