Whether you’re watching The Simpsons, Pokemon, or Adventure Time, there’s one color that stands out. Yellow has been a favorite choice of animators since cartoons were first colorized, and they aren’t just choosing the shade because it looks pretty. A combination of art theory and psychology helps explain yellow’s rise to prominence.
As Sploid reports, and ChannelFrederator lays out, a cartoon character’s color scheme is usually chosen to complement their background. In SpongeBob SquarePants, for example, the most common setting is the expansive blue backdrop of the ocean. According to the RGB color scale used in television screens, blue is in direct contrast to yellow, so bright yellow was the most visually appealing choice for the show’s title character. This bit of color theory also applies to shows set on land, where a lot of the action takes place against the blue sky.
Color complements are just one part of the yellow character trend; the color yellow holds a lot of significant connotations, too. It’s often associated with feelings of happiness, playfulness, and warmth—a.k.a. traits we see in many of our cartoon protagonists.
Using yellow is also an effective way to grab someone’s attention. That’s the reason why The Simpsons's creators chose yellow instead of a more natural skin tone for their characters—they figured the shade would be instantly recognizable to viewers flipping through channels. Yellow’s eye-grabbing qualities also explain its prevalence in restaurant advertisements.
You can learn the full story behind this colorful phenomenon in the video below.
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