James Gurney: Color and Light

Gurney, J. (2010). Color and Light. China: Andrews McMeel Publishing.

This book has been sitting on my shelf for too long now without me reading it. It’s a guide to color and light with a focus on painting but as Gurney says it’s very applicable to all other media also. I can’t help but see our animation as a series of paintings anyway.


These are some pages I scanned that I think are particularly useful for us to think about for our animation:

The form principle:

  • Separate the different planes of an object with different values of light.
  • Reduce texture in the shadow area. I’m not sure if that happens automatically with the 3D lighting setup in Maya but it might be worth keeping in mind if our shadowed areas appear overly detailed.
  • Consider the source of reflected light. Planes facing up receive more reflected light from the sky and planes facing down receive more reflected light from the ground.

Rethinking the color wheel:

  • The YRMBCG wheel. (You Ride My Bus Cousin Gus) places RGB evenly between CMY.

Grays and neutrals:

  • “Most paintings fail because of too much intense color rather than too much grey.”
  • Create greys from mixing complimentary colors. This grey will harmonize more with the two accents.


  • Consider gradations between hues, lightness and darkness and/or dull and saturated.

Limited palettes, triads, gamut mapping and shapes of color schemes:

  • “A triadic color scheme is composed of three basic colors, but not necessarily full chroma colors.”
  • Limited use of accents in an unsaturated scheme can draw the eye very strongly to areas of interest.
  • The group of possible colors to be used in a painting (the gamut) can be seen as a polygon over the color wheel. The gamut for a triadic color scheme is shaped as a triangle (three parent colors at the tips and then the resulting colors from mixing these three). I think our colors would be a lot stronger if we could practice and get familiar with thinking like this. It would be awesome if Photoshop had a feature for creating gamut masks like this over a color wheel built into the interface.
  • I think planning our colors would have been an easier task if we had of created stronger concept pieces before moving to Maya. It’s very time consuming waiting for renders to finish every time one tweaks a color.

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