A filmmaker is a visual artist. To be a great visual artist you need mastery of the color palette. Many of the greatest Directors, Cinematographers, and Production Designers have extensive backgrounds as visual artists themselves. Ridley Scott, for example, cut his visual teeth as the Royal College of Art.There are many ways to use color in film. We’re going to break the key approaches down in this post as well as offer you a free E-book. The ebook is an excellent tool for better understanding the use of the color in film, and beginning to master it. There is a lot to cover, and a lot of cool images to look at. So download your free ebook below, and we’ll get into it.
Before the color palette there was...
Black and white.For years movies were shot entirely in black and white. Powerful symbols and contrasting ideas were created in those images.Color tinting and versions of the two and three strip technicolor process happened in fits and starts. But in 1939, considered a landmark year for Hollywood for many reasons, color photography in film truly came of age.With the explosion of color in film, a new approach to the movie color palette had to be created. The artists who’d used light and shadow to tell stories now had far more tools at their disposal.It was what you might call a game changer.
How can color tell a story?
Colour in film can build harmony or tension within a scene. Bring attention to a key theme. And that’s just the start.When telling a story, colors:Elicit psychological reactionsDraw focus to significant detailsSet the tone of the movieRepresent character traitsShow changes or arcs in the storySo choose your color palettes wisely! Because with great power comes…You know.
Your movie color palette starts here
You don’t just start picking colors for your movie color palette out of a hat.Well… I guess you could…What you should probably do instead is start putting together some concept art by creating a mood board. Using a free mood board template is a great way to get started, and you should really think of this as a brainstorming session at first.Creating a mood board is just one of many early ideation steps in the pre-production process.
If you want to learn more about the others, this is a great pre production process resource.If you’ve done some work now with mood boards, we’d recommend that you take your movie color palette ideas and bring it into storyboard software to bring it to life there.You don't need to be an artist to create storyboards. If you're using software, simply upload screenshots from other videos to help convey the mood and tone of the shot or scene you want to communicate.Want to convey a sickly, claustrophobic tone? Use shots from The Matrix. Something somber? Man of Steel.
It can then easily be turned into a slideshow and shared.Once you have a storyboard, look at it closely. Ask yourself:What’s working the way you thought it would?What isn’t working?What is happening that you didn’t even predict.This is a very visual part of a visual medium.
The psychology behind colors in film
A well designed movie color palette evokes mood and sets the tone for the film.The three main components of a color are hue, saturation, and value.Hue – the color itself.Saturation – intensity of the color.Value – The darkness or lightness of a color.As Bond mentions in his color theory video, many viewers will have predictably similar reactions to certain colors.A strong red color has been shown to raise blood pressure, while a blue color elicits a calming effect. (more on this when we discuss lightsabers later on…)In The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan uses the color red to represent fear, dread and foreshadowing whereas in Pleasantville, Gary Ross uses red to represent hope, love and sensuality.Color theory norms should be understood by filmmakers, but never seen as a limitation.Red creates an experience in the viewer, so target its presence in your film color palette carefully.