Why are so many cartoon characters yellow?

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/04/24/why-are-so-many-cartoon-charac.html

The anecdote I heard about The Simpsons from animation director David Silverman was that when they were translated from Groening’s original line drawings into color it seemed gross that the kids’ spiky hair seemed to be made out of flesh. Turning them yellow meant they could just be jaundiced blondes.


The ad that popped out below this article was for the financial times, with the tag line “don’t settle for the news in black and white” with their unsettling, aging-white-man-who’s-been-in-the-suana-too-long color in the background. Seems a fitting match for a poor overworked ad algorithm to make.

Also relevant


…What about all the cartoon characters that aren’t yellow? Couldn’t you do a video about why there are so many blue colored ones?


Interesting. I always use a dark-colored emoji, but just to be different. I’d probably use a dark-skinned Santa Claus or Father Time for the same reason-sort of a “why not?” thing.

So he claims it’s a blue-yellow variant on teal & orange?


The lightest skinned one doesn’t pop against white well enough


Why so many?

Many compared to what? Broadly speaking, there are some seven or eight basic colors to pick from (yellow, orange, red, brown, green, blue, purple and “natural skin” if you want to. And I’m being quite charitable in considering the whole yellow-orange-red-brown-skin spectrum discretely). So distributed completely randomly, you’d expect something like 12% of all cartoon characters to be yellow, just by chance. I actually doubt there are even that many, suspecting the whole thing fails right at its premise.


The author discuss how changing the color system changes the complementary colors. In the RYB system yellow’s complement is purple. In RGB the compliment is blue. And then discusses how complements look best paired together.

I call BS. Beauty is in our perception of color, independent of how it is generated or the coordinate system used.

FFE4E1 by any other name* would look as sweet

[ie. 0.6,100,100; MistyRose ]

when you look at some of the earlier episodes of the Simpsons it’s colour pallet is very atypical for a cartoon, bright pink walls and teal carpets and as the video above says it’s instantly recognizable.

The artists for the show also moved on and made other great shows like Mission Hill which also makes use of great colours in it’s design:


Go for it! Saint Nicholas was from Myra (now Demre in Southern Turkey), so you could claim historical accuracy if anyone complains.

I don’t think that article could ever be described as relevant.
Even when we have infinite page space on the web, that article was a waste of it. Posing a question in the headline, and never actually answering it, mistaking the ramblings of a couple of self appointed cultural commentators for a widespread conversation about the issue, never bothering to ask the general public about why the use what they do, and lots of unsupported theorising.

Yes! Why not!?


Couldn’t you?

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Curse your cutting rhetorical question! Of course I can’t… I can leave snark-filled comments below the ever-expanding number of ‘video essays’ that now litter the web… Finally, people with film degrees have a platform!


Yeah, that didn’t make a lot of sense when he was talking about colour theory but quoting someone talking about colour keying. Two completely different topics.

As for colour theory, it gets complicated… for one thing the way the eye perceives colour is not intuitive. The colour yellow for example can be made entirely differently with additive colour(RGB) than with subtraction colour(RYB) and as such there are multiple complimentary colour models. The classic RYB colour wheel is used because that’s the one most people working with classical medium like paint are familiar with and because it’s a more natural method as things in nature don’t usually emit light.

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