Light, Camera, Action: Movie’s Color Palettes

Nowadays, going to the movies could turn into a real movie script. It’s a drama that sometimes becomes a sci-fi odyssey because sitting down in a movie theatre looks like something impossible. Films tell us stories that move us. Some are even so great, that they become part of our own lives.
That’s why today we are discussing movies.
One key element in movies that sometimes gets underrated is color. What palette the director chooses and why.
Its relevance and importance in any piece are that even the Pantone company defines what color will be the most important for each year.

Each color means something different. So, let us talk about the meaning of some of the most popular ones.

Red

A beautiful warm color.
It’s associated with fire (I wonder why), violence, danger, and power. It’s also the color of blood and the heart. That’s why it’s also related to love and passion.
For certain cultures, the red color is associated with happiness and prosperity, for example, in China.
In South Africa, it’s related to grief, and in some countries, red is the synonym of communism.

Pink

This color is not just a great song, but it’s also a derivative from red, and it usually represents sweetness, innocence, empathy, and beauty.

Orange

It’s used in scenes where the director tries to show affection, friendship, happiness, youth, landscapes, and far away lands.
This color evokes autumn, that’s why it’s also related to the change of seasons, movement in general, and vitality.

Yellow

This color is characteristic of some movies (especially that one with Uma Thurman) and it’s associated with madness (Tarantino, we get it), sickness, insecurity, obsession, but as crazy as it seems, it’s also related to innocence.
Another thing, if we ask you to draw a bolt of lightning, what color would it be?
That’s why many think of energy when thinking about yellow (we know you would paint that lightning using yellow and some spikes).

Green

It’s a particular color because, with its variations, it has a really wide range of meanings.
This is the color of nature, but also it’s the color of immaturity, corruption, darkness, toxicity, and danger.
Green also evokes new beginnings, abundance, and renewal.

Blue

This color usually means coldness, loneliness, solitude, melancholy, calmness, and passivity. 

Violet

Some of the concepts associated with this kind of color are fantasy, ethereal, erotism, illusion, and the mystic world.

(If you want to know more about color palettes, and how to use them in presentations, you can read this article)

Behind every color choice for a film shooting, there’s intentionality. Every movie director picks a palette that helps the storytelling and tries to make each movie an immersive experience.

Although filmmakers have all these things in mind, some are so clever and special, that they deserve a special shoutout. 

Outstanding Movie Directors in the Use of Color

In 1909 some London movie theatres were already screening some pictures in color. However, in 1932 Walt Disney produced “Flowers and trees”, which is considered the first movie in color. This short film directed by Burt Gillert meant an evolution in movie technologies because it was made in technicolor.

Ever since that era, hundreds of thousands of movies have premiered with outstanding use of color. Many were made by some of the greatest filmmakers of all time, such as:

Alfred Hitchcock

Vertigo – ©Copyright 1958 Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions

He was the mastermind behind some of the greatest thriller movies. Even though he was mostly known for his work with black and white films, he also knew how to take advantage of some color.
The ones he used more were green, bright red, and a mixture of both (all of them associated with danger). An example of this we can see  in the movie “Vertigo” (1958).

Wes Anderson

The Grand Budapest Hotel – ©Copyright 2014 Fox Searchlight Pictures – Indian Paintbrush – Studio Babelsberg

In terms of color, this director is A GENIUS. With a style of his own, he reached stardom as a filmmaker, renowned by many artists all over the world.
He usually works with pastel colors mixed with monochromes, which creates an odd feeling that helps him tell his bizarre and beautiful  histories.
You can distinguish his touch in movies such as “The Great Budapest Hotel”, where he used some red and purple colors to tell a weird, eccentric  love story.
If you need some more Wes Anderson, don’t forget to watch “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Darjeeling Limited.”

David Lynch

Blue Velvet – ©Copyright 1986 De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

He is as great as the characters he creates with his films. His art is related mainly to the surreal and obscure, that’s why he usually chooses bright red and blue palettes.
Some of his most famous works are “Mulholland Drive” and “Blue Velvet.”

Pedro Almodóvar

Todo Sobre Mi Madre – ©Copyright 1999 El Deseo – Renn Productions – France 2 Cinéma – Vía Digital

His philosophy is this one: Vibrant tones everywhere, from the movies to the posters that promote them.
Why?
For Almodóvar, colors are emotions,  they help him add drama. He works mainly with red tones, you can see this in “Todo Sobre mi Madre” (All About My Mother) with the coat the main character uses just moments before living some of her worst moments.
For many, this movie is his best one, in fact, it’s so good that it won an Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.

Akira Kurosawa

Ran – ©Copyright 1985 Greenwich Film Productions – Herald Ace Inc. – Nippon Herald Films

This movie director, just like Hitchcock, is known for his black and white films, with some little touches of color.
Kurosawa’s education was art-oriented, mainly around painting. This explains why, even though he didn’t produce many color films, the ones he did were outstanding.
The quality of his work can be seen in “Dodes’ka-Den”, where the choices of color create a depressive atmosphere. Or, for example, in the movie “Ran”, he reaches an incredibly tense feeling using yellows and reds.

As you can see, knowing how to correctly choose which colors to use can make the difference between a good movie and a great one.

Also, it’s not only essential to the film industry but also in photography in general because, in just one frame, it helps tell a story.

Need some ideas on picking the right palettes for your project? Check this article.

By Nico

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