Color affects us emotionally and psychologically, and movies are meant to take us to another world, so it makes sense to use color to evoke a response. Just like the color you paint your walls affects how you feel in your home, the way color is used in film affects how you feel as you watch.
There are three components of color to consider when filmmakers choose color palettes:
- Hue – the color itself
- Saturation – intensity of the color
- Brightness – The darkness or lightness of a color
Think of your favorite movie.
What kinds of colors
are used in the wardrobe,
scenery, and props? There’s no
way to separate the feeling from
th color schemes, even
if we don’t notice it at first.
It’s so easy to see how color palettes have power in this intriguing article by Mary Risk in Studio Binder: How to Use Color in Film
She says, “The primary reason for using color in film might be obvious: to make the images colorful, dynamic, and beautiful. But there is a secondary reason that facilitates visual storytelling…Although single, recurring colors can hold a deeper meaning, a more fleshed out film color palette (or color scheme) is most effective in communicating thematic context. A balanced movie color palette and scheme refers to the harmonious relationships of colors on a color wheel. Let’s look at some movie color palette examples and the various ways they are used.”
From the same article, she shows examples of colors and their associated messages.
Not only do filmmakers choose certain colors to evoke a feeling, they also use them to show contrasts in characters or to show how a character or story evolves over time.
This can show up as using contrasting hues for the “good guy” and the “bad guy” or by slowly changing the hue as a character makes changes in their life. Below you can see different approaches to color palettes, each of them with a different purpose and with the potential to be very powerful depending on the execution.
Next time you’re cozy on your couch, popcorn in hand, watching a new movie (after scouring Netflix for thirty minute) pay attention to what the colors are telling you. When there is an intense scene, when a character comes to a resolution, or when two people fall in love, what colors are most prominent in each instance?
The fun thing about movies is that they can paint life literally any color they choose.
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