One of the most memorable, evocative features of Studio Ghibli films is their use of color. The woman responsible for that has passed away. She was 77.
Michiyo Yasuda collaborated with Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata long before they established Studio Ghibli, working on films like 1972's Panda! Go, Panda! and as a color designer on Miyazaki’s 1976 television series 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother. After doing Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind at Topcraft, she headed up the color department at the then newly-formed Studio Ghibli.
Below is a small slice of how she could use color:
At the bottom of this old Japanese magazine scan, it says that staffers said she was “scarier than Miyazaki,” but adds that actually, she was an incredibly kind person.
In 2009, Yasuda talked about her process with The Los Angeles Times, saying “When the production starts, I choose the colors for each character. Colors don’t have a specific meaning—I just choose which color fits each character. The reason Ponyo is pink—or red—is because she’s based on a red goldfish. In the scene where Ponyo is running on the waves, the color of the fish that transform into waves, I found that color on my first try. For that, I chose a color that can be both the fish and the sea simultaneously.”
“What I like best is when I am building up the colors in my head, thinking of how to get the tone worked out,” she says. “Color has a meaning, and it makes the film more easily understood. Colors and pictures can enhance what the situation is on screen.”
They sure can. And thanks to Yasuda, Studio Ghibli’s films are the better for it.
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