Color Theory & Hannibal

How a bunch of ridiculously talented people have created a visual entrée that makes for a feast of filmmaking brilliance.

Before we get started talking about the series, let’s talk for as second about the basics of color-theory — something a lot of filmmakers don’t pay enough attention to.

Paying The Lens A Compliment

Just take a look at the color-wheel here. It looks pretty awesome, and the colors flow perfectly into one another — so it goes without saying that visually, blue, and the colors to the left and right of it, blend nicely together. They’re called analogous colors.

At the same time though, we can see how orange (on the opposite side of the wheel) might go well when placed alongside blue, which happens to be the complimentary color. Understanding why they’re complimentary isn’t really necessary, so long as you understand that complimentary colors just look great together.

Set Design & Wardrobe

So colors matter, and most of the time when we pull out a camera to take a picture, we’re doing it because nature has provided the color stimulus that invokes us to take a photo in acknowledgement of the color complement.

Unfortunately we’re not in control of the colors, so those photo moments happen at random – but when you’re making a movie, you have the ability to create the colors on set, that visually work best.

Sadly most filmmakers take the approach of, “Nah, we’ll do it post”, While that is a useful and important part of the process, it shouldn’t be the only focus when it comes to color, and on indie film shoots, this can often be to the detriment of the film.

That’s why color is such an important part of set design and wardrobe – getting it right early on means grading in post-production renders better results, and takes less time.

Hannibal – Color Theory At It’s Best

Insanely awesome blue & red hues in this shot

If you haven’t watched Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal yet, I suggest you make the time for it. Apart from a clever and well-delivered story (albeit morbid and disturbing), the quality acting performances, and the brilliantly freaky score by Brian Reitzell, the production team has done an outstanding job with the set, and of course the color. Every shot is stunning, and in trying to figure out why, it occurred to me that over and above the fact that it’s shot on Arri Alexas, nearly every single shot has complimentary colors at work.

In this case, a kind of teal and blood-red seem to be the main complimentary’s used throughout, and with those colors, different levels of vibrancy (darker or lighter shades of the same color) are used. Those colors also makes a lot of sense, given that Hannibal has a lot of blood in it, but there are also scenes that incorporate an orangey-yellow with greens and blues – also beautiful to look at.

Then of course, the footage is color-graded by Mark Kueper from Technicolor Creative Services in Toronto, Canada. Apart from sewing everything together so nicely, he’s hugged onto the shadows extremely tightly, letting them envelop areas of the image constantly.

The entire production team from set through to post production, have created an image-style that tells you in no uncertain terms, ‘viewer discretion is advised’.

The collection of images below illustrates the case in point nicely. So if you haven’t seen it yet, and you’re not overly squeamish, I’d highly recommend you watch and appreciate the technical mastery behind it.


If you like what you just read, please hit the green ‘Recommend’ button below so that others might stumble upon this too… ☺

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Andrew Schär’s story.