A Quick Insight into Colour Theory and Colour Psychology
Updated: Feb 1, 2021
For many decades after movies began being made, viewers could only experience this form of visual storytelling in black, white and um, several shades of grey. It wasn’t until the 1950s that colour cinema became mainstream. And it would be an understatement to say, that it changed everything.
So, today let’s talk about colour in cinema. And not the colour that is added or corrected in the post, but colour that becomes part of the production design.
Colour does many things for the audience who’s watching a movie. To begin with, it sets the tone of the movie and transports us into the world that the maker has created. Colour is used to draw our attention to significant details that may otherwise have to be communicated to us verbally. Colour also represents character traits and is extremely helpful in eliciting strong psychological reactions from us. Finally, colour also plays a pivot role in showing a transformation or an arc of a character or a story.
So, let’s talking about what we mean by the term Colour Theory. Colour Theory is both a science and an art. It explains how humans perceive colour; and the visual effects of how colours mix, match or contrast with each other. Colour Theory also involves the messages colours communicate; and the methods used to replicate colour.
Meanwhile, Colour Psychology refers to the how we perceive certain colours, and what impact they have on us. But before choosing a particular colour, we must know the 3 main component of colour, which are:
(i) Hue- the colour itself
(ii) Saturation- intensity of the colour
(iii) Brightness- the darkness or lightness of a colour
When used correctly and in the right proportions, colour has the potential to take your movie to the next level. When planning the colours that you want to use in your movie, making a mood board for the movie or for a particular scene is very common.
Colour has the ability to perceive information subconsciously, which allows visual storytelling to thrive. Although the same colour can evoke 2 completely different kinds of reactions as well. Below is an infographic which talks about the different kinds of emotions that different colours evoke, as well as references from popular movies. (Source: Studio Binder)
An understanding of colours and what they do tog viewers can help you transform your film. The colour palette should be viewed as something that enhances the film, not as something that limits your creativity. To better understand how to create a colour palette, it is important to understand the different types of colour schemes.
Broadly, these are the 4 main types of colour schemes:
a) Monochromatic: A monochromatic colour scheme basically looks like different shades of a single colour. This colour scheme makes use of colours such as pink and red, and usually create a warm and soothing effect. And using this doesn’t mean that you make your movie look homogeneous, it just gives you a colour hue which helps you create a contrast.
In Bajirao Mastani, the song Deewani Mastani has been filmed only using different shades of gold. By doing this, Sanjay Leela Bhansali not only gives the setting a vibe of richness but also succeeds in transfixing our eyes in the centre of the screen- towards the eyes and expressions of the characters- which makes us feel the chemistry that’s brewing between Bajirao and Mastani, as well as the insecurity seen in Kashibai’s eyes
b) Complementary: Complementary colour schemes are when two colours from opposite sides of the colour wheel are used in conjunction with one another to form the colour palettes. They can be used to depict internal and external conflicts, as well as to create a vibrant tension in the scene.
In this scene from Barfi, Shruti and Barfi are seen wearing clothes the colours of which are from opposite sides on the colour wheel. This represents that they come from 2 different worlds. Barfi comes from a simple, but happy and loving world- simplicity of which is represented by his khakhi pants and hat, and calmness by the colours green and blue. Meanwhile Shruti comes from a high-society, indecisive and uncertain world- where her class is represented by large earrings and jewellery, her indecisiveness by the colour white (a colour which gets smudged easily, and red which is the colour of passion.
c) Analogous: Analogous colour schemes make use of colours which lie next to each other on the complementary colour wheel. They pair colours like red and orange, or blue and purple to create a scene which seems to have visual unity. A lot of filmmakers assign different analogous colour schemes to different characters or different storylines in a film.
In Ludo, Anurag Basu uses different colour schemes for different stories. Each colour fits the emotion of the story and its milieu, forcing us to form different associations with different characters, and enabling us to make a distinction between the stories mentally.
d) Triadic: A triadic colour scheme is when three colours that are evenly spaced around the complementary colour wheel are used in conjunction. This colour scheme is less common, but can be used when colours are less bright and less saturated. In Chak De India, the use colours of saffron, green and white create a kind of triadic colour scheme. Since the colours are all low on brightness it doesn’t visually bother you. And symbolically, these three colours also remind us of the Indian flag while watching the movie- talking about themes like patriotism and reiterating what is at stake, without actually mentioning it out loud.
Lastly, let’s talk about symbolism using colours in film. Here, we’ll take a look at usage of colour so that a connection is establish between the story and the theme of your movie. Here are a few examples:
By using colours in the above manner, you can effectively draw the attention of your audience without verbal cues, or subconsciously take them through a transformative experience.
This has been a quick insight into the colour theory and colour psychology used in films, and how you can use them to tell your story more effectively.