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…

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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…