Everything You Need to Know About Color in the Digital Age
Color is one of the most important and powerful visual tools through which filmmakers can convey ideas and emotion. Choices in the color palette begin with the production designer and the art department, continue through the work of the cinematographer, and end with the colorist. Through gaining an in-depth and holistic understanding of the process through which color is embedded in the films that we watch, we can begin to make the same informed color choices in our own films. Even though learning the ins and outs of color can be a life-long process, it doesn't have to be intimidating. John Hess of Filmmaker IQ has put together yet another excellent lesson, this time explaining the intricacies of color in the digital age.
There are so many different facets of color that often go unnoticed by first-time filmmakers, especially in terms of the pre-production and pre-visualization processes that experienced filmmakers use on every single project. Those types of choices are an in-depth world all their own. Then you start adding the technological aspects of how color is processed by modern digital cameras, and how those color processes affect the post production coloration of a film. When you start considering all of these different aspects, the process of making informed color choices on your film can seem quite a bit daunting.
Luckily for us, John Hess breaks down the process of creating a holistic approach to color in the digital age. Here's the video:
In the past several years, many filmmakers have become enamored with shooting their images with logarithmic curves -- or shooting them as flat as humanly possible -- so as to leave a good portion of the creative color work for the colorist. One of the great things about Hess's video is that he eschews that idea in favor of the traditional approach of using art direction and cinematography to convey the color palette.
This "traditional" approach to color has the potential to be so much more powerful than anything even the best of colorists could dream up because it allows conscious color choices, and the subtextual meanings that they represent, to be embedded into the images themselves in the most naturalistic way possible. Here are just a few examples from one of my favorite films of all time, Wim Wenders' immaculate American masterpiece, Paris, Texas.
The images above are a perfect example of how art direction/costume color choices, when combined with skillful cinematography and meaningful color grading, can take a film's color palette and turn it into a powerful statement about the characters and their emotional state. In the case of these images from Paris, Texas, the color red is used to stunning effect as a deeply and painfully nostalgic reminder of everything that Travis, the main character (in the top picture) has lost. It also suggests an "American Dream" that has gone terribly, terribly awry.
To his credit, this is how John Hess is trying to teach us to use color in our own productions, in spite of the fact that it can be so tempting and ludicrously easy to shoot with a flat log profile and make the majority of those decisions in post. As Hess suggests, however, the process of heavily incorporating color theory and a strong color palette into your art direction, when mixed with a camera that can shoot at higher color depth or even in RAW, will give you the best possible results and will make the color of your film as powerful and it can possibly be.
Be sure to read through the entirety of Hess's color lesson over at Filmmaker IQ, and be sure to check out all of their other great lessons while you're there. There's a lot to learn, and they hit it out of the park with each and every lesson.
What do you guys think? What are your individual approaches to color when it comes to digital filmmaking? Let us know in the comments!