Colour influences our choices, our opinions and our emotional state. Our feelings of euphoria or rage, calm or agitation can be intensified or subdued by the colours in our environment. Each colour affects us uniquely. Even the slightest variation of a single colour can have a profound influence on our behaviour. This is powerful information in the hands of a filmmaker.
Not too long ago, colour grading was viewed as a black art and its more renowned practitioners enjoyed rock star status. They had the power to make everyone’s work look great, or terrible.
Ironically, colour is one of the elements rarely recognised by the audience as manipulating them. Working on a subconscious level, it’s remarkable how colour operates as a psychological tool in order to put the viewer in a specific emotional place, therefore, provoking a reaction from them.
With the new arsenal of digital tools available, the range of options for colour grading has grown dramatically in recent years. There are also hundreds of resources online that explain in detail through tutorials how to replicate the “look” and colours from almost any movie. However, there are almost no websites, (as far as I am concerned) that explain or talk about the creative aspects of colour grading and how to use colour as a storytelling tool.
Today the line between director, cinematographer and colourist is increasingly blurring. If you are wearing one or all of these hats and you remain unaware of this power, you leave a large part of your control to chance.
Like Patti Bellantoni says in her absolutely brilliant book “If It’s Purple Someone’s Gonna Die”, a book that explores how colour affects our emotional perception of the world. She makes us aware of the visual path in our brain and how a film touches us, dissecting colour and its presence in film:
“The green brick road, the yellow shoes, and the ruby red city. Doesn’t work, does it? It’s because those specific colours send specific signals for specific intentions in the story. It is important to remember that in 1939, when the The Wizard of Oz was made, audiences were viewing films in black and white, and so it was brilliant for the filmmakers to expose the audience to black and white in the beginning of the movie so that they too could experience the incredible shock of the exotic and bizarre Technicolor world along with Dorothy.”