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Painting a picture; The subtle effects palettes have on us

Out of all the senses, vision is the most engaged sense when it comes to film. An interesting plot, good lighting, motion, and framing is what drives the film visually. But what about colour? It is very prominently present in films; but how impactful is colour, really?

Take a look at the pictures below. What do theymake you feel? What genre do you think they belong in?

Picture A vs Picture B

Picture A feels like it’s from an adventure fantasy genre, while Picture B feels like it is from a survival, horror genre, right? They are the same picture, why then are we getting different feels from them? This can be answered by colour.

Colour has this wonderful, and almost magical property of making us feel things. And it does so in the most subtle and imperceptible way. Applying the correct colour scheme to your scenes can instantly make your audience feel a certain way.

Let’s take ‘Twilight’ as an example. The colour palette in the entire movie is greenish blue. By adding this colour in the scenes, a feeling of coldness, and even ominousness to a certain extent, is achieved. The setting of Forks being a cloudy, cold and rainy town is instantly felt due to the correct use of the colour scheme.

Stills from Twilight.

This is why most horror and mystery movies use darker colours. It makes us feel as if something is being hidden in plain sight and thus keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Darker colours create tension and automatically induces the element of fear.

A screen grab from ‘Lights Out’

But it is not always necessary to use only dark colours in mystery movies.

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is an excellent example of this. Although it is a murder mystery, the colour scheme is very soft and pastel. This makes the film quite intriguing and adds in the element of unexpectedness. At the same time, it also gives a sense of nostalgia as Zero remembers his story.

Pastel hues feel naïve, innocent and soft

‘Midsommar’ is another movie that strays away from dark colours for horror. With a bright and colourful palette, it almost feels like a fairytale. And this is exactly what makes it much more shocking. Apart from the other elements of the film, the witty use of such a colour scheme elevates the eeriness of the film and makes it almost illusionistic.

The bright sun, meadows, and flowers go well with the grotesque scenes to create a horrific and eerie sensation

However, brighter colour schemes need not always be eerie! Children’s movies, and also comedy movies utilize bright colour palettes as it is more attractive and fun.

A screen grab from ‘Daddy’s Day Care’

Colour can also be excellently used for individual characters in movies. Most films use darker colours for the villain to portray their dark side and evilness; whereas heroes are mostly shown in lighter colour schemes to symbolize their righteousness.

Voldemort’s scenes had darker colours while Harry Potter had a brighter colour scheme
A clear distinction is seen between the colour palettes of Scar and Simba from ‘The Lion King’

Apart from making the frame darker, or the atmosphere a certain colour, incorporating the palettes to the character’s costume also adds in a nice touch. Similarly, a character growth or change can be seen in the subtle change in their costume colour. Not easily perceivable but creates a huge impact on how the audience views the character.

The Vampire Diaries’ Elena Gilbert’s costume colour transition as the character changed from human to vampire

Colour is also used to portray characters’ emotions. Scenes where the character is feeling sad, scared etc, mostly use cool colours. Whereas positive emotions are shown using brighter and warmer colours.

Pixar uses warm and cools colours effectively in ‘Up’ to portray different emotions

All these subtle details enhance the quality of a film drastically. And if used correctly, colour can make your audience feel exactly what you want them to feel. It can create an immersive experience, connecting the audience to the film.

So, how impactful is colour really, you ask? Considering the fact that it is the whole backbone of feels, and that it can either make or break your scene, it’s safe to say that it is one of the most impactful elements in films, and can surely create extraordinary effects.

~ Riddhi Kasar



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