America’s Color Grading Mania and its Influence Over the World IX

… continuing Color.

(This post will be text only, to “clean your eyes” over what is said, and the images presented in previous posts)

As a conclusion, I’d like to do something different (or at least think it that way).

A general consensus among filmmakers, film viewers and critics is that, even if the image may not be pristine, look professional, or even make any sense, we tend to give more importance to sound and the story of what is being shown than to the image itself. In a way, this is due to our inherent human ability of trying to find logic in everything that is presented to us (or even a meaning).

Very seldom is the image in a film something that the general public is really fixated on. Of course this isn’t an extreme reality where everyone isn’t looking at the screen but rather a byproduct of the basis in which Film is based – the moving image, an immediate perception of something, a momentary glimpse of something that repeated constantly and in order makes us see something more, something in time, something that moves in front of our eyes so, something constructed in our brains rather than static and motionless for repeated and concentrated study (a painting can be studied hours upon end while a film has to be seen numerous times, played, stopped, replayed, fast forwarded, slow motioned playing, so as to garner its complete and total potential/message).

There’s a reason great filmmakers, when talking about how they started enjoying and studying film say that they started doing it without sound, just focusing on the image and the directors ability to cut and garner the audience’s visual attention. Sound trumps Image in the medium.

Myself, as a foreigner working in Asia, was initially taught to watch animated and soft films coming from the US in the 80’s and had always thought that whatever came from that country was exuberant, extremely visually attractive and almost KO’d everything else in the world. As I grew older, I started eating everything with moving images in it, from movies from primordial cinema to recondite indie pieces coming from India and Sri Lanka, with a lot of trash, pseudo-porn and glorified amateur glossy stuff in the middle.

Everything was different, everything was strange and new and everything was thoroughly entertaining. In my eyes, American filmmaking started loosing weight compared to the originality and strangeness of everything coming outside of that continent.

But then color grading happened…

Something weird started appearing from the four corners of the World.

Homogeneity.

Movies from South East Asia started looking the same as films from European countries like Romania, Ukraine, etc.

Comedies from the US were visually (color and palette wise) almost exactly the same as Action thrillers, if not Horror porn movies coming from South America, then Hong Kong and now everything coming out from everywhere.

Everything became the same although geographically distant. Very seldom are movies getting out of the norm and actually showcasing themselves as visually differentiated or original between each other.

If a Sci-fi doesn’t look like a genre film, everyone is afraid no one will see it. The same goes to any other genre that garners to a niche audience.

Mainstream movies all tend to look the same, everyone afraid to break the mold of a standardized color correction, manipulation, “evolution”.

So, what I’d like to do as my conclusion is, to ask you the reader, a favor.

The next time you see a new contemporary movie you love, turn the sound down a little bit (not entirely so you don’t miss the story, but just enough that the image gets just a fraction more importance in your living room/cinema/computer than everything else). Turn it down and focus on the characters faces/skin color. Focus on the color of the sun, the moon and the sea. Try to see where greens appear. Try to focus on where red is floating along the screen. Enjoy the dance of blues in front of your eyes.

Now, after you’ve finished the movie, try to watch the last film you loved too. Preferably from the same year (or two). It can be from the same country, or a different one, doesn’t matter. If its from the same genre you love, or from the same director, it doesn’t matter, just watch it after the new one.

Watch it and concentrate on the image.

You will see what I’m talking about. Maybe not in a large scale or in an obvious way, but just enough that you start seeing frames that look the same. Colors that are coming from the same places. Images that are painted with the same brush.

In the past, filmmakers tried to, even though they might use their same inherent style, be different, from themselves, from everyone else. Of course there were copies and inspirations and a lot of the same people working in different films but, there was a sense of variety between everything that was made.

It is true that now there are a lot more movies coming out, from everywhere, all the time, and that tends to standardize and mechanize the images they show. Pop Art pushed it into the art world and cheap production/manufacturing costs have pushed it into filmmaking.

Watch the movies you love, over and over again. Talk about them with your friends and colleagues but, concentrate on more than the story. Watch the image. Watch the color. Watch the Medium.

Watch them and then tell me if there isn’t a Mania traveling around.


Finished… 4 Now

America’s Color Grading Mania and its Influence Over the World VIII

… Color, continuing.

True Legend and The Lost Bladesman, although coming from two very different cinematographers, come from the same production country/market (Hong Kong/China) and came out within a year of each other. Nevertheless, they are two very similar movies in terms of color, grading, hue/saturation and even overall visual style.

Thematically the two movies are close, one is a Chinese legend/myth, the other, fictional musings of possible past events. They are both set in ancient China and both have a large component of martial arts and ancient theatricality. Visually though, they’re mostly indistinguishable and that’s their biggest flaw. The movies are shot as though there was some discoloration of the palette of their colors, as though there was some desaturation of the image because of the time they were presented, the problem is, that this discoloration is simply random/unrefined.

Every color is almost a pastel of itself, making them blend into each other, True Legend taking a more earthy tone and The Lost Bladesman, having a more bluish hue to the image. Every color that is, except red. The reds pop out. They are exuberant but, instead of creating a sense of confluity in the image, or even, of being a target color, their tone is so pushed into the pink, that at times, the color just becomes silly. Blood looks like someone chewed some cherry bubblegum and smeared it in the face of the actors, and the red clothes, more often than not, almost look like African clay sculptures (even if that was the point, or even to implement a sense of historical background, then the red would take an earthy tone too not breaking with the idea that the image is older than normal, as it stands, it seems as though whomever colored the clothes/image, forgot that the Vermilion pigment not only was a royal color, but that it symbolised eternity and life – not the color in which every single goon or soldier should be slain in).


There are some seasonal shadings that look really nice on the screen (the fadings of Autumn in The Lost Bladesman and the coldness of morning in True Legend), but then are completely overtaken by light that seems out of place (and hence dilutes the colors, making them seem more modern than expected). Overall, the color correction seems a bit, rushed.

Like the two movies reviewed before, Alien vs Ninja  and Future X Cops , albeit both being very strange genre selections and with stories that tend to confuse (but that’s something for another type of conversation) end up suffering with the choice to maintain their color as untouched (no visual contamination between the spectrum) and in some situations as fake as possible (the idea is that it the color is created to appeal to a “futuristic” minded person digitizing some of the normal hues and pushing all the colors to make them look as shiny as possible).

This plasticky look is often associated with children’s movies, not because the movies themselves are childish or dumb (once again, story here is irrelevant), but because this type of color stimulation appeals to a broader audience (here film – as a mass production tool with the main objective to make money by over-stimulation of the audience, advertising effect over quality, shady techniques instead of actual filmic mastery), like cartoons or slapstick comedy, by bombarding them with the existence of color and their emotional pulls.

The problem with these movies is that the color is just simply over-saturated for the sake of “comical” effect, creating a tyring image that further confuses the audience into being attracted by the explosions, blood and comic relief, rather than paying attention to the movie itself (selective color correction has the intent to avert/attract the audience’s eyes/attention to wherever the filmmaker desires, if this effect is pushed to all the colors of the visual range, all the time, then the movie becomes the equivalent of a sugar rush when its seen, only to be followed by a strong, emotional and physical letdown after its consumed), and end up let down by the movie after they’ve seen it.

Lastly, lets take a look at A Beautiful Life, the Andrew Lau directed, 2011 romantic comedy.

A Beautiful Life suffers from the “Summer Movie” syndrome of late, so well established by the American influence over what we see in the film theater between May and September every year.

Cold lights are blue (fluorescent), warm are yellow (almost orange at times), the sun is as white as possible and the night shots have a certain glow to them (wet city, soft focus shots, etc), but, amazingly, the actors skin color tends to become the same from shot to shot (an earthy beige with slashes of orange and soft cerise).

This type of color correction is a midway between a technicolor color skew and the Teal/Orange mix. A midway. Which means that throughout the movie, it itself becomes at times as inconsistent as the range of colors it portrays, looking more like we are watching a 70’s ad magazine instead of a present day set love story. The soft blues in the light make the male character seem weak at times and the pinks/beige used by the female character make her seem more like an archetypal whinny diva than a naive/world thorn socialite.

Nevertheless, it does look beautiful. A Beautiful Life as a frame by frame picture exhibition could perfectly reflect some of the problems we see in filmmaking nowadays but it’d never be a dull or even inexpressive exhibit. That’s exactly its problem. There’s too much happening in the image, too much manipulation, too many ideas floating around. Its a patterned correction, a commonly used color grading, beautiful for stills, tiring, flacid and common in filmic form.

A Beautiful Life is manipulative color correction at its best, the problem is, it detracts from the movie. We as an audience are constantly thinking – “Oh, they look so beautiful… Oh that’s a beautiful shot”, instead of actually watching the movie.

Color continued…

America’s Color Grading Mania and its Influence Over the World VII

… continuing Color.

I left as a last example the movie 13 Assassins by Takashi Miike and Nobuyasu Kita because, even though it was a market success, the movie itself and how it looks is a conundrum.


The movie is set in 1840, but chromatic and image wise, there isn’t a single detail of the post-production, color correction or even art color selection, that might trigger in the audience that they’re watching the era.

Other than the theme, characters and the action, the movie could have happened 160 years, 300 years or 80 years ago in Japan. And that’s Miike’s biggest weapon in the movie. Although it is a semi-historical, metaphorical recount of what happened in feudal Japan at the time, it is as present as the director.

It was shot in 35mm but the image is so clean and well lit, that at times it looks like it is a digital capture of a documentary (filmed with our present technology) set in 1840.

Blood is cold and visually dissipated, the flames are yellowish but dim, and the moonlight a strangely hued soft white/blue. The entire environment is surrounded by the browns, greys and blacks of wood, kimonos and earth/soot.


Even though it is an extremely violent and sometimes morally aggressive film, the image is so raw that one is connected to it and the social and moral struggle survived by the 13 samurai is almost as if it is lived within the audience, as though the viewer is inside what is happening.

This feeling of connectedness, of association of reality to a projected image is brilliantly achieved through the rawness of the image and the appeal and calmness of the soothing and expertly distributed browns and greys of the movie.

Asian films have been correcting their color, image and choosing their stock since there’s been film in the area. Kurosawa’s beautiful black and white films were so well shot that some of them, almost seemed like colors would gush out on the screen if the viewer paid enough attention.

Yimou and Woo and Wong Kar Wai are long purporters of the control and manipulation of  the visual style of what is presented in the screen and are World Renown for it.


A still frame from their movies is almost a painting in how brilliantly selected and exampled colors are dragged into their stories.

But there are bad and sometimes wrong examples of films that use and abuse color correction and its effect on the audience to such an effect, that the films themselves, start becoming anecdotal, if not completely shun by the public.

I will choose the films Future X Cops, The Storm Warriors, Alien vs. Ninja, True Legend, A Beautiful Life and The Lost Bladesman.

Like it was said before, like these movies, a lot of others could have been selected, but let me use these 6 examples to capture a broader sense of the downfalls of a sometimes broad, if not, uninformed approach in color for film.

Lets start with The Storm Warriors.

The Storm Warriors is a 2009 Hong Kong film directed by the Pang brothers, backed by the visuals of Thailandese cinematographer Decha Srimantra.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some great visuals and fight scenes in Storm Warriors. But there’s something wrong on screen.


The color adjustments are done so as to stylise the film, but end up making it far from coherent. Some of the corrections on the blues and greys of the film, give them such a plasticky look that a great percentage of the costumes not only seem fake, but they look extremely flimsy.

The highlights and shadows vary from scene to scene, depending on the fight setup presented (although they’re consistent in an overall sense, the small variations in color for similar clothes presented in different setups, at times, is bothersome) and skin tones drastically change – their saturation constantly depends on the light and clothes on the scene, making the characters always seem “unnatural” and in essence impossible to empathize with.

As an extremely stylized film, Storm Warriors at times is brilliant (the fight scenes in the water, the supper slow-motion scenes in the mountains for example), but ends up suffering too much from the chromatic decisions it presents (the golds, browns and blues are at times interesting, but end up creating pretentious characters, instead of emphasizing their ambitions and strength).

Being too realistic at times, doesn’t give the viewers a consistency in interpretation that then is completely overthrown by the surreality of some shots.


It is based on a comic book novel, and maybe it should have gone a bit further into the extreme showcase of a comic book theatricality in a chromatic and visual sense not holding back (as an example we have Sin City, Mistery Men and/or the Batman series) its inherent visual spectrum to give way to a realistic/dramatic value that might not be necessary for such a stylized film.

Color Continued…

America’s Color Grading Mania and its Influence Over the World VI

… continuing Color.

I will continue the analysis of very well developed Color Corrected Movies in the Asian market, concentrating in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Korea.

Detective Dee as an example is a tough sell. The movie was visually developed by one of the strongest and most prolific and esthetically consistant directors in Asia (if not the World) and had the help of not one, but two, very experienced Directors of Photography working in Hong Kong/China and as such, it would be natural to see in the movie a homogeneous and strictly planned visual style, but this, as anything in the film-making universe, has more to it.

The chromatic reality of the film is largely dependent on diffracted and blended golds and oranges, making the image, more often than not, almost glimmer with shine and glitter. The earth tones are colder and blander than usual and the blues and black, almost simultaneously converge into each other. Whites and greys are clean and controlled influences in the picture and when existent, red takes over the screen with its ultra saturated presence.

Light seems to fade in the frame and it looks effortless and shadows are almost unapparent, this makes everything look and feel as though we were inside an impressionistic pastel painting (here an amazing mastery over the “digital” look captured by the RedOne but ultimately coded into what almost seems to have been shot in film) and detach ourselves from the time and place in which the movie is portrayed, giving total confidence in the creators of the film to take us through this crazy adventure film.

Under the Hawthorne Tree also beautifully masters the control over the color and the capture used to make the film, but it is radically different to Detective Dee in terms of chromatic frames.

Hawthorne Tree, even though color is beautifully captured during the film, is extremely toned down (comparing to other Zhang Yimou films), sometimes tonally almost resembling a 40’s/50’s documentary in terms of the momentary desaturation of some scenes (this helps in following the emotional pull created between the couple and hence elevate our connections to the two main characters), yellows have a golden quality to them and the browns, when apparent, flood the screen as though they weren’t such a commonly misperceived color. Green’s, greys and dark colors (especially dark blues, greens and blacks) blend each other, making it look like even thought the fields seem fertile, something is apparently wrong with the countryside. Even though its momentarily romantic, there’s a certain irreverence under the surface and this inconspicuous color manipulation, throughout the movie, clearly presents it visually in the screen (there are fertile and arid terrains, a beautiful dichotomy for the visually guided).

As a great example of a complete overhaul of the image in a chromatic sense in Asian movies of present day filmmaking is The Stool Pigeon a 2010 Hong Kong production that even though it roots itself in present day reality (the colors, although pulled to, at times, a controlled surreality, are clearly colors that everyone sees and commonly associates to our day to day lives), the image varies and mutates all throughout the movie.

There are scenes with a washed out look, almost at a pasteled kodachrome film stock quality, making it look like something is unsafe, unfamiliar, unreal. There are moments were the lights are bright and intense, bringing a strong color profile to the characters in the screen (fluorescent lighting bring out the whiteness of the faces and in locations, the saturated blues), others are unsaturated and almost chromatically nonexistent.

Depending on the moment of the film, the color seems to shift to capture the character’s voyage but, amazingly, it is done so consistently that, at a certain point of the movie (around the 20 minute mark) it becomes apparent that the filmmaker has created a stylized heterogeneous but extremely well formatted movie.

Monga and The Man from Nowhere, in terms of the construction of the frames in their movies is clearly at a different level from the previous examples, not as weaker movies but, as examples of what filmmakers strive to present as reliable and visually rooted in reality color corrected images. Both movies make the audience follow violence, friendship, betrayal and other hard to swallow themes, but instead of going to a artistic/differentiated poetic imagery composition, they both present what is happening as real, as we see it, as it is in our daily lives.

Punctually – lights, color, shadows, darks and lighter parts of the images seem too defined and sharp and these variations make the audience feel as though they are inside the images, inside what is happening, clearly being guided into adopting if not completely assimilating the story into their own existence. We are inside the world of the moving picture. The high definition, high quality, high detail picture, every one has gotten used too from capturing real moments with their phones, cameras, etc.

The Man from Nowhere makes a voyage from very dark lighting and hard shadows to a certain more relaxed, more human imagery towards the end, and Monga cleverly does the opposite in its balanced visual composition, becoming gradually more violent, more imbued with stronger, bolder visuals (in Man, although violence becomes all that we see in the screen, the character is portrayed as going to an extreme in his reality to save his friend, making us feel connected to him, in Monga, the opposite is what is true), controlling its colors and making us watch the decay of the images in front of us (the lighting doesn’t change but its warmer coloring when yellow and cooler tones when white are gradually more noticeable).

Color Continued…

America’s Color Grading Mania and its Influence Over the World V

… continuing Color.


Through recent examples of good and bad (of course as everything, the term bad is relative to each and everyone’s sense of taste, but I’ll use it, hence forth, as a reference to the use of color correction in a way that doesn’t help increase the viewers or retain a well balanced movie, not making it a memorable or enjoyable piece of art/product), I will further demonstrate the U.S.’s influence over what has been done in Asia, and how, sometimes, that influence isn’t always beneficial to the receiving party.

Starting with good examples of how appropriate and how color correction increases some movies appeal on an audience, I have chosen the movies – Aftershock, Love in a Puff, Detective Dee, Under the Hawthorne Tree, The Stool Pigeon and Monga, The Man from Nowhere and 13 Assassins.

All of these movies are from the last 3 years (production and release) and are all from several countries from Asia (Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong). All have been shot on film or digital (with the Red, the Alexa or Panavision cameras, etc), and all have been shot by very different Directors and Cinematographers. Some are technically groundbreaking, others help the Asian market fight with its American and European counterparts at a level playing field for an enthusiastic but growingly judgmental audience.


Let us start with Aftershock.

The movie is set during the Great Tangshan Earthquake of 1976 to the “present day”, so, even thought its set in the recent past, the collective memory of the public is still highly influenced by photographic and video depictions (here by the quality of cameras existing in China at the time and not in the rest of the world) of that single event.

The movie is shot in an extremely somber grey/brown color palette with its main focus, the destruction evidenced by a catastrophic movement on the earth’s core and the somber reality lived by the family after the earthquake and the choices made during it.

This visual choice makes the image and story on the screen become stronger and more appealing to the public as they are not being visually manipulated into feeling excited or vulnerable or tired over seeing a devastating event and ensuing suffering through manipulative color aberrations.


Using earth tones and softer graded greys even helps the filmmakers in some scenes (where some of the effects or time transitions may feel artificial) get away with pretty much anything throughout the more dramatic/death infused scenes. This monotonic color scheme ends up hiding some otherwise evident mistakes as the audience isn’t being blasted by vibrant and distracting colors (if an explosion happens with vibrant reds, yellows and oranges, but isn’t to the liking of the audience, their attention is easily lost in unnecessary effects shots, or even necessary but unattainably better shots).

There isn’t any doubt why Aftershock did so well in the box office and dvd sales in Asia, as it is a very solidly constructed film, from its incisive story line to the evident control of every detail in color, cinematography and tone and its team’s decisions to make the movie more event grounded over visually “vibrantly” appealing.


At the other side of the box office success pool we have Love in a Puff. The movie was in all accounts a disaster when it came out but, through very good word of mouth and reviews, the movie ended up making its fair amount of money to support its makers, becoming a weird conundrum in the Hong Kong internal movie market.

One of the most common reviews and criticisms (from professionals and viewers alike) was that the movie, even though it had its faults, it “spoke real” to people. This term is widely used when talking about documentaries and extremely visceral, dramatic movies, but Love in a Puff is a somewhat quirky comedy where smoke and the relationships ensuing over its, now recent, social persecution, takes the center stage.

The creators nonetheless, instead of adding immense quantities of smoke and making the image bland and with a small color differential (here maybe realizing that a flat approach on the color spectrum would surely repel the viewers, as the Hong Kong smog is itself already abundantly evident on a day by day basis), went in a different direction, and tried to make the movie color intuitive with a palette closer to the Technicolor scheme of the Kodak years, but toned slightly down (exuberant highlights but a color scheme that appreciates the colors instead of blowing them).

This decision, makes for simple, calm and perfectly lit scenes on the outside (here the white color of the sunlight and the clean darks of the city, make for a beautifully romantic city, where its main characters find companionship even in the supposed dark corners of the streets), and vibrant and soft coloring/lighting on the inside scenes (the purple, blue, black and grey, aren’t excessively contoured or selected in the frames, but are evidently apparent during the scenes, and make for a very appealing mise en scène).

These two examples, even though coming from different sides of the production reel, and from two “largely” different markets, showcase how a carefully controlled and decided color scheme/cinematography, further increase a movies possibilities over its fledgling although highly competitive markets.

Color Continued…

America’s Color Grading Mania and its Influence Over the World IV

… continuing Color.

Movies essentially based or situated in the past, also have this chromatic influence, but they go the extreme way, by completely making the image desaturated and dying it down to its bare essentials (tone, light/shadows, etc), making it look like the movie is a Black and White representative of the era it is based on (mimicking the movies from that era and how people perceived them).

Taking Black and White as a chromatic pattern (and not the absence or existence of the reflection of light – which by definition denominate the two values as achromatic representatives of the visual spectrum), gives us some leeway in expressing its influence in film and its power over the audience.

Such films like Schindler’s List, Good Night and Good Luck, City of Life and Death, Tetro, The White Ribbon, Control, The Good German and Devil’s on the Doorstep are important examples of this, and most of them, even though being Black and White in their entirety, still enjoy subtle details of the power of Color Correction (the Red Windbreaker from Schindler’s List, the tinting of the image to red in the end of Devil’s on the Doorstep, the filming of The Good German in extremely poppy image, just to have it turned Black and White in Post to accentuate the blacks over the Whites in the film giving us a sensation of actually watching color – a psychologically manipulative trick created by our tuning to the shades in the image and interpreting them as color).

Shades of Grey, sometimes communicate more than a dégradé of colors can. Black, with its unforgiving depth, makes the audience become uneasy over its presence in the screen. White with its purity and flow of peacefulness, the opposite. But, putting them together on the screen creates something different. It creates a sense of nostalgia, of memory, of remembrance and adversely, of reality in the image.

The audience then, when watching a recent film shot/color corrected in Black and White is visually taken to the past, not only by the story or the time that the image/characters represent but, by their memory of what the past presented – Black and White images. The movies selected above could all have been shot in color, some more or less saturated, each having its meaning in the film but, the filmmakers chose to make them Black and White. This choice sometimes boils down to artistic integrity, other times, by complete control over the message.

People don’t remember the past because they lived it and further in life remember that specific moment as a momentary “flash of self memory logging”. They see an image from that time and they “travel” to their past memories.

Black and White creates this sensation in the audience, and even though most haven’t lived through or even seen examples of what had happened in the reality now portrayed in the movie they’re seeing the image, it makes it dawn on them, that what they’re watching must have happened, must be true.

In Black and White, the power of Color, is in reverse (objectively).

_

But these are all, mostly, examples of films created, studied and developed in the United States, the worlds most prolific and influential creator of cinema, since its studio system of the 1920’s.

With its strength over the distribution, marketing and developing of film, in their country and their biggest and sometimes direct competitors (Europe till the 70’s, Japan through to the 90’s and now the counter-cinema of Asia and South America/Europe), the US has slowly created a sense of homogeneity in what Color Correction has become.

The United States has created a language in what color is concerned, but that language has been backed by decades of studies, tests and programing/counter-programing strategies. The rest of the world though, have been influenced by the US’s ability to manipulate through color, but, most countries, haven’t had the backing/funding, to actually further develop their own language in the realm of the image (color, etc).

Just as a quick and basic example, the French and the Italian have always been great fans of color, updating their films with Technicolor, Kodachrome, Cinecolor, the Eastman profile, color schemes, saturating (or even over saturating) whenever it is/was possible, their images but, their approach on the color they use, is more connected to their relationship with paintings and the color studies of mood, attitude, etc, not trying to ad color to the frame, to transmit/influence the audience into, for example, buying a Coca-Cola bottle at the end of the movies (The Coca Cola case being one of the World’s most famous cases, where by using subliminal manipulation throughout the movies at theater houses, Coca-Cola increased their sales immensely, sometimes upwards of 50%, by simply incorporating fractional – subliminal – images of bottles at specific times of the movies, and increasing the saturation of red afterwards).

I’m not saying that countries other than the United States have always (or ever) treated color as a simple tool of furthering just the image of the film, and not use it as a tool to sell movies/products (there are certainly examples to prove the contrary like the Taxi film series in France or the Asterix in France/Italy), but it has been the US’s fine tuning of the technology that develops the Color Correction and its embracing of the Color Gamut Manipulation that has brought such aberrations as Orange faces and Blue trees (Transformers).

To further exemplify how these changes in movie creation have surpassed barriers and through each culture’s inefficiency of actually developing their own symbolic and color interpretation techniques, have been distorted even further, I’ll talk a bit about the existence of good and bad examples of color correction, and examples that simply show how the technology shouldn’t even be used in some circles.

Color Continued…

America’s Color Grading Mania and its Influence Over the World III

… continuing Color.

I will further develop the Teal and Orange color combination in the next few entries, but would like to continue the idea of Color for Film, as theme, and even a relationship between films, to condense the concept of Color Grading and then advance on their specific differences.

As it has been done for the past 20/30 years, different genres have had different color schemes, all trying to easily create sections of the market/film knowledge, that the audience then can easily distinguish.

There are some incredible variations on the examples I choose, and others can be pointed out that also enlighten and further advance the point I’m trying to make, but, for the sake of summation, regard the following examples as some of the most obvious visual examples selected from the past 5/10 years.

Take the following set of films: The Ring, Saw (the franchise), Nightmare on Elm Street Reboot, 30 Days of Night and The Last Exorcism.

They all are from different sides of the Horror Genre, some have vampires, some have monsters, all have blood and frightening situations on them. But that isn’t the only thing these movies have in common.

The color grading of these films, is extremely stylized.

The whites (color) are balanced to cold blues, sometimes even, a blue with so much purple it becomes hard blue. The skin tones become white, making any human seem pale and sickly, further enhancing the idea that the characters in the movie are in trouble. There are hard shadows with saturated blacks, and, more often than not, almost every other color than white/black/grey/blue/dark soft green, is desaturated. All that is, but the color of blood.

Blood can be over-stylized (becoming scarlet or dark red) or in some cases, even turned down to a vitrified black (a scary, inhuman color for blood) making it seem as something alien to the characters in the movie (making blood look out of place from the situations in the Horror genre, makes the audience more at ease towards the violence portrayed in the films they’re watching).

In Horror films, Color Grading is taken to the extreme, and it becomes an immediate focus point for the audience when selecting or choosing to see films from that genre (even though it is a subconscious, selective point in the decision process).

As it is a niche market, Horror then becomes easy to identify, and its viewers and lovers of the genre, are satisfied when they select certain films to enjoy, knowing that they get what they expect when selecting them.

Now take as another example of this selective Color Grading inside the same realm, the Post-apocalyptic Action/Drama films of late.

As examples we have such films as Children of Men (a blend of the Apocalyptic Color Scheme and the Futuristic Green Tinge), Terminator: Salvation, The Road, The Book of Eli, Death Race, Daybreakers and Priest (in these, a fascinating blend of the Horror Genre Grading and the Apocalyptic one).

For these types of films, the Color scheme tends to be extremely desaturated, sometimes almost bordering with black and white, making everything seem distant and decrepit, the same way has a black and white film from the turn of the 20th century did but in reverse.

Lights are strong and directional, making shadows hard and precisely located (echoes of German expressionism and Chiaroscuro) and this creates a sense of heat and warmth that is further enhanced with some treatments of yellow, and paste colors (essentially earth tones), but with the desaturation of the entire image, these focuses of light become blander and weirder than they should, creating a sense of dislocation to the audience.

Audiences expect a dry, arid, strongly dystopian reality when they want to see Apocalyptic movies and, even though the story gives them these and other innate characteristics of the genre, its the visual scheme and the inherent Color Grading of this type of movies that grounds the audience in the the genre they’re watching.

Futuristic/Alternate reality movies tend to have a more realistic color scheme but, nevertheless, tend to inebriate the image with a mono-chromatic tinge, varying with blues and greens in their visual style.

Such films as The Matrix series, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Minority Report, Soldier, Aeon Flux, all tend to be normal tonally but always have a single, more exuberant color distributed throughout the film, depending on the type of emotional pull the DOP and the Art Director, want to imbue in the audience’s subconscious.

For other types of Genre, the subtle presence of color and sometimes its over saturation, helps the audience locate itself in what type of film they are sitting, not that the creators of the movie think that the audience (or their film critics) don’t see or aren’t smart enough to understand the themes of their movies but, rather, use color as an underlying and sometimes almost invisible tool to bring their ideas home.

Color Continued…

America’s Color Grading Mania and its Influence Over the World II

… continuing Color.

Color, has always been associated to states of mind, or even emotional reactions purported through imagination and art.

Some blatant examples of color saturation in movies, create a certain emphatic response to those movies, and moreover make them temporal classics of world cinema history (movies like Wizard of Oz, The Godfather or even Farewell my Concubine).

Each color has its own value on the screen.

I will only use the 3 most prominent colors in film (Red, Green Blue), and further ad their influence and manipulation through the changing of opposite/contrast colors (different palette selection and adulteration or the Cyan/Teal, Magenta, Yellow evolution of the 3 color scheme).

To further understand the influence that color can have in film, and how its manipulation in American cinema has changed our perception of Movies (and further, wrongly adulterate and distort the films of the rest of the World), I will briefly exemplify how the 3 main colors influence us the audience when presented with extreme saturation of the selected visuals on the screen.

Red is a color that, when used correctly in a movie, can increase the dynamic response of the public to what they’re seeing, can encourage the emotional and physical side of the audience to accept what they see in the screen, and is a vastly and a almost instantaneously identified color. It is also the color of power and manipulation, and through its variations of orange tinges can be a more subdued and a innocent emotional triger, or with its stronger purple/pink addition become a fatal and sometimes extreme danger warning (in Run Lola Run its perfectly exemplified as a emotional trigger for the audience, and as a pattern of uncontrollable power and speed expressed “by” Franka Potente) .

Green is the color that our eyes are most in tune with. Millenia of evolution in the wilderness has made the human retina capable of identifying and subtle and extreme variations of this chromatic element and hence it is one that is very carefully structured and presented in movies.

As a color, vibrant, saturated green can motivate and increase the audiences sense of direction/attention in a movie. It can pop out extremely in the screen or if carefully manipulated, can blend into the background without us noticing it, but being intensely influenced by its presence. It can represent thoughtfulness, intelligence or disambiguation, or when small quantities of blue are added to the original color, can mean peace, and relaxation, and safety.

Shocking green can motivate envy, fear or the uncommon reactions to a poison that is seen but not felt (contortion of the muscles, skin irritations and increased palpitations).

It is a very diatomic color, symbolizing the ambiguity of trust and doubt, safety and danger, pain and relief.

Blue on the other hand, is one of the most abstract colors in film.

Depending on how the filmmaker develops his chromatic symbolic on the screen, blue can be used as an inhibitor or a restricting element of the frame. It means knowledge and can represent visual infinity. As a strong color, it is mainly used to declare itself as clean and pure, pushing contrast to every other color in the screen.

A lot more can be represented and studied over the influence of these 3 colors (and many books have been written on the subject), but it is with these main emotional triggers on us, that these 3 colors are mainly used and abused in films.

Furthermore, these 3 colors have in the visual spectrum, 3 other specific and direct contrasting colors, creating then, by groups of 2, very strong chromatic relationships that are, perfectly balanced in modern day cinema.

These 3 primary colors (RGB) combined with the secondary spectrum of color (CMY), give us a color palette and wheel of combinations that can transmit or detract from the image, emotions and reactions, all dependent on the knowledge or power of those who correct films during the post production work-flow (further enhancing the message of the story visualized during the film).

On of the most famous, recent, adulterations in American film that has transfused itself into mainstream international cinema is the dual correction of the Teal/Orange palette, homogenizing the American blockbuster to a visual style that satisfies a wide and carefully selected audience.

This color swatch (the Teal/Orange color combination) and image distortion principle it portrays is based on the peacefulness and infinitely possible distortion of the combination of these 2 secondary colors, that by being directly connected without (almost) no use of the Green visual section of the spectrum (but rather “connect themselves to our tuning of the color, and further create a more physical and hence innate affinity to the combination), augment the audience’s attention over what is presented on the screen ( increasingly being that since green is the most easily identifiable color on the screen, its two complimentary colors, will be “blessed” with an immense power over our perception of the chromatic reflections on screen).

This attention is then further enhanced with visually saturated elements (red and orange explosions and exuberant blues), that constantly attract the audience to the screen, without being able to avert their eyes to what is happening.

The problem with this is that the Teal/Orange combination that appears on our screens is an adulteration of our percepted reality. Its a fake, manipulated and abused distortion.

(didn’t know people were supposed to be orange…)

Color Continued…

America’s Color Grading Mania and its Influence Over the World I

The next series of articles, are a collection of thoughts and recollections of how the evolution of color correction/color study as led us, as an audience, critics, filmmakers, to discern one style of movie from another, to further enhance and comprehend the message that is being portrayed in the art-form and, in some cases, where that movie is coming from or even going to.

As an introduction, I will write about the beginning of color correction, some human principles of communication, the advent of digital color grading and, in the present, the complete and utter corruption and adulteration of filmic and artistic representations of reality.

We, as a species, can distinguish an enormous gamut of different colors, tones, etc.

That ability is determined by our extreme sensitivity to a certain part of the electromagnetic field (the visible spectrum), and its variation, the reflection, refraction, blending or bending of light that is captured by the world and registered by our eyes.

This innate ability to distinguish certain parts of reality through its visual pigment makes us, in our planet, a rare breed, and lets us communicate between ourselves, by simply combining, adulterating or even sequencing color to deliver our messages (as a part of vastly different types of communication).

Since there’s been communication, there’s been coloring.

From the different shades of black, brown, red and silver, existing in the prehistoric caves to the beautiful blending of water colors in paintings, the disturbing printings of color in propaganda posters and the corruption of realistic color palettes in modern film, Man has always put color to its vision/representation of its world.

Since there’s been a representation of reality nonetheless, there’s also been color correction, rather coloring over the visualised reality.

Color grading, or color correction as it is known to the public, is a process where by means of a digital work-flow, or analog one, the native color of an image, situation, place is adulterated into something composed.

Film, like any higher art form, has always been keen on collecting and decomposing its influences, undermining and sometimes completely ignoring, where and why they have come to be.

In film, Color Grading started when the tinting of the frame was first introduced (a process that began in the 1890’s), and later established, where by means of different emulsions of film, certain acids/bases gave the frame different color variations.

When it all started, color grading/correction, was a means to create a more realistic view of reality.

With the evolution of the art-form, grading helped propel cinema to hights of a meta art, something that as art represented not only the art and the reality itself, but another layer of interpretation of reality that made audiences infatuated with it. But, with the advent of the nickelodeon and the necessity of profit over the art, an industry was created.

That industry, like any industry after the industrial revolution, had to be as profitable, and as effective in its exhibition of message as possible. By itself, the industry needed to survive by the flow of funds, and by the ability to exhibit the product to as many people as possible, as many times as possible.

Other sophisticated tools have been created and adapted to further propel cinema as a worldwide billion dollar making industry, but color grading, being so subtle and unnoticeable, has been a tool, that can easily demonstrate the evolution of the art-form, and objectively dissect our ability to manipulate each other as a species.

Psychoanalysis and psychological manipulation through electrical currents, image shifting, color aberration theories and other scientific methods have been used since the beginning of the 20th century to study human beings, and our ability to communicate with each other.

This level of scientific research and its possible use in studying our innate reactions to centuries and centuries of patterned communication, has given filmmakers immense power over what they show, how they show and to whom they show their movies.

Color study, in labs, and later in film (controlled crowd testing, advertisement testing, etc), gives the creator an immense ability to communicate to the audience subliminally, most of the time, without the audience knowing about it.

If you have the patience, tell me or think about it.

How did the colors influence you while reading the text?
Slow start, “interesting” and “aggressive” middle and calm ending was it?
Or didn’t you even notice the colors?

Color continues…