From Shifu’s brown, which represents hard work, to Tigress’ red, demonstrating her power, every shade and tone was carefully chosen in the Kung Fu Panda series. Po’s world moves to a golden colour as he becomes the dragon warrior, mirroring what you would actually find throughout China in statues of Dragons and temples.
Production Designer, Raymond Zibach, and Production Designer & Art Director, Tang Heng, discuss how they designed the colour, light, atmosphere and environments for the Kung Fu Panda films after a visit to China.
We researched all the colour meanings in Chinese culture and a lot of those actually go against Western culture in a way. We tried to have those mean similar things for both cultures. Like there’s a lot of architectural surfacing and colouring and symbols that are directly related to Chinese culture and colour. We actually decided what every colour would mean, like green and green jade, with Oogway green is wisdom. Brown symbolises hard work and so Shifu is in more a brown palette. He’s more of a worker. Red for Tigress’s costume, fits her power. Blue is Tai Lung’s colour and at the end of the movie when he’s fighting Shifu we set his hands on fire, but we didn’t do it with red, we kept it blue. So there’s things like that that people don’t realise at first are influencing them, but we’re being very consistent. So, whenever Tai Lung’s around, it’s always blue.
Going to China for me was an eye opening experience and going into an old city that’s been around for five hundred years. Walking around it, and exploring it, and coming back with the texture of light, the atmosphere, where everything wasn’t pristine and clean like it was made today. That it had a little bit of history. Like we invented that ten-story tower, with an open atrium because we actually had dinner one night at a three-story open atrium restaurant, which was an awesome experience, but it kind of just gave us an idea. Then we cranked it up and turned it into a building that felt like it could exist. But they don’t build them like that and it worked for the action sequence.
For me, it’s great when you can take the influence and have it turn into something new, but still be believable. I think we use the word believable. Yeah. A lot. More than anything because a lot of people talk about realism, but to me that means that you’re just copying reality and making it believable. You can do a legendary film and have people live in that world while they’re watching the movie and believe that it’s happening.