Watch How Filmmakers Use Color to Elicit Specific Emotions

Filmmakers are expert emotional manipulators. Nearly every decision made during the production of a film, from wardrobe to lighting to set design, is done to convey, and manipulate, emotions. The same is true during post production, when editors, sound designers and color graders shape the film into it’s final, and hopefully most moving, iteration.

When it comes to color grading, it’s probably the least understood and most subtlety effective means of making an audience feel a certain way. While the way a scene is cut or the sound design layered beneath a certain sequence is fairly easy to identify and appreciate (fidgety, quick cuts to make you feel as nervous as a character, swelling music when lovers are reunited, etc.), color grading manipulates our emotions on a even more primal level. As this great video by The Verge explains, the color design of a film is as effective at making us feel a certain way as the Jaws theme was.

“Warm red tones for romances, desaturated colors for apocalyptic films, blue cold tones for horrors, fluorescent greens for sci-fi,” the video explains, as it builds up to the reveal of the mostly widely used, emotionally complex color combination of all; blue and orange.

And the first film to ever be entirely digitally color graded? O Brother Where Art Thou?, where cinematographer Roger Deakins applied a sepia tone to the entire film to make us feel like we were in the 1930s. For more on Deakins work, you can read our profiles of him here and here.

Check out the video below and learn what it is about blue and orange that make these opposing colors so attractive (and manipulative) together, and what filmmakers are using the rest of the spectrum for, and why.


Bryan Abrams

Bryan Abrams is the Editor-in-chief of The Credits. He's run the site since its launch in 2012. He lives in New York.

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