Revo Film School: Color

Take out your protractors and ballpoint pens because your Revo Film School is back in session. Think of your favorite film. Picture the most memorable scene. Play it back within your mind’s eye. Seriously. Stop reading and do a little homework for me… I hope you enjoyed that, and I hope your favorite movie isn’t
Trolls 2. When you imagined your scene, were you imagining it in color? Unless it’s a black and white film, most likely yes. At first, this might seem like a no-brainer, but color has a bigger role in every film than one might think. Color is the lead role in all of your favorite movies that you never notice.

Thomas Edison, in 1895, was the first to introduce hand-tinted film in
Annabelle Serpentine Dance. The innovation wowed audiences at their local nickelodeons. You might think that Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind were the first feature length films released in Technicolor; you’d be wrong! Becky Sharp was the first feature filmed on the three-strip Technicolor in 1935. However, Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind (both from 1939) are certainly the most admired films that utilized Technicolor.

Color in film is vital — even more so if there’s an absence of color. Schindler’s List is famously black-and-white because Spielberg said that he wanted to convey the absolute horror of the Holocaust. Of course, at the end, there’s the girl in the red. A spark of hope. The everyday viewer might not consciously notice the importance of color, but it is a driving force in audience emotion. Stories became vastly more immersive with the advent of color. The minds of the viewers began to subconsciously connect with the images on screen in a way we connect with objects and people in real life. A filmmaker can tell an entirely unique story with the powerful tool of color.

Color also serves a pivotal role in deciding the tone and feel of a film. In some cases, color can even go so far as to act like a character within the plot. Fast forward to 2015, we’ll examine The Revenant shot by Emmanuel Lubezki and colored by Jodie Davidson. In this scene, Hugh Glass is left for dead in the frigid terrain of Montana. You can see from the stills that the prevailing color is blue. What does that do to the film? What does it communicate. Freezing temperatures, yes. More than that, it is death, isolation, and hopelessness. It’s desaturated; almost grey. In the corners of the frame, there are hints of warmth. Perhaps to convey that there’s hope for Mr. Glass, yet?  Furthermore, blue almost encompasses the entire run time (as evidenced by the movie barcode) save for a couple of instances. When you see the colors, you don’t sit there and think about those themes––you feel them. That’s the success of color affecting your subconscious.

One instance in the film is when Hugh Glass is rescued by his fur trading crew. In the still, the predominant color on screen is orange. The new color complements the blue from earlier; this is called, you guessed it, complementary colors. The effect tells a story: that from the crew’s torchlight is warmth, humanity, hope, and salvation. By injecting a new color, there’s a new twist to the film that doesn’t need to be communicated through forced dialogue. The color tells the story. That tonal shift wasn’t innovated in The Revenant, however. Can you imagine the iconic moment when Dorothy enters the realm of Oz? The whole turning point of the movie is how Dorothy goes from a sepia, black-and-white world into a dazzling, colored world. Color implied a character’s journey. How incredible, right?

On the contrary, there are also analogous colors, which consist of two or more colors that live close to each other in the color spectrum. For example, red, yellow, and orange are analogous colors. To examine the contextual effect of these colors, we’ll take a look at Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of MenThe film is a dystopian drama in which there are no more births in the world. Society is plunged into chaos. To mirror the discordant culture, greens and greys are employed to seep us with the dread and hopelessness of this world. It gives the audience a sense of illness and discomfort; like the world is rotting. The choice of not using colors analogous to green traps you into the world. That subconscious emotion works perfectly in tandem with the main character’s psyche, who also feels dread and hopelessness.

Perry Trest, our in-house colorist, says, “Color is how we help the director tell the story. It helps push the plot along.” Almost all of the Revolution Pictures projects go through Perry to be graded and polished. Since being a colorist requires one to be stuck in front of a screen all day, I had to ask Perry what made coloring so special? He responded, “Helping tell stories is what drives me to be a colorist.”

I hope you enjoyed another installment of Revo Film School! I’d like to thank my TA, Drew Bauml, for his in-depth examination of the role of color in film.

Keep up with all of our 20th Anniversary shenanigans on our home page and on our Instagram. We’ve got some exciting projects coming out soon, so be on the lookout for those. Class dismissed!


– By Drew Bauml