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Here’s Something to Rock Your Brain: Does Colour Have a Density Scale?

January 20, 2014

Does Colour Have a Density Scale?

Computer drawing software does not handle colour as we do in life. What I mean by that, is that the further you move away from an object the lighter the colour becomes. This is how we perceive depth of field, similar to how we see and perceive details.

The reason I have been puzzled by this, is because I have looked at many computer renderings and to me there is something terrible wrong with all the renderings being produced by computer drawing software. They all look ‘muddy’ when compared to free-hand colour renderings. Iconic artist recognized this ages ago, we just have to look at any colour painting to see this. Computer software can handle lines by scaling accordingly, but it cannot scale colour! Will there ever be a way to do this?

Deep Water Bay perspective 2

That’s an interesting question. However why would software code writers not ‘build-in’ that type of scaling of colors? That should be pretty straightforward to carry out. Imagine if you were to customize the renderer, you should get it to do this easily. Many rendering packages have a “fog” setting where things can fade out to a specified color, usually grey, white, or black, as they move further from the camera. It should be more than just a ‘fog’ over areas of the rendering, because that would be difficult for the user to understand, least of all how to carry out.

I am dreaming that it involves a mathematical procedure in the software’s color code that is tied to the distance between the perspective’s station point and a specified  surface in the rendering. If this can be controlled by choice, then the code would automatically ‘tone’ the colors according to that ‘distance’. Just as how we see colors with our natural eyes.

Another complication is that the change in the color is by a mathematically specified amount of different color mixtures based on the color wheel that have been developed over centuries of trials and errors.

What is this you may ask!

If you look at the history of paintings you will discover that color by artists, over time, invented various colors by mixing physical elements that created illusions. Eventually scientific research discovered what caused this refraction of light to imitate colors and so today we can squeeze color out of a ‘tube’ and apply it to a surface, or even paint a house with it! However that research has stopped somewhat and we now find, that we are contented with putting a ‘fog’ over the color to simulate reduced density of the color itself, in a painting. And this was what early artist did too, by applying grey layers over original colors.

Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a perfect example of this. The painting has a dark, dull, gray look to it. Forget about the image, look at the colors. The impressionist of the early 20th century, were the first to discover how disturbing this refraction of colors are. They never used gray or a ‘fog’ over their colors, and It was like a magical transformation. Paintings suddenly became closer to being ‘natural’ like we are seeing them with our eyes.

Of course that is a simplistic way of describing the revolutionary effects of the changes in the colors of paintings. But I am looking at it from a digital perspective. We can now imitate almost any illusion thanks to digital technology. The film industry comes to mind. Now we are amazed at advancement of the movie industry. It is hard to differentiate what is ‘real’ or ‘imaginary’. They have captured the essence of manipulating color density. We see this vividly in 3D productions where foreground and background are in equal focus yet color densities are adjusted.

So my dream is that the software code writers should be able to invent a procedure in which the densities of colours can be scaled automatically at the push of a button.

Hey, a month ago digital cameras could not record panoramic views automatically!

  1. Thanks to Harlan Hugh ( for his contributions to this discussion.

  2. Here’s a comment from my Facebook friend and University of Manitoba (1973) class mate, John Glassco:

    “Hi Errol, I recall in Gordon Adaskin’s freehand drawing class (so many years ago,) we learned that in order to send a color into the background, the artist would mix in a little of the “complimentary” color directly across the color wheel (ie adding orange to blue.) This process, similar to following the laws of perspective, the lesson went, gives the painting increased depth. And it does!

    Why the vast array of 3-D drawing and rendering programs do not include this simple and important rule is a mystery. Thanks for pointing it out.”

  3. Thank you John, “Those were the days my friend…”

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