the Color of a Character

Posted: 25th January 2013 by Anthony van Winkle
Categories: Uncategorized

On the conscious and continuing use of color in character costumes, and how that impacts the telling of Night Zero’s various stories.

For many years I’ve been looking forward to writing a blog post on the use of character color in Night Zero, but every time it felt appropriate I thought of another future scene I’d want to reference, and again this post would be postponed. Now, at the end, that time has finally come.

There are many design ideas and decisions endowed into the world and detail of Night Zero, little touches here and there that are neither important to nor referenced by the stories we tell, but that mean a lot to us. Some are small actor choices that affect the actions and demeanors of their characters without being made explicit. Others are tokens and trinkets that represent untold stories, perhaps at one point intended to be explored but now known only by those who would have told them. These all are little treasures within the fictional world of Night Zero designed to help the actors connect with their characters, but the most significant and deliberate secret of the production design is part of the storytelling, not the story: the subtle use of color designed to help the reader identify, distinguish, and remember characters across the span of Night Zero tales.

When laying out the pages of Episode One, I realized that having both Marion and Claire provide voiceover narration for their flashbacks was simple enough, but if they were to exchange dialogue during a flashback they would need distinct text boxes to identify who was speaking. At this point we were considering the use of flashbacks in every episode as a way to reveal backstories of the various other characters (vignettes hadn’t been established yet), so I decided to try coloring the boxes to distinguish them. Marion took a dark blue color, neutral and close to black while being different from the normal text. Claire took a light purple, inspired by the scarf she wore—a color that spread to tint all her flashback sequences… and so much more.

When we created the first vignette, Jezebel, the opening shot of all the characters yelling from the other side of the door presented a similar challenge, and I decided to take a gamble and try the whole comic using different colored text bubbles. Each character’s color was drawn from the costume they wore, which itself was colored to accent their personality. The effect was quite strong, and I was very pleased, but Volume One had already gone to print and Episode One was behind us with all black text bubbles intact, so for the ongoing series I decided to continue as it had been.

The Jezebel coloring effect prompted a different kind of consideration, though, and a far more important one. It led me to consider that, in the event a character did have a text bubble color, what would it be? If they had a color in general, what would it be? Thoughts on the back burner, for a while. Unrelated, as we started to branch out a number of our new readers observed that with so many tall brunettes with long hair, some of the smaller frames made it more difficult to see who was who.

Around this time, Jana was coming on board as costume and makeup designer, bringing a level of deliberateness to what had previously been bring-what-you-got for the actors. Thus far each character had worn what their actor had thought appropriate (within general guidelines set forth by me). While “costume” costumes had been specifically procured for the Jezebel characters and the skullhunter Trio, the Sisters vignette was our first time making conscious clothing choices for characters (both new and recurring) as a way to endow something about them that was not an eccentric, over-the-top parody of a character.

While Jana and I were dress-shopping for Dariya, aware that we would need one dress for the Sisters vignette and another for the Protest Shoot a few months later, the idea of character colors really came into focus. Although the initial costumes had been assorted and unplanned, they could still be used as a starting point for establishing consistent colors for each character. Not only would this help us in choosing distinct costumes for each scene, but it would help readers connect the dots when characters appeared and reappeared in vignettes and serials.

Dariya was the first color to be realized, primarily because her first dress was bright red and hard to ignore (and even harder to tone down in HDR photography). For Sisters we outfitted her with a black dress but added a red jewel broach, and for the Protest Shoot a dress of deep maroon. To contrast Dariya’s bold color, Nadia’s color was to be gray, a reflection of her cold objectivity. Yevgeniy was more difficult to place, as he’d already shot in blue and maroon shirts, but all soldiers were green and gray, skullhunters were black, and Jezebel was whatever she wanted to be.

As the vignettes began to grow, color played an increasingly important role. Messengers could be easily identified by their bandanna color, which in turn would influence their pre-messenger costumes. Suits and subdued colors for the Syndicate, as well as Valentin, would establish power and status while keeping them dark.

By the time we got to the Originettes, color was dominant. Bright, bold, vibrant pink for Jill and blue for Jack, to contrast the safe, conservative purple and maroon of Richard and Elisabeth in Inertia. Greens and grays for Darren (Maternal) and Claude (Arena), foreshadowing their military roles, but also matching Jessica (Arena) and her messenger color-to-be. Sorority tied back Lucy’s turquoise-and-white from Episode Five and Jill’s pink from Inertia, but added another level on top.

When deciding on a bandanna for Jill in Episode Six (well before shooting her role in Sorority), the obvious choice of pink was rejected in favor of blue. Why blue? To honor Jack, her fallen comrade, which is why she carries the blue even beyond being a messenger and into her warrior epilogue. This idea of transfer-of-color is also the impetus behind the biggest (and my favorite) character color choice of the entire saga.

Having put up with stoic, gray Nadia for so many years, Jana proposed that after the death of Dariya, Nadia inherit some of her sister’s passion and intensity. This would be expressed through Nadia’s emotional investment and charge during the episode, but mirroring her behavior would be the appearance of color: red, Dariya’s color. Valentin, too, would inherit the blood of his sister, in preparation for the siblings’ final showdown.

Having character colors made many other Episode Six decisions much easier: purple and white for Claire, calling back to her very first scene (after being stuck for three episodes in the green skirt stolen from Blaze’s house). Tan for Natalie, a nod to the awesome leather jacket she would not be wearing (to avoid getting blood on it). Other characters would use their same costumes as previously, or slight variations thereof, to preserve consistency.

At the end, the use of character color in Night Zero is not flawless, as it wasn’t a design from the beginning and occasional compromises had to be made due to our extremely limited resources. But as much as possible and as consistently as possible, we have sought to use color as a means to endow consistency and personality into everyone who appears on our pages, and I hope this little insight into that process enhances your enjoyment of the Night Zero experience.

It sure has mine.