Color is as much an important part of a film as music, dialogue, or plot. Color schemes and color grading, however, are often ignored by even the best filmmakers and can completely affect our opinions of a movie. This post is really part one of two (the next will be published sometime in the next fortnight) and will explain how color schemes work and how they are used to evoke specific feelings in the watchers. Part two will explore how color grading, a post-production process in filming, can ruin a film or make it into a piece of art.
The Color Wheel And How Color Schemes Work
There are two main color wheels used in film. The Tetradic Color Wheel (right) is used mostly for color scheming (and will be the one most talked about in this post) and Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions is most used for color grading (and will be discussed more in the second part of this post).
The Tetradic Color Wheel works like this: the colors of the spectrum complete a full circle. This means that each color must have an opposite color — red is opposite green, orange is opposite blue, and purple is opposite yellow, etc. This is used in movies to either help tell a story or just make an aesthetically beautiful film. Color schemes will often use the four colors connected by the black lines or any combination of two of them.
Colors And Emotions
Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions, on the other hand, works like this: Each of the eight main colors evoke a certain feeling in the person observing them. Dark green evokes terror, bright red evokes rage, and dark blue evokes grief (hence the expression "feeling blue"). Each of these colors have variations that evoke slightly different emotions, and mixes of two colors evoke mixed emotions. This is used to make filters and color grading effects that can color a whole scene with an "emotion" or a whole movie to give a feel of consistency throughout different lightings and places. Certain places are often associated with each color because we see them used so often in film. Paris, for example, is often associated with green or turquoise (assigned the feelings of awe and apprehension).
Case Studies: Blue And Orange
The footage that we have so far seen of #WonderWoman is perfect example of the blue-and-orange color scheme being used. Blue and yellow/orange is the most commonly seen color scheme throughout cinema. This is because most people's skin tone is actually slightly yellow and a blue background will make the actor "pop out" and be noticed (as you can see, the two colors are opposite each other on the Tetradic Color Wheel).
Take the top right frame, for example — everyone else in the scene is either wearing black or yellow. The room is also completely yellow, as are the lights. Wonder Woman (portrayed by #GalGadot), however, is wearing a bright blue dress that is extremely visible in the otherwise completely yellow scenery. This draws the audience's attention to her and almost makes the entire background fade away (this is, of course, helped by the slight blurring of everyone in the background.)
This scheme can be seen throughout the trailer and gives the trailer a well-rounded, aesthetically pleasing effect that the audience is naturally drawn to. As you watch the trailer, just look out for all of the blue and yellow visible throughout and how the colors enhance the scene:
'Mad Max: Fury Road'
Another prime example of this color scheme is #MadMaxFuryRoad. In this film, #GeorgeMiller uses color scheming to give the overall impressive look of the film a boost. The film is, of course, set in a desert, giving it the advantage of being naturally blue and yellow. As you can see in the two frames on the bottom left, the generally sandy yellow look of the characters is contrasted against the light blue sky of Namibia (where the films were filmed). This was a conscious choice by the director because the camera could have just as easily been looking down on the war boy in the middle left frame from a bird's-eye view, giving a more blended-in-to-the-background look to the attack when, in fact, the War Boys' style of fighting is very obvious and flat-out.
In this case, the scheme is furthering the effect of the movie and contributing slightly to the story, in the top left frame, however, the scheme is simply making for a beautiful, yet intense car chase. As you watch the trailer, notice how the scheme is completely yellow and red until Max Rockatansky (portrayed by #TomHardy) begins escaping, almost as if the blue brings hope.
Case Study: The Use Of The Primary Colors In 'La La Land'
Not only did #DamienChazelle's #LaLaLand bring the musical to the modern day and manage to win six Golden Globes, but was also a brilliantly beautiful film. Utilizing the primary colors (red, yellow, and blue), Damien Chazelle achieved a subtle yet impressive effect. Every scene in the movie had at least one of the primary colors all over it.
Take the middle two frames, for example. Blue and yellow (as previously discussed) are both primary colors and make the actor very visible. Even the extras in the scene on the left are wearing yellow scarfs and blue shirts to match Mia's (portrayed by #EmmaStone) blue jacket and coffee-stained shirt. This is also very obvious in the bottom right frame, where Mia and her friends all have dresses that complement each other and fit perfectly into the color scheme of the movie.
In the top two frames, though less obvious, both Sebastian (#RyanGosling) and Mia are wearing blue when they first meet. This meeting is, however, set in a green and red environment, where neither of them are happy, almost as if they are most at comfort with primary-themed places.
How 'Amelie' And Wes Anderson's Films Use Colors
The first two case studies in this post have been rather subtle schemes that only film fanatics are likely to pick up on. Jean-Pierre Jeunet (director of Amelie) and #WesAnderson, however, use color as a tool that guides the film along and let it take the most important role in the film.
Plot, direction, and music have never really been brilliant in Anderson's films (other than The Grand Budapest Hotel) but he has used color schemes to their extreme. As you can see in the bottom two frames, blue and orange fill every scene of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, pink and yellow create every scene in The Grand Budapest Hotel, and red and green flood Amelie with color. Moonrise Kingdom, however, actually uses color to show two worlds colliding.
The ragtag group of scouts lead by #EdwardNorton's Scout Master Ward is signified by the yellow and green colors of nature and Kara Hayward's Suzy Bishop is followed by orange and blue everywhere she goes. When one of Ward's scouts goes missing and meets up with Suzy, the color schemes combine to give an unnatural yellow-orange look to the film, very much in the same way as the personalities of the two children clash. This is a prime example of color schemes actually contributing to the story.
How Color Affects Film (And Audiences)
There are three main ways color schemes can be used in film: subtly, enhancing the experience, and carrying the film. I am a big fan of the "enhancing the experience" way (as seen in La La Land), but any use of color is good and should not be neglected. Let me know in the comments which you prefer.
How has color affected some of your favorite movies?
I hope you enjoyed this post and it has given you a new appreciation for the use of color in film. I will post the second half of this two-part post at some point in the next two weeks. Be sure to check out my movie/book review blog at Readers of the Lost Arc and my trailer breakdowns for Blade Runner 2049, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Alien: Covenant. Also, please check out my theory on Why Iron Man Will Die In Avengers: Infinity War or my list of 16 best films of 2016 and 17 to look out for in 2017!