Remember the colour theory class you took when you were pursuing a design course?
We know – you were having second thoughts taking the class. After all, when were you going to put all that knowledge to good use?
But we’re going to let you in on a secret – it’s a trump card to acing your films.
Filmmakers have been popping in all sorts of colours for a reason. And no – it’s not a mishmash of random hues and shades – they all serve a specific purpose. From setting the mood to conveying a particular time period – the use of colour work wonders!
Now, let us walk you through and show you it’s brilliance in films.
Hit it with the basics
If you want to master cinema palettes – your foundation has to be solid, and strong.
Although some of you may know the three properties very well, we can’t say its the same for all of you. Especially not for those who are new to cinema palettes.
So, let’s give a quick rundown, shall we?
The choice of colour is in your hands and, this is only just the beginning.
But before you go into the colour choice – think carefully – what is your objective for this particular scene?
If you want to show deep passion and love – red is the answer. But at the same time – it can represent desire. In American Beauty, the scene with Angela soaking in a bathtub filled with dark red petals represents Lester’s lust-filled fantasies.
Likewise, other colours can also go both ways.
However, picking the pure spectrum colour in a cinema palette is just the first step. When it all boils down to it – you have to throw in saturation and value to come up with the whole spread of palette.
Bring on the intensity game! How deep do you want to go on that intensity scale? Or how toned down is it going to be?
Just like your chosen colour – saturation plays a key part in setting the cinema palette.
Take Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 film for instance. The colours blue and green have to be understated to show the somberness atmosphere in the story. Moreover, it reveals Professor Snape’s past and his role in the story.
Are you yin, or yang? Choose your side.
Here, you have to select your value carefully. Naturally, the lighter it is; the lower the value. Flip it, and you have a higher value.
Usually, a film palette filled with colours of higher values depicts a happy and bright atmosphere just like this scene in Finding Dory – before all the frantic searching for Dory began.
Whereas, lower values aim to do the opposite; gloomy and dark.
Colour scheme: Balance or discordance?
Is your goal to create harmony or contrast? Think it through because you will want to make or break a scene.
Visual balance is all about harmonising colours in one scene – often using similar colour hues of varying saturation or value levels. Meanwhile, discordance is where you notice one stubborn colour sticking out.
Not clear enough? Don’t worry – we’ll be diving into the different colour concepts in a bit!
Choose one single hue. Now, fill the cinema palette up with various shades, tones and tints. Voila – there is your monochromatic colour scheme.
Just take a look at the Grand Budapest Hotel. Have you ever just wished that all those dramatic moments would just cool down a little? Well, here you have it.
The film applies a diversity of monochromatic colour schemes – mainly different shades of a single colour like pink, red and dark red. The feeling that we get out of it? Soft, lulling and soothing. That’s right – prepare to get sucked into the calming atmosphere and drift into dreamland.
But don’t let the warm and harmonious colours fool you into thinking that monochrome is all about the good, and no bad.
Remember Keanu Reeves? Before all the hype surrounding the John Wick series – he was actually famous for numerous other movies. And guess what – The Matrix was one of them.
In the film – green is not about the calming and serene nature. Instead, all the different values and saturations are used to exhibit an unnatural and ‘sickly’ feeling.
Standing united side by side but not one and the same? That’s exactly what analogous colours are. Similar to how monochromatic colour schemes work – analogous colours have the same idea of creating a harmonious vibe.
So how do they come together? We’ll explain it with this famed masterpiece – America Hustle. Packed with drama, romance, crime and action – it’s got most of the movie genres all included.
The mixture of yellows, browns, oranges and reds have created a warm, fuzzy feeling, with zero tension in this scene. Scratch all the whirlwind of emotions and let’s just make peace with this one alone. It’s a perfect way to show the lovey-dovey moment going on between the two and puts aside the drama for a while.
Direct opposites in one place? Check.
Here’s complementary colours swooping in to demonstrate how they tell their story. Most of the times, it’s used to give off a high-tension and vibrant feel.
But in La La Land, the contrast between the bright purple sky and Mia’s striking yellow dress shows the electric energy she’s exuding.
Meanwhile, in David Fincher’s action-packed film – Fight Club – he shows how conflict is not only shown by just using characters, objects and the surroundings alone but through colours and texture as well.
Just recall the final moments of Fight Club. Jack and Marla stood side by side as they were covered over a bluish hue. And all of a sudden – boom! Explosions of orange appeared to display the danger at that moment and the uncertainty of their future together. Guess the tension just never ends in the film, huh?
Picture this. Two partners in cahoots for a crime and a police officer – trying to bust the pair of criminals.
Simply put, triadic colours are three evenly spaced colours together. But as mentioned from the brief example earlier on – one colour will be the dominant one and stand out from the rest.
Now, can you feel the shivers down your spine? Are you trembling in fear? Because we are feeling all kinds of terror at one go at the mention of Stephen King’s film – 6th Sense.
The red doorknob scene is the perfect example of triadic colours. Shades of white and brown colours are everywhere but there’s just that one colour that is sticking out like a sore thumb – the colour red.
It immediately draws the audience’s eyes to it – signalling that the next scene is going to make you jump out of your seat. So, use colours wisely and you’ll get to frighten your viewers.
Remember folks – filmmaking is never as easy as it seems. The director’s job isn’t just about screaming ‘Lights, Camera and Action!’ – they need to work with the entire team. Before filming even begins – it’s their duty to make sure everything is all checked out in the list, and that includes your film palette.
Likewise, you have to line up your colours and know what mood you’re going for. Ace that and you’re ready to bring colours to life in your film.
So, the key takeaway here? Plan everything out from the very start. Your props, the settings and outfits – get them all out and have them fit into the film palette nicely.
Now, if all these newfound knowledge is still a little too fresh to handle – you can always get a sidekick to help you through this battle – aka a production house. And it doesn’t matter what kind of content you’re going for.
Whether it’s for film and video production to create a compelling corporate piece or a simple video to kill time – this information is bound to come in handy.