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THE INTERSECTION OF STRATEGY AND STORY

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The Intersection of Strategy and Story

COLOR: The Mood of Film (Part II)

 A scene from 'O Brother Where Art Thou?' - the first film to use all digital color grading. More on this process  here .

A scene from 'O Brother Where Art Thou?' - the first film to use all digital color grading. More on this process here.

COLOR: The mood of film

In Part I of our 'Color: The Mood of Film' series, we identified the intuitive and intentional aspects of utilizing color in film and established a general sense of context to the history. In Part II, we'll begin a more in-depth exploration of the HOW and WHY of utilizing color theory in film; we'll go into some detail on the specifics of the terms, and explore how each has been successfully utilized to support a narrative. Our topics will include HUE, VALUE, SATURATION and COLOR RELATIONSHIPS and how each has been utilized to communicate mood. As we explore these topics, think about how these concepts can be utilized in your own work to reinforce mood and support the narrative of your story. 


 Remember learning ROY G BIV? Hue is the one of the most readily apparent aspects of color. 

Remember learning ROY G BIV? Hue is the one of the most readily apparent aspects of color. 

HUE: Controlling the 'color of color' in your film

Hue is primarily defined as 'the attribute of a color by virtue of which it is discernible as red, green, etc., and which is dependent on its dominant wavelength, and independent of intensity or lightness.' Interestingly, the secondary definition of HUE is 'character; aspect'. Both definitions are relevant to our discussion and important to keep in mind, but in general when we discuss HUE we're talking about the 'color of the color'. The 2002 film 'Hero' utilizes HUE to communicate deeper aspects of its character's nature. This motif of associating character with a specific color is often utilized yet it bears mentioning that these associations don't always translate from culture to culture, and have often been associated with subtle discriminatory intent. 

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The sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would express bright yellow with bass notes, or dark lake with the treble.
— Wassily Kandinsky

 'Blade Runner 2049' utilizes color to communicate place and space.

'Blade Runner 2049' utilizes color to communicate place and space.

VALUE: Adding dimension to your film

Value is defined as the relative lightness or darkness of a color. VALUE is what defines form and creates spatial illusions. One can observe in the image above a scene consisting of one HUE with differing VALUES creating shape and dimension. In part one of this series we discussed the process of film tinting and toning utilized in early filmmaking. In those examples, we see how VALUE is used to create shape and color while utilizing a single HUE and SATURATION; yet this approach is not only the result of technical limitation - in the 2017 film 'Blade Runner 2049', the scenes in the post-apocalyptic Las Vegas utilize VALUE to create space and reinforce the largess of the history of the environment. Cinematographer Roger Deakins describes how they achieved the look here.


The colors live a remarkable life of their own after they have been applied to the canvas.
— Edvard Munch

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SATURATION: Controlling the intensity of color in your film

Saturation is defined as the intensity of color in an image. In technical terms, it is the expression of the bandwidth of light from a source. The term refers to the intensity (purity) of the hue. Simply put, it's the brilliance and intensity of a color. In the 2006 film 'Pan's Labyrinth' SATURATION is used to distinguish the differing realities experienced by the protagonist. The difference in SATURATION of the red fruit on the banquet table in comparison to the red blood in the medium shot shown below serve to reinforce the temptation of indulgence and the cold harshness of violence. 

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HUE, VALUE & SATURATION

To sum up these terms; we can think of HUE as the specific color, VALUE as how bright the color is, and SATURATION as how intensely the color presents itself. When thinking of how color is used in film, we'll rely heavily on these concepts of HUE, VALUE, and SATURATION as we explore how colors relate to each other and how these relationships can serve to create a visual style. If you'd like to read more on color theory in film we recommend these great resources:

PRIMARY COLORS

COLOR, VALUE, SATURATION

USING COLOR IN FILM

IF IT'S PURPLE, SOMEONE'S GOING TO DIE


 Stanley Kubrick's 1975 film 'Barry Lyndon' is a masterpiece of cinematography. Cinematographer John Alcott achieved a 'painterly look' that not only emulated the art of the time, but also reinforced the authenticity of era by utilizing natural light and extremely shallow depth of field. Read more about this piece on  Plot and Theme  and dig even deeper with this video essay on  No Film School . 

Stanley Kubrick's 1975 film 'Barry Lyndon' is a masterpiece of cinematography. Cinematographer John Alcott achieved a 'painterly look' that not only emulated the art of the time, but also reinforced the authenticity of era by utilizing natural light and extremely shallow depth of field. Read more about this piece on Plot and Theme and dig even deeper with this video essay on No Film School


Why do two colors, put one next to the other, sing? Can one really explain this? no. Just as one can never learn how to paint.
— Pablo Picasso

  MOVIE BARCODE  image of the film 'HERO'. One can observe the distinct hues of the battle sequences. How this serves the narrative is discussed in this  2004 review .

MOVIE BARCODE image of the film 'HERO'. One can observe the distinct hues of the battle sequences. How this serves the narrative is discussed in this 2004 review.

COLOR RELATIONSHIPS

Now that we have a basic understanding of some of the key terms used in discussing color theory, let's begin to talk about color relationships. When we think of the color wheel we can start to consider the way different HUES look in relation to other HUES. In general, we refer to these relationships as PRIMARY, SECONDARY, TERTIARY, COMPLIMENTARY, and ANALOGOUS and even SPLIT COMPLIMENTARY and TRIADIC . Some of the effect of these color relationships are evident in nature; a flower often utilizes complimentary colors to create distinction and attract potential pollinators, while a frog utilizes analogous coloring to successfully blend with their environment. A quick google image search of 'color palette in film' provides a wealth of examples, and we often refer to the MOVIES IN COLOR and MOVIE BARCODE blogs when doing film analysis or even when looking for inspiration. 

 Colors across from each other on the color wheel are referred to as COMPLIMENTARY. Red and Green are often seen utilized in film to draw attention to a subject. 

Colors across from each other on the color wheel are referred to as COMPLIMENTARY. Red and Green are often seen utilized in film to draw attention to a subject. 

 We see the use of the complimentary relationship of RED and GREEN used here in Alfred Hitchcock's 'Vertigo'.

We see the use of the complimentary relationship of RED and GREEN used here in Alfred Hitchcock's 'Vertigo'.


All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.
— Marc Chagall

 Stanley Kubrick's brilliant '2001 a Space Odyssey' utilizes color to reinforce narrative elements of the story. Read more on Kubrick's approach to color  here .

Stanley Kubrick's brilliant '2001 a Space Odyssey' utilizes color to reinforce narrative elements of the story. Read more on Kubrick's approach to color here.

LOOKING AHEAD

In Part III of our series on COLOR: The Mood of Film, we'll dig deeper into understanding color relationships by exploring historic trends, genre trends and some specific examples with in depth analysis. As you think more about color relationships, are you drawn more to complimentary colors or analogous ones? Does your eye respond more to red or to green? Remember, as we learn more about the specifics and theories of color, there is still some room for 'taste'. Start to think about the films you love, and take a moment to look them up in terms of color palette and color barcode. It's often surprising to find color similarities in seemingly disparate films. With a greater understanding of color, you will have greater control over your narrative; as these are tools that help communicate the intent, both overt and tertiary, of the narrative.