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Learn Color Theory & Application The Pixar Way | For Free

By Kishore Sawh on June 9th 2018

Who doesn’t love Pixar? In the best of times the mad boffins at their studios are able to make ‘the good life’ even better, touching the souls of most cynical, and in the tumultuous times like these the effect is even more profound.

Suffice to say it’s hard to escape the trappings of Pixar’s joyous output, but to earn that kind of reputation comes at the cost of consistency, and creating Pixar films is an exhaustive process, even if a labor of love; every minute detail is poured over in great detail, and the science behind human emotion is at the heart of much of it. Something Pixar uses to evoke the emotions they want, is color, and they arguably do it best. Luckily for us, Pixar has, in conjunction with Khan Academy (perhaps the world’s leading resource in free educational content), created a course on color science, and it’s applicable to us as photographers.



The course on color is a part of a larger ‘box’ of learning created between Khan Academy and Pixar called ‘Pixar In A Box’, but color is a primary and foundational focus:

Just as dialog, acting, and music are tools filmmakers use to convey meaning and emotion, color can be used to the same effect. But determining “color” is not as simple as saying “red” or “brown” because there are endless shades of color in the visible spectrum. In this lesson, you will learn how color is determined partly by the physics of light and partly by how our brains perceive it.


The course is broken down into two modules: Introduction To Color is the first, where you’ll “explore how we represent and manipulate the color in our films. It’s appropriate for all ages and takes approximately 1 hour to complete.” Second is Color Spaces in which “you’ll learn how we express colors digitally using the concept of color space. It’s appropriate for grade 7+ and will take approximately 1 hour to complete.”

Each section has tutorial materials and practice sections and the curriculum runs the ‘gamut’ from color science, spectrum of light, to various color modules and matching, color correction, various spaces, spectra, CIE Chromaticity, and color grading. It’s actually very good, and I’d go so far as to say certainly worth your time, maybe even required reading/viewing. If you’ve followed with us for a while you’ll know I tend to harp on about color theory, and this is a great place to learn it.

Check it out here.

[RELATED: Intro To Color Theory & Practical Tips | A True Divisor Between The Pro & Amateur]


This post was updated and originally published in 2016

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Charu Malik

    Thanks kishore. I enjoyed that you used ratatouille for this course. 

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  2. Lynne Bardell

    Likewise, really enjoyed the course and learnt loads, thank you.

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  3. Ryan Breitkreutz

    WOW – This is SO cool! Thanks for the resource!

    Ryan Breitkreutz
    Tailored Fit Photography

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