Colormation Screen Test

Colormationtest COOP sent me this link to a very strange animation, circa 1960s, titled "Colormation Screen Test." The technique, similar in look to rotoscoping, appears to involve a combination of live actors, high-contrast cinematography, and hand-drawn backgrounds and foregrounds. As COOP writes, "The end result is unsettling but not without charm."


  1. Hmm, I have a device called a Contour Generator (or is it a Contour Synthesizer? I can’t recall.) that enhances the edges in a video signal in real-time, all analog. It’s very old. It was paired with a Video Typewriter which was an old digital/analog hybrid titler that made horrid Commodore 64 quality titles. The contour generator, being all analog, is very fluid, very smooth, and very neat. You set the edge thickness, sensitivity, etc. A person comes out with far fewer details than in this video, but if you had wild makeup on the actor it might do it.

    Hmm… (gears turning…)

  2. There’s something very “Sin City”esque about it. The feeling really kicked in when the guy was running through the ship.

  3. According to an 80’s CineFx, a similar technique was used to create the glowing lines on characters in Tron. The actors were filmed in black and white, with black tape on the costumes where the glows were supposed to go. This was developed to a super-high-contrast negative on 8×10 acrylic transparency cels, such that the black lines in the original would become transparent in the cel, and everything else opaquely black. The cel was placed over a lightbox of the appropriate color — blue for good guys, red for bad guys, etc — so that the color glowed through the transparent lines. Then special effects were airbrushed or diffraction-grated in, and a picture was taken of the cel, just as for hand done animation, and the background composited over with a travelling matte.

    Here is a picture of the technique, and a more detailed description.

  4. It is unsettling, but it still looks expensive. This kind of thinking but cheaper, led to the also-unsettling Clutch Cargo. (The same technique was picked up by Conan O’Brian’s writers.)

  5. This popped up on Cartoon Brew a few months ago as a candidate for “worst cartoon ever”, but along with the other readers of that blog, I think it looks kind of awesome. How great would something like Steve Canyon or The Phantom look done with this technique? Or Dick Tracy?

  6. And another thing — the guy that is credited here is still around.

    Much more detailed discussion here:

    His resume is amazing.

    I suspect this was to be a combination of the Artiscope process and the automated coloring process Maurer worked out with Technicolor around the same time.

  7. It reminds me not so much of rotoscoping as it does cel-shaded CGI. The terrible motion-capture like stumbling through imaginary scenes doesn’t help, but when someone sits still under good lighting, the technique it’s well worth its flaws.

    I could absolutely see Williams Street lifting this effect for a new show.

  8. Am I alone in that I would love to see the film without the “Colormation” filter applied? It looks like the actors would have to wear gobs of makeup and painted clothing to get the stark contrast in the result. For instance, the Appropriations Committee guy’s suit had some very thick wrinkles that I’m sure had to be painted on the actual suit. Also, the two distinct cheekbone lines on the astronaut’s face… and the woman pilot’s hair would’ve been interesting!

  9. Does anyone else find it interesting that, for a cartoon called “colormation,” there’s no COLOR in it? :-)

  10. …IIRC, Colormation also required that the actors’ makeuo as well as the costumes be of high contrast. It’s an interesting process when the period in which it was conceived is taken into effect, but what makes it fail by today’s standards is the harsh, unstable edging between processed actor and the hand-drawn cel work. I’ve heard Colormation referred to as a cross between Sync-Ro-Vox and Squigglevision, both of which have been equally derided for their own lack of merits.

    …And yeah, there’s some irony that the sole example of Colormation we have has AbZero color to it. Perhaps we can get Turner to fix that :p

  11. I think I’m in love with this style. The chintzyness is part of the appeal. Sort of reminds me of the styles of Jim Steranko and Wally Wood.

  12. #17

    And what a great video it is…graphic designers on steroids.

    Before there was FLV for actual video in Flash, the process to get anything resembling a film sequence into a Flash animation was to convert video footage to sequences of single picture files, vectorize these either via Flash or some other vector tool and clean it up frame by frame.

    The more monochrome the better the effect usually…and it really looked very similar to this in many cases.

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