Somewhere Over the Rainbow: The Value of Colours in Animation and Graphics

When was the last time you were affected by the colours used in the production of a video game or animation? The answer is likely to be more recently than you think. The manipulation,...

When was the last time you were affected by the colours used in the production of a video game or animation? The answer is likely to be more recently than you think. The manipulation, placement and combinations of colours play a crucial role in conveying atmosphere, data, and appealing aesthetics.

A video game that is renowned for its use of gentle yet boldly toned lighting to create glows of different shades in order to build enchanted landscapes is Trine. Released July the 2nd 2009, this action platform puzzle game’s rating of 10/10 on Steam is likely due in part to the coloured lighting which defines Trine’s transition from a simple and likeable game into a truly magical gamescape. Just as mood lighting creates an ambiance, the thrall of Trine can be traced to its beautifully shaded scenery.

In contrast to Trine’s gentle colouring, it is the bold tones that make the newest underwater landscape of Dota 2, ‘Reef’s Edge’, so appealing. The MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) was released officially in 2013, and since has experienced a number of terrain introductions. For the 2017 Battle Pass leading up to the International (Valve’s annual tournament held between the best competing Dota 2 eSports teams from around the globe), ‘Reef’s Edge’ was introduced on the 4th of May 2017. As an indication of the importance of video game terrain aesthetics, Rock, Paper Shotgun produced an entire review dedicated to an exploration of Dota 2’s ‘Reef’s Edge’ gamescape.

The hue of the hero’s attire and weapons in video games is also of significant value to many players. While games such as the aforementioned Dota 2 and League of Legends offer a selection of hundreds of characters that have already been created, games like Runescape and World of Warcraft allow you to create your own hero by systematically choosing hair colour and style, outfit, and weapons, for example. Weaponry customisation can, however, bring more colour to multiple other games that allow for little customisation in any other areas. Skins for weapons, such as the array displayed by for CS:GO (Counter Strike: Global Offensive), add a more personal touch and subsequently work to increase the emotional engagement element of the game.

The success of animation styles in cartoons and films can also be influenced heavily by the use of colours. Like in the animal kingdom, bold tones are not only used to attract but also used as symbolism: just as animals communicate through their colouring whether they are poisonous or to which species they belong, animation uses colour to symbolise different social groups and stereotypical personality traits. For example, Avatar: The Last Airbender (initially released in 2005) sees each tribe wearing a particular colour, such as the uniform of the Fire Nation being predominantly made up of red tones, whereas in the admittedly non-animated case of the Harry Potter series the houses each have their own representative hues in order to denote specific character traits.

Therefore, colours are not just an important means by which to draw in the attention of viewers, but to communicate facts and implications without having to verbalise them, instead working upon the colour symbolism that already exists in society.

Ian Cullen is the founder of and has been a fan of science fiction and fantasy from birth. In the past few years he has written for 'Star Trek' Magazine as well as interviewed numerous comics writers, television producers and actors for the SFP-NOW podcast at: When he is not writing for Ian enjoys playing his guitar, studying music, watching movies and reading his comics. Ian is both the founder and owner of You can contact ian at:
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