Movie Colour • 8 April 2008 • The SnowBlog

Movie Colour


Case of the blues?

Publishers need to be designers as well as readers, don't they? Or maybe that's just me trying to relate this post to the world of books. Anyway, as you know, I've been thinking about movies a lot lately. I've been trying not to just watch them but actually to analyse them. You might also remember I was playing around with the look of an old TV series that I got off DVD. One of the most useful (and funny) people to read on the subject of moviemaking is Stu Maschwitz and I've recently guzzled down his blog and all its archives. One of his posts is about the way all big blockbusters have their colours very heavily worked over and tweaked in 'post-production' (meaning after the movie has been shot). And he discusses one of the current favourite looks: highlights warmed into the orange, shadows pushed into the blue and skintones miraculously preserved despite everything else being a weird colour. Look at these shots from Die Hard 4.0 for instance: DieHard.jpg WillisCloseup2.jpg Could you have a pink face in a world where the light was blue? Only in movieland. I mention this because the first time I went on a Photoshop course and the instructor showed us how to brighten teeth and the whites of eyes he also told us to look out for it on billboards and magazine covers on our way home. And sure enough everywhere I looked there were ridiculous radioactively radiant smiles and glowing eyes. I'd just never noticed before. And now, having read Stu Maschwitz, I suddenly notice that the colours in modern movies are impossible. This post of his is about the blue-skintone-orange/shadow-midtone-highlight thing. And his book talks about the 'bleach bypass' look of Saving Private Ryan that's so extreme, and yet it rapidly stops looking weird and just seems evocative and captivating. PrivateRyan.jpg So next time you see a 'big' movie, set aside a couple of seconds to figure out what's been done to the colours you're looking at. Stu also has wonderfully profound things to say about range. Camera manufacturers work hard to make sure that their devices keep more things in focus in more colours and in better resolution every year. And then filmmakers spend their time making sure that what they shoot is grainy, with a limited palette with only what relates to the story in focus. Look at how beautiful this shot from Michael Clayton is (and I don't just mean George Clooney). MichaelClayton.jpeg It's got limited depth of field (see my post on that) and a limited colour palette, and half the frame is empty. It's gorgeous. (And it was our Movie Night movie last week. I rate it 'Two thumbs up! Fine holiday fun!'.)


The SnowBlog is one of the oldest publishing blogs, started in 2003, and it's been through various content management systems over the years. A 2005 techno-blunder meant we lost the early years, but the archives you're reading now go all the way back to 2005.

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