COLOR: The Mood of Film (Part II)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.