Color my WorldThe history and use of color in the movies by Tanja Michels
IntroductionColor is one of the most powerful but least consciouslynoticed elements of a movie. In this slideshow I would like togive you a brief history of how movies became color, andthen show you how film makers consciously use color in theirmovies to communicate with their audiences.
Movies tinted by handColor was first applied in moviesby either entire scenes beingtinted (using blue for nightscenes, for example), or byobjects in scenes being tinted byhand. It was time consuming andexpensive to do this. The firsthand tinted movie came out in1895.Examples: The Great Train Robbery – 1903 The Last Days of Pompeii - 1926
2-Color TechnicolorIn 1915, the company Technicolor was founded by HerbertKalmus, who wanted to create a motion picture process thatwould capture natural color. The first process was shot ontwo strips of black and white film through red and green filters– and then pasted together the 2 color negatives to make apositive print. Later, a dye transfer system allowed the twonegatives to be printed as a single positive film. The movieswere now in color, but the results were sometimesunderwhelming with a limited color palette.By the early 1930’s, movie studios were almost totallyabandoning color. It was too expensive and difficult toproduce. Because of the Depression fewer people wereattending movies, and because the colors weren’t all thatgreat viewers didn’t really care that the movies were in coloror in black and white.
Examples of 2-Color Technicolor• The Toll of the Sea - 1922• Ben Hur - 1926
3-Color TechnicolorLuckily in 1932 Technicolor unveiled the first 3-strip, 3-colorprocess camera. In this process, the light was sent through abeam splitter to 3 strips of film. Half of the light went througha green filter on to black and white film, the other half of thelight went through a magenta filter on to a “bi-pack” of a bluesensitive film strip in front of a red-sensitive film strip. Thisallowed the full color spectrum, especially the color blue, tobe reproduced on the screen for the first time. Walt Disneywas the first to use this process in a commercial film. Disneywas always innovative, and jumped at the chance to use newtechnology.Ironically, critics condemned the overuse of color, especiallythe color blue. The better quality color won audiences over,however, and for the first time viewers showed more of apreference for color movies.
Examples of Early 3-Color Technicolor• Flowers and Trees - Walt Disney - 1932• First commercial film to use this new process.• Becky Sharp - 1935• First feature length film to use 3-color process.
Best examples of 3-Color Technicolor• The Wizard of Oz - 1939
Best examples of 3-Color Technicolor • Gone with the Wind - 1939
Best examples of 3-Color Technicolor• Singin’ in the Rain – 1952• Peak of the 3-color process
Eastman Color FilmIn 1952 Eastman color film was introduced, which recordedall 3 primary colors on one strip of film. This made colorproduction much less expensive and easier to do. To showwhat an impact this had, consider this: in the late 1940’s,90% of films made were still black and white. As of 1957,even with the advances in Technicolor, only 50% of movieswere color. By 1966, black and white movies were phasedout almost completely. Use of this color film has beendominant since the 1970’s.
Recent films in TechnicolorThere was a revival of the Technicolor dye-transfer processin the U.S. in the late 1990’s by those concerned with filmpreservation. The process has also been used by directorsto achieve a certain period look in their movies. Someexamples include “Pearl Harbor” and “Toy Story”.
Color - a powerful tool in moviesOnce technology and cost were no longer an issue in makinggood quality color movies, film makers had a very powerfultool to better share their vision with the audience. Colorconveys the emotional aspects of a film visually, and canevoke strong psychological, sometimes even physiologicalresponses in people. Color has both functional use in film,like highlighting a dramatic development, and aesthetic use,giving the movie a certain look or feel. Here are someexamples of some different ways that directors have usedcolor to help tell their stories.
Color as a Transitional Device• Used to signal important changes• Wizard of Oz - 1939• Black and white represents reality• Color represents Dorothy’s fantasy or dream world
Color as a Transitional Device• Pan’s Labyrinth - 2006• Winner of 3 Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography
• Director Guillermo Del Toro color coded the two worlds of the lead character, Ofelia.• Color was the key design element of movie. According to the director, color “tells a tale when you code it carefully.”• If a color was not in the palette the director chose, it was not included in the movie.
The movie is about a young girl named Ofelia in post civil warSpain in 1944. The story takes place in dual settings. In Ofelia’sreal world, she and her pregnant mother have moved in with hernew stepfather, a brutal Captain with the Fascist government. Thecolors of Ofelia’s “real” universe are grays, blues and greens –muted, “cold”, unfriendly colors, representing the harsh reality ofthe captain and his troops.
In Ofelia’s fantasy world, she meets a faun who tells her she maybe a long lost princess, and he gives her three tasks to proveherself so she may be returned to her true existence, escaping thesadness of her earthly life. The colors of that world are golden andred – warm, organic, nurturing. The director’s goal was to suggesta “womblike” environment. Rounded shapes were also used tocreate this effect.
The two worlds sometimes reflect each other, with the only differencebeing the color and texture.
The color guidelines weren’t always followed exactly, because thenight scenes would not have felt natural. All of the night sceneswere actually shot during the day.
• The two worlds start to bridge as one world infects the other.• It becomes harder to tell the difference between Ofelia’s reality and imagination.• The director represented this by letting the colors start to mix.
Expressionistic Use of Color• Amelie - 2001• Color expresses the inner reality of the character• Nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography
Amelie is a movie about a shy waitress in a Paris café with a vividimagination. After anonymously returning a long-lost childhoodtreasure to the man who used to live in her apartment and seeingthe effect it has on him, she sets out on a mission to make othershappy. In the process of living vicariously through those peopleshe begins to connect with them, and eventually finds happinessand love of her own.
• To reflect Amelie’s fairy-tale view of the world, a green-gold palette with a lot of red was chosen.• Director Jean Pierre Jeunet and Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel wanted an “explosion of color.”• Digital color correction was used to achieve a bright look with saturated colors.• Splashes of blue were added for contrast to the main color palette.
Color as Symbol or Clue• The Sixth Sense - 1999• Nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including Best Director
• According to director M Night Shyamalan, in The Sixth Sense the color red is used to symbolize anything in the real world that had been tainted or touched by the “other” world, or the world of the dead.• Shyamalan has used color as a symbol or theme in many of his movies, including Unbreakable and The Village.
Use of Color to Evoke a Time or Place• O Brother, Where Art Thou? - 2000• Nominated for 2 Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography
• Directors Joel and Ethan Cohen used color to transport viewers back to the dry, dusty era of the Great Depression.• Cinematographer Roger Deakins used digital technology to desaturate the greens and give the movie the feeling of old, hand-tinted postcards.
• First live action feature that manipulated the “look” of the film digitally rather than with traditional photo-chemical processes.• The film was shot in color with no filters.
In ClosingAs you can see, color is a very important element in a movieand can be used in many ways to speak to the audience.Directors put a lot of thought and effort into getting the colorjust right, but since modern audiences have always seenmovies in color, we take it completely for granted. So thenext time you go to a movie, see if you can discover what themovie is trying to tell you with color. If you’re interested,there is a lot more information about this on the internet,much more than I was able to include here. Many timesthere are special features about the color and cinematograhyincluded with the movie on DVD or Blu-Ray.
To find out more…On Technicolor and history of color in films:www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technicolorwww.widescreenmuseum.com/oldcolor/index.htmOn cinematography and use of color:American Society of Cinematographers: www.theasc.com