Color Theory

31 marca 2020

Film Color Palette

za Jason Hellerman

How can you make your film color palette part of the storytelling process?

Film color palettes might be one of the most underutilized parts of your filmmaking process. It can be the difference between immersing your audience in a world or boring them to tears.

We all remember the first time we saw The Wizard Of Oz. There’s that magical moment where we go from the sepia- tone to full color. The world explodes off the screen, and for a moment, we understand Dorothy’s amazement as she enters Oz. Here at No Film School, we’re big believers in the power of color to help harness your storytelling capabilities.

Think about your favorite movies.
What ate their color schemes like, and what do those film color palettes add to the story?
Today we’re going to talk about what the use of color can bring to your film, and study how film color palettes can help amplify your work. As Roger Deakins said: „It’s easier to make color look good, but harder to make it service the story.” So this will be fun. And hard. And we’ll all learn a lot. Let’s get started.

Film Color

So what is film color?
Well, film color can refer to your movie actually being shot in color instead of black and white, but today we’re going to talk about colors used in film illicit emotions from the audience.
We’re going to focus on Film Color Theory today.

Film Color Theory Definition

The definition of Film Color Theory is a theory that states that certain colors in film illicit certain emotions from the


audience. Manipulation of these colors can be used to guide the audience toward the intent of the author, juxtaposed against one another to send a message, or subverted to create dramatic irony.

To properly utilize Film Color Theory, you first have to take a look at the color wheel in a film.

The Color Wheel In Film

A color wheel or color circle is an organization of color hues around a circle, which shows the relationships between primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors, and other color combinations.

The infographic below details all the different kinds of colors and color combinations in cinema. It’s an important tool for any director to keep by their side. This can help them decide how their sets should look, which costumes will pop on camera, and how scenes should be lit.

Directors wield a lot of power when it comes to what appears on the screen. Collaboration with the art department, cinematographer, and costume design people is so important. Color is not just how you balance the camera, but also how people are dressed and how sets look on screen.

Think about all the magnificent work done by Wes Anderson. His movies are defined by their color palettes and what emotions are expressed through those images.


Credit: @CinemaPalettes
The colors expressed in this frame gives us the poppy world of this movie and set the dark and depressed tone of the film.
Anderson also can capture the opposite.
A world of adventure and a girl who wants to take on the world.

Credit: @CinemaPalettes

To understand how all this still works, you’re going to have to understand how color works. And how you can manipulate colors to get what you want on the screen.
So let’s break colors down.

What Goes Into a Color?


Hue is one of the main properties of a color, defined as „the degree to which a stimulus can be described as similar to or different from stimuli that are described as red, green, blue, and yellow.” What it actually means is that hue refers to what color you’re looking at. Or the color itself.


Hue is great, but you need some other elements to deepen your color knowledge and express color on the screen.


Saturation is another color property that describes how intense of a color we’re getting. It’s the deepness of the color at hand. The infographic below shows you how saturation works.



To truly appreciate how hue and saturation work, you need to look at color value.


The value of a color describes whether or not a color is dark or light. A dark blue would have a higher value. A light blue, a lower value.


Now that you understand how to choose and describe the colors you’ll want in your movie color palette, let’s check out how those colors can manipulate emotions on the screen and in the audience.

How Color Can Affect Emotions In Film

We all know that film is an empathy machine. A great story can take you pretty far, but film is a visual medium. We’re not meant only to read things; we’re meant to see things. And colors help us see the intentions behind what was on the page and what the director wants from us.


The below infographic sets up which colors will help you assign which emotions to scenes or parts of your movie or TV show.

Here’s a quick guide from one of our other posts on color:

  • RED – anger, passion, rage, desire, excitement,

    energy, speed, strength, power, heat, love, aggression,

    danger, fire, blood, war, violence

  • PINK – love, innocence, healthy, happy, content,

    romantic, charming, playfulness, soft, delicate, feminine

  • YELLOW – wisdom, knowledge, relaxation, joy,

    happiness, optimism, idealism, imagination, hope, sunshine, summer, dishonesty, cowardice, betrayal, jealousy, covetousness, deceit, illness, hazard


  • ORANGE – humor, energy, balance, warmth, enthusiasm, vibrant, expansive, flamboyant

  • GREEN – healing, soothing, perseverance, tenacity, self-awareness, proud, unchanging nature, environment, healthy, good luck, renewal, youth, vigor, spring, generosity, fertility, jealousy, inexperience, envy

  • BLUE – faith, spirituality, contentment, loyalty, fulfillment peace, tranquility, calm, stability, harmony, unity, trust, truth, confidence, conservatism, security, cleanliness, order, sky, water, cold, technology, depression

  • PURPLE/VIOLET – erotic, royalty, nobility, spirituality, ceremony, mysterious, transformation, wisdom, enlightenment, cruelty, arrogance, mourning, power, sensitive, intimacy

  • BROWN – materialistic, sensation, earth, home, outdoors, reliability, comfort, endurance, stability, simplicity

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

  • WHITE – Yes, protection, love, reverence, purity, simplicity, cleanliness, peace, humility, precision, innocence, youth, birth, winter, snow, good, sterility, marriage (Western cultures), death (Eastern cultures), cold, clinical, sterile

  • SILVER – riches, glamorous, distinguished, earthy, natural, sleek, elegant, high-tech

  • GOLD – precious, riches, extravagance. warm, wealth, prosperity, grandeur

    As you can see, many colors take on specific feelings. You need to support the color with actions and set pieces within the screenplay. You can’t just add color blobs. You need to


have artistic intention behind every frame. Take this image from Edward Scissorhands. Tim Burton is trying to set up an idyllic neighborhood to juxtapose against Edward’s mansion. So he uses these pastel colors to make each house pop and to make the suburban lifestyle feel like a utopia.

Credit: @CinemaPalettes

Now that you understand how color is used, it’s time to understand the „deeper why” of how it’s used.
Time to grab your Freud book and to dig deep into Color Psychology in film.

Color Psychology in Film

What’s Color Psychology in film?
This is the study of what complex emotions each hue can create when mixed with saturation and value. That’s right, all our lessons are coming together! Let’s take a look at this