Color Schemes in Filmmaking (2022)

Journey through the power of colors and color schemes in filmmaking and convey mood effectively in your next video project.

Whenever you watch a visual medium, you perceive a particular emotion which can be positive, negative, or a mix of different feelings. That certainly depends on the story involved, but that’s not the only factor to consider.

We have already talked about the role of lighting and shadows in conveying a certain mood—here is the full article—and now we are ready to concentrate on color schemes.

Our mind is complex, and we automatically build associations while observing colors. Consequently, knowing color psychology is beneficial when you create a professional lighting setup.

But before getting to the nitty gritty, let’s look at the following rendered images.

Color Schemes in Filmmaking (1)
Color Schemes in Filmmaking (2)

Here we have a single shoe on the left (A) and a pair of shoes on the right (B). A uses soft lighting, while B adds more contrast with strong shadows. Besides that, a difference in color temperature makes B cooler than A. Also, the specular highlights in B are stronger and tinted with a warm color. That creates a good combination of cool colors, like the desaturated violet areas in the rest of the composition.

As a result, the choice of a proper lighting scheme with bright highlights and a specific color temperature makes B more dramatic than A.

Colors also tell a story.

From color psychology, violet might create a sense of mystery—amongst other feelings—and that’s perfect for conveying that in B. Using our imagination, it seems that B represents a sort of crime scene where police find a pair of shoes.

Color Meaning in Filmmaking

Color psychology is a complex subject that helps filmmakers in their productions. A single color can have more than one meaning, and our brain can elaborate on the right one. Let’s look at the multitude of feelings a single color can communicate.

For instance, the blue of the sky is mostly associated with peace, quietness, and so on. Nonetheless, it may recall a sense of isolation and melancholy in some contexts.

Red is often associated with love and passion, but it can also indicate a dangerous situation.

You’ll see the purple color in a fantasy movie, but it also conveys mystery or something mystical.

  • Color Schemes in Filmmaking (3)
  • Color Schemes in Filmmaking (4)
  • Color Schemes in Filmmaking (5)
  • Color Schemes in Filmmaking (6)
(Video) Color Theory in Film — Color Psychology for Directors: Ep5

The psychology of color in film. Image via Studio Binder.

It’s also essential to notice that the context contributes to the meaning we associate. If green lettering on a sign is representative of a pharmacy, you’d automatically connect it to health—that’s a positive message.

Conversely, a green and mysterious substance in a tank might convey a sense of toxicity and danger. In the following image, the green substance called “the dip” from the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit is naturally a negative element of destruction.

Color Schemes in Filmmaking (7)
Color Schemes in Filmmaking (8)

Cultural and Contextual Associations

In filmmaking, we know that we can rely on objective aspects of color to build a precise color scheme. The color of the sun always conveys positiveness and happiness—a new day.

There are a few exceptions where the color meaning is strongly related to cultural associations. In many Eastern cultures, white is the color of death because white is worn at funerals and also represents sterility and misfortune. White is also the color of purity and peace in many countries.

A filmmaker can also build a contextual association between colors and characters. We could associate a color with a character and recall it in different contexts to explain a function or feeling or recognize their presence.

For example, take the Joker from The Dark Knight. Here purple and its shades represent the Joker’s mad and evil side throughout the movie.

Color Schemes in Filmmaking (9)

The importance of Color Schemes in Filmmaking

A professional filmmaker starts with a well-defined color scheme. But what is precisely a color scheme?

Simply put, a set of colors that a shot, a movie, or any production chooses to convey a specific mood. A color palette is a valuable tool for picking up your primary colors.

Also, a color wheel is a fundamental element to keep in mind while building up your color scheme.

Color Schemes in Filmmaking (10)

Here we see the primary colors in traditional painting—the classic Red, Yellow, and Blue.

By mixing up the primary colors, we obtain the secondary colors: Orange, Green, and Purple.

Finally, the combination of primary colors with secondary ones gives tertiary colors.

The right side of the wheel contains warm tints, while the left side is home to cool tints.

(Video) Control your Films Colour Palette using Cinematography

A color scheme can contain any color you like, but there are a few guidelines that you should follow.

For instance, here we have an example of a color palette from The Matrix (1999). At first glance, the red rear lights stand out, while the rest of the colors are shades of green and light blue.

Color Schemes in Filmmaking (11)

The presence of red creates contrast and draws attention to the back of the car.

It’s not a case that red and green are colors opposite to each other in the color wheel. In fact, they are called complementary colors and make the composition stronger and more vibrant.

Let’s now see some color schemes in depth.

Monochromatic Color Scheme

In this kind of scheme, there is a dominant hue from which we obtain tones and shades. The filmmaker chooses a key color and plays with a range of darker and lighter tints.

Color Schemes in Filmmaking (12)
Color Schemes in Filmmaking (13)

With this kind of scheme, you can immediately capture the essence of the shot in terms of mood. Here we have two examples of monochromatic color schemes.

The first one comes from the movie called The Grand Budapest Hotel. The presence of pink and its shades, making even the blue washed in pink, conveys a soothing feeling.

The second image, which represents a personal project, uses shades of blue, giving the composition a different tone—cold and isolation, for instance.

(Video) Why Great Movies use the 60-30-10 Percent Color Rule

Complementary Color Scheme

Amongst all the color schemes, this is one of the most popular in filmmaking.

We can build a complementary color scheme by taking color and its opposite in the color wheel.
In particular, these are complementary color pairs that we are used to seeing in movies:

  • Red and Green
Color Schemes in Filmmaking (14)
  • Blue and Orange
Color Schemes in Filmmaking (15)
Color Schemes in Filmmaking (16)

Colors can be at their max saturation when you want to grab the attention of a particular element.

Also, the application of this color scheme gives a vibrant look, creates more contrast, and makes the characters pop out more.

Split Complementary Color Scheme

This scheme produces less tension than the previous one. Instead of considering the complementary tint, it takes one color and picks the two colors next to the opposite one.

In the following movie Safe House, we can clearly see the presence of the warm skin tint, but instead of considering a strong complementary blue color, the director preferred to soften the contrast.

Color Schemes in Filmmaking (17)

Analogous Color Scheme

When we consider colors next to each other in the color wheel, we are introducing an analogous color scheme.

Unlike the complementary color scheme, this one creates neither tension nor contrast. It can contain a tint that makes the composition appear relaxing. This kind of color combination can be found in nature, where there is continuity in the hues, but can also be present in indoor scenes.

Color Schemes in Filmmaking (18)

Triadic Color Scheme

Considering the color wheel, this scheme works with three evenly spaced colors. We can pick colors like yellow, blue, and red to create a strong image.

Even if not fundamental, one color is dominant, while the other two accentuate the composition.

The effect is a vivid image with a vibrant color palette.

Color Schemes in Filmmaking (19)

Tetradic Color Scheme

While a triadic color scheme picks three colors, this one consists of four colors managed in two complementary pairs.

Again, the result is vivid, and the composition is more interesting if one of the colors is dominant. An iconic example comes from the CG movie Inside Out, where the main characters are represented by a specific color, each with proper meaning.

(Video) Colour In Storytelling

The use of saturated colors makes the composition more vibrant.

Color Schemes in Filmmaking (20)

Discordant Color Schemes

Even if the term might suggest a set of colors that shouldn’t be used together, here, the meaning is different and more profound. Discordant colors consist of one or more tints appearing in a particular sequence of the movie as a new color scheme but never used before.

They generally emphasize a message or grab the attention of a key element of the movie.

Color Schemes in Filmmaking (21)
Color Schemes in Filmmaking (22)

A scene in The Sixth Sense shows a red handle in the shot. The director wants to grab the attention of that element even if it doesn’t match so well with the rest of the colors.

Also, in Sin City, characters are identified by a color as a symbol, even if the film is black and white.

Transitional Color Schemes

As the last example, we are going to present transitional color schemes.

While applying a specific color scheme to a movie, additional sequences with a totally different color scheme might exist. This change creates an abrupt transition with a clear message to communicate.

The transition might also happen in different movies of a series like Harry Potter. Look at the color scheme in The Philosopher’s Stone—it completely changes by The Deathly Hallows.

The purpose is to communicate a message, a feeling, to convey the dark road that Harry has traveled down.

Color Schemes in Filmmaking (23)
Color Schemes in Filmmaking (24)

Conclusion

We explored the most common color schemes in filmmaking. They represent a way to improve your filmmaking skills and make your compositions even better in terms of mood.

Nevertheless, you can build up your color scheme without strict rules, as long as it appears excellent and attractive. The complementary color scheme seems to be used a lot in filmmaking, but it’s not the only one we saw.

Thank you for reading this episode and if you liked this article, follow me on my Linkedin page to get updated on new content!

FAQs

What is color scheme in film? ›

The color palette used in a film can help tell a story. This helps the viewer feel certain emotions, such as the use of red blood in a horror movie, or a shade of green for jealousy. Color in film also helps draw the attention of the user to a specific detail, like a red handle on a white door.

Why is colour so important in film? ›

Colorful cinema palettes directly affect an audience's experience of a film. Color creates ambiance, amplifies emotion, and heightens symbolism. This is why directors, cinematographers, and production designers choose their color palettes in preproduction, long before they begin filming.

How does colour in film affect the audience? ›

Certain color palettes draw the viewer in and create a sense of comfort, while others isolate the viewer and make them feel disoriented. Just as some create a nostalgic atmosphere while others evoke tension and grit.

How do I choose a color palette for my film? ›

A well-designed movie color palette evokes mood and sets the tone for the film. When choosing a particular color, remember that there are three main components — hue, saturation, and brightness. As Bond mentions in his film color theory video, many viewers will have predictably similar reactions to certain colors.

How do you describe a color scheme? ›

In art and design, a color scheme is an association of colors based on an organizational system. Basically, it's a set of colors that work well together to create a unified aesthetic. We can find our color scheme using a color wheel, a matrix of colors used to see how colors relate.

What are the 5 different color schemes? ›

5 Common Film Color Schemes
  • Complementary Color Scheme. Two colors on opposite sides of the color wheel make a complimentary pair. ...
  • Analogous Color Scheme. Analogous colors sit next to each other on the color wheel. ...
  • Triadic Color Scheme. ...
  • Split-Complementary Color Scheme. ...
  • Tetradic Color Scheme.
5 Mar 2015

How does Colour tell a story? ›

Color in film can build harmony or tension within a scene. When telling a story, colors can; Color is often an extremely powerful tool communicate emotional ideas to the audience. Color can affect audience emotionally, psychologically and even physically.

What film best demonstrates the use of color? ›

Below are a number of outstanding examples of how skillful film makers can use color to superb effect.
  • The Red Shoes (1948) ...
  • The River (1951) ...
  • Gate of Hell (1953) ...
  • Lola Montes (1954) ...
  • Written on The Wind (1957) ...
  • Vertigo (1958)
11 Feb 2015

Who invented color in film? ›

The first color cinematography was by additive color systems such as the one patented by Edward Raymond Turner in 1899 and tested in 1902. A simplified additive system was successfully commercialized in 1909 as Kinemacolor.

How filmmakers manipulate our emotions using color? ›

How filmmakers manipulate our emotions using color - YouTube

What are the effects of light and color in the film? ›

Lighting and colour. Lighting and colour can be used as visual tools to create meaning, and to create a sense of depth and three-dimensionality. Both help to establish mood and atmosphere and can highlight and define certain objects and characters to code a story.

Is color part of cinematography? ›

Cinematography comprises all on-screen visual elements, including lighting, framing, composition, camera motion, camera angles, film selection, lens choices, depth of field, zoom, focus, color, exposure, and filtration.

What are the two types of color films? ›

Types of Color Film
  • Negative Film. Negative film produces an image that is the opposite of the original scene in color and density. ...
  • Reversal Film (Slide Film, Transparency Film, or "Chromes") ...
  • Professional Film. ...
  • Films for Specialized Color Balance and Exposure Times.
11 Jun 2004

How do you read a color palette? ›

The first idea for picking colors that work well together is going for a monochromatic palette. This means you work with one hue, and the variation of tints, tones and shades. Complimentary. Colors that are opposite to each other in the color wheel are considered complementary.

What was the first color movie? ›

The first commercially produced film in natural color was A Visit to the Seaside (1908). The eight-minute British short film used the Kinemacolor process to capture a series of shots of the Brighton Southern England seafront.

Why is a Colour scheme important? ›

A color scheme is one of the first elements to communicate the message behind the design on both visual and psychological levels. In fact, the color scheme is one of the most important elements; this is because, when used correctly, color can reflect the niche and even the overall business marketing strategy.

What is the purpose of a color scheme? ›

Color schemes are used to create style and appeal. Colors that create an aesthetic feeling when used together will commonly accompany each other in color schemes. A basic color scheme will use two colors that look appealing together.

Which color scheme creates the most contrast? ›

Complementary Colors

We can visualize it as drawing a straight line from one color on the wheel to another. Green and red, for example, are complementary colors because they are directly across from each other on the color wheel. The complementary color scheme creates the most contrast in terms of color.

What are the 7 major color schemes? ›

7 Types of color schemes
  • Monochromatic. A monochromatic color scheme uses all variations of a single hue. ...
  • Complementary. A complementary color scheme is made up of colors opposite to one another on the color wheel. ...
  • Split complementary. ...
  • Achromatic. ...
  • Analogous. ...
  • Triadic. ...
  • Tetradic.
8 Aug 2022

What color schemes are popular? ›

PS: I've also included the HEX values next to each color scheme so you can use them in your favorite editor.
  • Blue, green and pink ( 9,588 ♥️ ) ...
  • Orange, cream and dark blues ( 2360 ♥️ ) ...
  • Aqua and blues ( 2520 ♥️ ) ...
  • Blues and yellow ( 3323 ♥️ ) ...
  • Red, cream and green ( 3430 ♥️ ) ...
  • Blue, green and pink ( 2774 ♥️ )
24 Aug 2022

Which color scheme is mostly used in minimalistic designs? ›

Since minimalistic designs are expected to be elegant and simple, grey, black and white shades are mostly used.

What does blue symbolize in moonlight? ›

Colors (Motif)

Blue, of course, symbolizes younger Chiron and his relationship with Juan, whose nickname was once Blue; it also calls to mind Chiron's relationship with Kevin, as their tryst occurred in front of the blue ocean. Black also symbolizes the new, "hard" persona that Chiron has adopted in adulthood.

Which color is most associated with mysticism when it comes to visual storytelling? ›

Purples. For something unique, purple is used to show the mystical and the ethereal, as in Fig.

What is significance of Colour in terms of a film's storyline and narrative? ›

Color simplifies complex stories.

Filmmakers realized that different tones could help viewers follow stories that jumped between characters and locations. In Intolerance (1916), for example, D.W. Griffith gave each of his four storylines a unique tint to signal they took place in different time periods.

What do dark Colours represent in movies? ›

BLACK – No, power, sexuality, sophistication, formality, elegance, wealth, mystery, fear, anonymity, unhappiness, depth, style, evil, sadness, remorse, anger.

What does green symbolize in film? ›

Green gives us a sense of hope and virility (when seen in shots of crops, mountains and landscapes), or it can signify mundanity (when the scene is bathed in it) or connote monsters; usually portrayed as green.

When did color film become popular? ›

Technicolor's Breakthrough and Beyond

In 1932, Technicolor's latest innovation (the three-color dye transfer method), was used in the Disney animated short: “Flowers and Trees”, and eventually, in 1934, “The Cat and the Fiddle” became the first live-action feature to employ this revolutionary new process.

When was the first colored video made? ›

The films were made by Edward Raymond Turner from London who patented his colour process on 22 March, 1899. Some of the footage features Mr Turner's children in the garden of their home in Hounslow.

When was color film invented? ›

The first commercially successful color process, the Lumière Autochrome, invented by the French Lumière brothers, reached the market in 1907. Instead of colored strips, it was based on an irregular screen plate filter made of three colors of dyed grains of potato starch which were too small to be individually visible.

What colors should be used by a film producer to evoke audience emotions signifying a sense of new beginnings and survival? ›

Green also has the power to breathe new life into characters and audiences. Luscious greenery and earthly tones give off a sense of new beginnings and survival.

What does the color blue symbolize in film? ›

Blue symbolizes isolation, passivity and calmness. StudioBinder has come up with an interesting infographic that showcases the different color schemes used by filmmakers and the range of emotions they evoke. Check it out below.

What does red light symbolize in film? ›

Red lighting tends to add a sense of danger or urgency, but can also enhance passion and romance.

What do you call the color tone of a movie? ›

The COLOR PALETTE in a movie is what I like to call “Mood and Tone.” Every movie, TV show, or music video usually has an identifiable mood and tone or look to it. This is something that is consistent throughout the length of the presentation and/or shifts due to storytelling purposes.

Why is lighting so important in a film? ›

Lighting is a fundamental to film because it creates a visual mood, atmosphere, and sense of meaning for the audience. Whether it's dressing a film set or blocking actors, every step of the cinematic process affects the lighting setup, and vice-versa.

How can lighting impact the audience? ›

Lighting can highly affect the mood of a film, just like it can affect photography. It can help the audience understand what they are supposed to be feeling. And it can help us see a character in a different light – literally. Alternatively, bad lighting can ruin the emotion of a movie.

Why is color important in film? ›

Color creates ambiance, amplifies emotion, and heightens symbolism. This is why directors, cinematographers, and production designers choose their color palettes in preproduction, long before they begin filming.

How is Colour used in film? ›

Color can set the overall tone of the film. For example, the use of purple to create a sense of fantasy. Color can help the film identify character traits, such as having a greedy businessman wear green or a melancholy character wear yellow. Color can also be used to show the evolution of a character or story.

Why is color correction required during video editing? ›

Color correcting unifies your footage.

Color correction is the first step, and it involves fixing issues with the color of your footage so it matches how hues and tones appear in the world. The goal of this technical process is also to match the colors between each of your video clips so they are unified.

What are the two types of color films? ›

Types of Color Film
  • Negative Film. Negative film produces an image that is the opposite of the original scene in color and density. ...
  • Reversal Film (Slide Film, Transparency Film, or "Chromes") ...
  • Professional Film. ...
  • Films for Specialized Color Balance and Exposure Times.
11 Jun 2004

What is cinematic color grading? ›

During color grading, colorists use editing software to stylize the footage—emphasizing the visual tone and atmosphere of a movie, and making it look more cinematic. Colorists use color grading to adjust contrast, color balance, white balance, black level, saturation, and luminance.

What is an example of a triadic color scheme? ›

Examples of triadic combinations: Red, yellow, and blue. Purple, green, and orange. Blue-purple, red-orange, and yellow-green.

Is color part of cinematography? ›

Cinematography comprises all on-screen visual elements, including lighting, framing, composition, camera motion, camera angles, film selection, lens choices, depth of field, zoom, focus, color, exposure, and filtration.

What was the first color film? ›

The first commercially produced film in natural color was A Visit to the Seaside (1908). The eight-minute British short film used the Kinemacolor process to capture a series of shots of the Brighton Southern England seafront.

How do Colour films work? ›

In color films, each emulsion layer has a different color dye forming coupler: in the blue sensitive layer, the coupler forms a yellow dye; in the green sensitive layer the coupler forms a magenta dye, and in the red sensitive layer the coupler forms a cyan dye. Color films often have an UV blocking layer.

When was color film first used? ›

The first commercially successful color photography process appeared on the market in 1907, when the French Lumière brothers, by then famous in the world of cinema, introduced the Lumière Autochrome.

When filming what must be done to ensure accurate color? ›

All of these factors play a vital role in getting perfect color from your images. The role of the color checker, or color chart, is to help keep color constant and consistent throughout the entire process. Through lens changes, camera changes, lighting changes, etc., color charts keep everything running smoothly.

What must be done to ensure accurate color? ›

Calibrating your monitors and using color match software are two great ways to ensure accurate color replication, but color variation can still exist from one piece of equipment to the other. The only way you can really ensure accurate color replication is to get a hard copy proof.

How hard is it to learn color grading? ›

Color Grading is hard to learn. It takes several years to master color grading to a level close to that of professional colorists. Davinci Resolve, the main color grading software, is getting more and more complicated.

How do you choose colors together? ›

Begin with one color, and look across the color wheel for its direct complement — instead of choosing that color, pick two analogous colors on either side of it. So, for example, if your first color is yellow-green (AKA: chartreuse), look across to red-violet, but choose violet and red as your second and third colors.

What is the example of monochromatic? ›

Monochromatic color refers to a color scheme that is comprised of variations of one color. You can use any color to create a monochromatic color scheme. For example, adding white to red creates pink, adding black to red creates maroon, etc. Then, you could have a monochromatic color scheme of pink, red, and maroon.

Why is color correction important? ›

Color correction helps by smoothing out the color from shot to shot and giving the video a more contiguous feel, allowing the viewer to focus on the story.

Why is color correction required during video editing? ›

Color correcting unifies your footage.

Color correction is the first step, and it involves fixing issues with the color of your footage so it matches how hues and tones appear in the world. The goal of this technical process is also to match the colors between each of your video clips so they are unified.

Why is Colour correction required during video editing? ›

Color correction uses software to alter the colors and contrast within a film to make it appear natural and unprocessed. Often, cameras do not accurately capture the tones and colors in the real world during filming. As a result, video editors need to adjust these colors manually to make the film look more natural.

Videos

1. Color Theory and Wes Anderson's Style — Sad Characters in a Colorful World
(StudioBinder)
2. Why are Films Shot in Two Colors?
(wolfcrow)
3. Mastering the Movie Color Palette: Denis Villeneuve
(StudioBinder)
4. This One Grading Secret Applies Color Theory in Films Almost Instantly
(Color Grading Central)
5. 10 Best Uses of Color of All Time
(CineFix - IGN Movies and TV)
6. COLOR THEORY for Filmmakers
(CINEMATICJ)

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