This past Friday I published this post which featured a photo of a monitor showing Katara and Aang’s grown-up children, Bumi, Kya, and Tenzin. Later that night at work I saw Colin’s answer to an anonymous “ask” (I can’t figure out how to link or reblog it properly in my browser, so the screen shot at the top will have to suffice). It is a shame the anonymous asker drew an incorrect assumption based on one image created in relatively uncontrolled conditions, and I feel that Colin’s answer hit the nail on the head.
Normally I would leave it at that. I prefer to stay out of this type of discourse on Tumblr and let the large body of work Mike and I have put out there over the years speak for itself (which obviously DOES NOT include the gross misinterpretations and misrepresentations of our work in this guy’s work). There’s nothing perfect about me or my work, but I am proud of it and the diverse, inclusive, atypical-for-American-TV world it portrays and the characters that populate it, and what it means to many people all over this globe.
But, like most people, I don’t like seeing the spreading of misinformation, nor being falsely accused of something, nor fans of Avatar and Korra believing we have let them down regarding a very sensitive issue when they are mistaken. The claim that “none of Katara and Aang’s kids share Katara’s complexion” is unequivocally false. Kya’s color model shares the exact same skin color as Katara’s; Tenzin’s skin is a touch darker and less saturated than Aang’s; and Bumi’s is just about in the middle of his siblings’. I made a color swatch chart above, with all the colors taken directly from the characters’ normal color models. I included Korra’s and her parents’ skin tones on there as well, just for reference. I also compiled screen shots of all the characters with the color picker open, sampling their skin tones. You can see for yourself that Katara and her daughter Kya share the same color code: #bd916f
Depicting diverse characters is an issue that is very important to me. But as an art director, depicting a variety of lighting situations, light temperatures, colored light sources, color atmospheres, contrast levels, dynamic ranges, tinted filters, tones, styles, moods, exposure settings, diffusion levels, etc., is all very important to me too, all in an attempt to make great, inspired, sophisticated, beautiful art that reflects something of the complex world in which we live.
Real flesh and blood skin is shiny in places, matte in others, translucent, reflective, uneven, smooth in places, textured in others. It reacts to light and color in such complex ways that while most people rarely even think about it in our normal day experiences, the properties are so intricate and subtle that mastering its accurate representation eludes students of painting such as myself for years on end. On the other hand, 2D cartoon character skin is a flat field of projected or printed color. It is an abstracted, simplified representation. If one adds lighting to a 2D animated character, that whole color field of skin tone is lightened––uniformly, unless you apply a the few limited techniques at our disposal in TV animation involving gradations. If one adds lighting to real flesh and blood skin, highlights and core shadows are formed, light models surfaces and bounces onto others, colors are reflected from surrounding objects… on and on. 3D animation certainly has many more tools at its disposal to depict skin in a realistic fashion, but even that isn’t a cakewalk and many attempts plummet into the uncanny valley.
As Colin made reference to, color theory is an incredibly fascinating, frustrating, and bewildering pursuit. I’ve been studying and trying to apply it for twenty years, and I’m still in its awe. There are so many factors to consider before trusting your own perception. For example, in the image above with the characters’ heads, Kya’s skin appears to my eye to be slightly lighter than Katara’s, despite the fact that I know they are absolutely the same color. This is most likely due to the effect of simultaneous contrast, also known as contrast effect: in simple terms, colors are pushed lighter, darker, warmer, and cooler based on what other colors are next to them. I’ve taken a sample of Korra’s normal skin tone and applied it to an illustration with a painted background and all of a sudden it looks green. On another background it might appear gray. Or bright orange. The average 2D animated show out there in the world has stock normal color models for its characters that they use for almost every scene (occasionally with a “night” version that is a bit darker and cooler). Typically the character models are presented in a vacuum, with no change in lighting, atmosphere, contrast, etc… no regard for any of the artistic properties mentioned above that I am trying to utilize in my animation art direction.
I’m not going to make that kind of show. Instead, I’m going to add lighting, change contrast levels, mix up the colors of light sources, try to inject some atmosphere into the world we’re creating. And as a result, characters’ skin tones are going to appear different depending on the context of the scene. The colors on a normal color model sheet are what’s called local color in color theory. This is the color of an object in neutral, even light. But it’s just a starting point, a flat color field in a vacuum. On Avatar we dialed every single color model from its normal model to match the lighting and color atmosphere of the background painting for each sequence in all sixty-one episodes. On Korra we do that too, and take it many steps further by adding lighting and atmosphere effects in the compositing stage, all in a pursuit of a dramatic, cinematic aesthetic. Sometimes it works out and I’m satisfied with the results. Sometimes the effects are too heavy-handed and even I’m saying, “His/her skin looks too light!” Unfortunately, this is a TV show production where we are frantically making dozens of episodes at once and we don’t get to finesse the final composites like they are able to do in feature productions. I fix what I can in retakes and color correction, but there’s only so much I can do. But I’d rather have a few fumbles in the pursuit of good art than make a flat show with no lighting or atmosphere.
And I enjoy sharing sneak peeks of the work we’re making with you guys, which often means I take a snapshot on my iPhone or DSLR of a screen and post it on Tumblr. Take a look at the last compilation of images above to see how differently colors, particularly skin tones, can vary depending on their sources. This opens up another vastly complex subject of which I am a frustrated student: photography. Take color theory and multiply it by optical engineering and then by computer science and then pull all of your hair out as you try to get your meticulously processed photo to appear the same color and contrast level on a variety of digital devices and non-color-managed web browsers and non-color-calibrated monitors. Or try the simpler task of taking a picture of something on a TV screen and see how different the photo looks than the image you saw. Everything goes out the window. While you’re at it, take digital pictures of the same red apple at different times of day, in different rooms, under different lights, outside in different weather. Then pull all of those photos into your computer and make color swatches of what you thought you knew to be “red.” Then try painting a picture of that apple using just those sampled color swatches. You’ll start to see how complex this all is.
I am all for social justice and breaking down ignorance and oppressive, hurtful social constructs, particularly when the path to that is to inform, educate, open minds, and promote empathy and equality. I am not a fan of self-righteousness in any form and I struggle to keep from drifting in that direction with my own views and convictions. The internet provides a great platform to call BS on a lot of things, and I encourage people to use it for that. But now that you have the official local color swatches of these characters’ “normal” skin tones in the image above, I can assure you that using it like some Behr color chip ammunition to lambast every fanart depiction of Korra that doesn’t match #a08365 is a flawed pursuit. Ask yourself if any of the things listed above in this post might be factoring into a color variation before you shoot from the hip with your judgement. And if the depiction of Korra in some fanart is without a doubt offensive to you, consider phrasing your response in a way that could help them see it your way. Art is hard! Maybe he or she is trying to get the hang of painting and working with color (skin being one of the hardest things to master). Maybe he or she is still ignorant to the worldly views that are obvious and significant to you. You could take this opportunity to turn it into what they call in parenting “a teaching moment.” You could open some eyes and educate someone who might turn around and share their enlightenment with many others.
I haven’t even scratched the surface of all there is to discuss on this topic in this overlong post. But I urge you to consider any number of the factors listed and described above before you jump to false conclusions, get your feelings hurt, or lash out with self-righteous condemnation based on a variable rather than a constant.
Son the m.night link
What’s that emoticon for cut-eye? Does it exist? The colour-swatches are nice and all; the colour theory too. But it’s still a white man talking about ‘teaching moments’ as if it’s someone’s job to be a teacher or PARENT to another person who insists on white-washing.
I personally do not appreciate the subtext of ‘Look, now I’ve done this, don’t use my words to be angry brown folk at some poor white kid and make them feel bad’. Versus the opportunity of; feel free to spread this post around to show someone the complications of shading and colour in art and how it’s possible to still keep brown and the things to consider in order to do so.
He basically just handed over a key with a little tag and ribbon that says ‘You can continue to claim it’s a lighting issue and that you’re just a beginner’
He’s putting the words in the right order, using particular terminology and STILL dripping in privilege. This wasn’t an ‘I’m sorry it hurt you that such and such seemed lighter than they really are - I know how much fans look forward to seeing someone who looks like them’.
This was a - here let me mansplain how your misinterpretation of these complex things led to you hurting yourself and oh by the way; don’t use anything I say against hurt caused you by other people in future; be nice to them. Equality will be won by kind words and submission. It’s your job to teach people not to hurt you.
Anyone itching to give cookies, needs to reach around back and check their wallet is still in their back-pocket.
Consider also the sexism revealed in LOK S1, think on intersectionality and then double check your response when a white man tells you how he’s not done anything as awful as the brown man over there and hey guys, I know you still love me and aren’t I progressive.
Prejudice, as defined by Merriam-Webster:
- injury or damage resulting from some judgement or action of another in disregard of one’s rights; especially: detriment to one’s legal rights or claims.
- a (1): preconceived judgement or opinion (2): an adverse opinion or leaning forward without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge. b: an instance of such knowledge or opinion. c: an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.
Discrimination, as defined by Merriam-Webster:
- a: the act of discriminating. b: the process by which two stimuli differing in some aspect are responded to differently.
- the quality, or power, of finely distinguishing.
- a: the act, practice, or instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually. b: prejudiced of prejudicial outlook, action, or treatment <racial discrimination>.
Racism, as defined by Merriam-Webster:
- a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capabilities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.
- racial prejudice or discrimination.
Sexism, as defined by Merriam-Webster:
- prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially: discrimination against women.
- behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.
Seeking Willow, do you see where I’m going with this?
Somebody named ‘The White Hole’ (where’s the missing A?) actually replied to me with dictionary definitions of racism and sexism and prejudice.
It is not that I had forgotten there are such small people in the world; it is I had forgotten, I think, their glee in purposely resisting and ignoring the psychological and sociological definitions of a thing.
No wait, that’s… not quite true. It’s just been some years since I myself have received such weak responses to pain and history and intensive socio-media studies. The whitesplaining. The cocky assurance that dictionary.com can somehow restrain socio-political conversations, lived experiences, levels of higher and deeper learning they obviously have not reached yet,
The false; I shall make of this a teaching moment, vs a learning moment. Again, I’m suppose to take time out of my life to parent such as this? With what compensation? Who replenishes my spoons or my forks for dealing with this bullshit?
"Have you ever considered the dictionary definition of the colour blue? have you considered the colour blue I see may not be the colour blue you see?"
This Racism, Ethnocentric Imperialism, Dynamics of Socio-Economical-Political Inequality pre 101 bullshit. Fuck, pre Kindergarten bullshit.
Look, there’s an actual Racism 101 Tumblr, ok small fry? Go get some crayons and move over there.
My point was that you are far more guilty of being sexist, racist, discriminatory, and prejudiced than Konietzko is. (Though I do admit I am not entirely certain what you’re trying to say in your post due to your not-so-strong grasp on the English language.) In your first paragraph, you outright dismiss his entire message simply because he is both white, and a man (thereby fitting the criteria for all four terms at once). You also seem to think that people shouldn’t try to educate others and open their minds to eliminate the kind of ignorance people have been killed over.
You then don’t appreciate some subtext (I suppose because you seem to think everything in the world must please you) that doesn’t even exist that suggests that the reader shouldn’t fit into an “angry black person” stereotype to attack white artists. And in the same paragraph, you somehow completely miss his message that coloring and art are very complex and hard, and that people shouldn’t get so worked up over it because of this, despite several paragraphs expressing those very ideas.
You then use an analogy I don’t quite understand about a key and a ribbon that states “You can continue to claim it’s a lighting issue and that you’re just a beginner”. Even though I think in this case you claim Konietzko is claiming it’s just a lighting issue and telling the audience they are just beginners.
In the next paragraph, you conclude he’s using words in the right order and using particular terminology (which I suppose is your incoherent way of saying he was trying to be as neutral and PC about everything as possible) and state he was dripping in “privilege”, something many people on tumblr think all white people have that also allows others to hold incredibly racist views of them and never expect anyone to call them out on said views. Then you say that his message doesn’t say that he’s sorry people think a character in the show is lighter then he/she really is, or that he realizes how much people look forward to characters who look like them, which is completely incorrect, and you would know this if you actually read the entire post (I imagine your dismissal of white males was preventing you from doing such).
Your next paragraph is even more incoherent, blaming the Konietzko for “mansplaining”, which I suppose is what you think all males do in order to be the racist, sexist pigs you only think they all are. You then exhibit your ignorance of the fact that equality can only be won through peaceful methods, since violence and hate can only be met with more violence and hate. (Have you ever heard of Martin Luther King Jr.? Ghandi, perhaps?)
Next, you accuse anyone who happens to think that the post was reasonable and well-stated is somehow being robbed.
Your last paragraph is the most incoherent of all thanks to your refusal to use the quotations marks on your, I presume, standard English QWERTY keyboard, which I also assume is still functioning reasonably well. I think you claim The Legend of Korra is sexist, which I can’t dispute much since I haven’t seen the show, but still know it stars a woman who is destined to become one the most powerful people on the planet, if not the most powerful. You spew the word “intersectionality” (which I had to look up and still don’t fully understand; what does it mean exactly?), and then tell people to double check their responses when, while trying to show his progressive views, “a white man tells you how he’s not done anything as awful as the brown man over there”, even though, judging by Konietzko's original post and with my complete lack of knowledge on your skin tone and gender, Konietzko is not a racist, sexist, discriminatory, and prejudiced person like you, who thinks that equality can be achieved not through peaceful methods, but through violence and hate.
Again, I can’t be 100% on this, I have a very hard time understanding just what it is you’re trying to communicate with people.
As for your response to my original response, you continue to happily demonstrate the four words I talked about earlier, and claim that I am an asshole and immature. But I don’t really think that’s an important issue here at all, so I won’t take much time to discuss it.
So I am told that the latest Arena finally addresses Hazmat’s grief and that it’s not that bad.
…I guess I might peek, but every clock is right twice a day! Doesn’t mean it’s good!
I thought you liked that.