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Teal and Orange in Hollywood movies (theabyssgazes.blogspot.com)
221 points by thmzlt on Sept 4, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments

To every generation there is a film technique which defines it. There was the smokey grey/green from the Matrix films. Michael Mann had his desaturated shallow-DOF look. David Fincher uses silver-retention on his film development to extend the dynamic range while underexposing his shots (thats why interiors in Seven were so "dark" yet exposed).

Part of the device of cinema is extending the mise-en-scene outward and upward to the representational devices (projection, development and treatment).

Part of the study of film is tracing how the use of technique defines generations of film makers. Often, technology serves as an impetus for a style (i.e., Robert Altman and the use of multi-track audio on Nashville precipitated very "talky" films from the 70's/80's), or the developments in computer motion controlled rigs.

Or lets not forget: lens flares.

Color grading (ie, the orange/blue compliments in this article) are also defined by outward influences like magazine photography, trends in CGI, etc.

Anyhow, in a few years a new dominate "look" will pervade cinema and we'll all have something new to complain about.

Both this comment and your comment further down below are really illuminating to a film luddite like me. It's always interesting to hear the nitty-gritty details of someone else's trade. It always amazes me how much detail goes into things that at the end of the day, the end user is none-the-wiser.

Thanks for the informative posts.

Interestingly you might find that once you are aware of such details it is hard to go back and "just watch a movie".

You start noticing color gradients, lighting techniques, camera angles, and many other technical details, and spend mental effort categorizing and critiquing them instead of being immersed in the experience, like, perhaps, you were before.

As computer geeks notice bogus computer terminals in the movies, and it is somewhat irritating and frustrating "no, dammit, that is not what a mainframe terminal looks like!" film geeks do the same with movies.

After working a bit on a film in college, I started noticing cuts, and it started to drive me insane. It's one of those things that's largely inconsequential. I, as an audience member, am aware when a cut is made. But now, after doing a bit of editing, I notice just how many cuts there are. Conversely, I now have eternal admiration for scenes comprised of as few cuts as possible (cf. "Children of Men").

Cuts are not a bad thing though. They are a part of the rhythm of the narrative and when a movie is edited properly they are a device that binds and moves things.

Dissecting a movies cuts is always fascinating though. One of the Film Studies 101 exercises is to story-board the gas station explosion in The Birds. I like doing cut analysis on animated films, because they have to be so deliberate. Films are edited in a winnowing approach, but animation (because of the cost per frame) is edited first, then filled in second.

When I was doing a lot of editing in school my approach was to use markers first to set a beat for the mood of the piece (sometimes relating to music, a presence track or even just a bpm/heartbeat), and edit to that.

If you want to read about editing:


The original experiment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gLBXikghE0

A case study in editing: The Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potempkin - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ps-v-kZzfec

The Birds gas station scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-HYj5cLfEI

> I now have eternal admiration for scenes comprised of as few cuts as possible

Andrey Tarkovsky's films are awesome that way. A part of brain will keep track of the length - perhaps the same way as a music aficionado keeps track of the the current note and the starting note of a melody (or the way jvm keeps track of a stack trace).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Ark just took that to the extreme and made the whole movie in one long shot. It is interesting to watch just for that effect. The content is only interesting if you care or are familiar with Russian history.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0epB5Z6ijpk The Player, opening scene. Self referential of the fact that it's all one cut.

A dissection of the Copacabana shot from Goodfellas - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBMKyNJvNV8

And one of the most brutal long-takes I've ever seen: the Death of Little Bill, Boogie Nights (NSFW): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znwh41szei4

Was going to say "Old Boy". It has a several really wonderful long shots.


Just a +1 for Children of Men - I wasn't that taken by the story but the way it was put together was phenomenal with lots of beautifully choreographed long shots.

My wife is an animator (worked on South Park). We are the absolute worst people to see a film with.

Glad my years in film school amounted to something :)

In the Matrix films the greenish tint is used while 'inside' and blue-ish for the 'real world'

It's actually fun to use Kuler to do the palettes for the Matrix. They did the whole complimentary triad thing in spades with both looks.

Am I the only one who doesn't mind the blue/orange gradient? I don't get why everyone is going mental about it (this article and many like it have popped up frequently over the last few years). The article itself isn't even worth reading, filled with hyperboles like "...a monstrosity that would eventually lead to one of the worst films ever...". Especially the history lesson at the end is superfluous.

Ironically enough, the first thought I had when I visited his blog was "oh god no not another white text on black background site!". But I'm not going to write an article about the trend of light text on dark background, which would actually be a more valid complaint because it objectively reduces readability, while the orange+blue palette is just taste.

I think you missed the slightly tongue-in-cheek tone of the post. The author is an indie filmmaker so it's his job to draw parallels between movies in order to highlight his probable above-average attention to detail in movies.

> it objectively reduces readability

Would love to get some pointers for good reads on this. I've always felt the opposite.

Yeah, I use Readability in Inverse mode myself so I can get my reading in dark background and light text.

To be fair, that is not white on black, it's very-light-grey on dark grey. Personally I find white #FFFFFF on black #000000 hard to read too, but very few sites use such colors.

Light grey on black, which this blog uses, seems perfectly fine for me.

Might there be differences of opinion because of differences in monitors? I'm using Eizo S-PVA, so I might have it better than those with cheaper LCD monitors.

> it objectively reduces readability

I would love to see a peer-reviewed study saying this.

I have barely noticed the color schemes. I do recognize different color in films from different ages--for example, I like the warm colors of 70's and 80's film--but generally I don't care much because it doesn't distract me from enjoying the film.

However, there's a huge issue that has practically stopped me from watching the recent films, or nearly anything made in the 2000's.

It's how cutting the film and camera tracking have changed. It used to be more about long takes and cinemaesque dolly shots that also give time to get immersed in the film. But there's a newer trend that started in the late 90's and developed fully a few years later: extremely short and rapidly changing cuts and excess hand-held filming with the camera shooting from within the scene, rapidly turning and changing positions. To me, it feels like watching a strobo light: I literally have no idea what's happening in the film. It just all flashes in front of my eyes.

The problem is that it's not just action-packed scifi films or anything: many films in all genres have become more fast-paced. You can barely find a romantic comedy or a drama without several scenes that enable this ADHD limbo. To make it worse, even European films have begun to adopt this style in the last decade.

I watched some old action films such as Rambo or Terminator recently and I must say that even they were more moderate in tempo than the last few, and not necessarily action, films I've seen in the cinema in the last five or so years. This is just terrible and I hope cinematography will recover soon or that these tricks will move on to the 3D videos.

Similarly to reading books, a good film gives you the essentials of the plot, characters, and the visual scene only and leaves the rest to your imagination. And giving space to this imagination is crucial to make a good film.

A good film must not give you everything because it can never be as good as if you had imagined it yourself. In opposition, these youtube flicks with 50M budget are only trying to make a first impression on you.

> Similarly to reading books, a good film gives you the essentials of the plot, characters, and the visual scene only and leaves the rest to your imagination.

Vonnegut would disagree that books need to be as spare as you imagine. As would Tolkien and William S. Burroughs. You have a rather narrow view of the art to leave out those authors.

I've only seen books where you absorb textual descriptions of what's happening by deciphering sentences and paragraphs written in some vague form of language which leaves using your imagination to be the only way to actually make it vivid and real. But, I probably don't know everything.

Films are a bit different because they inevitably offer some visual scene that is much more pre-set than a book can ever offer. But there comes the art of cinematography which, like any art, is about showing pointers to what can't be seen. This approach has become more rare yet it would be very useful especially in dramatizing these action and horror films that, these days,diverge from it most.

It's often much more effective to not show what's happening than detailed takes of the action. A cliche is that the first time an alien or a fictional monster is shown on the screen, the film will falls flat because the unrealistic visual mock-up blatantly kills all chance for your imagination to do its job. Similarly a hectic fighting scene just gets lost in the action but the same could be filmed differently, showing something that all the fighting points to, instead of showing the fighting itself. With books, they say that a writer should describe what happens instead of writing his interpretation of it.

Wow, all you people with your fully functional color vision. Maybe I won't get the retinal DNA hack if it causes this much pain.

Using complementary colors to make your subjects "pop" is just standard color theory.

When coloring anything, you pretty much have to choose some variation of red/green, orange/blue, or violet/yellow. Anything else blurs into one of these three.

We'd all do better to criticize specific color choices, rather than stigmatizing one of the three possible general palettes. Otherwise it's like criticizing violins or oil paint for being overused.

I think this was the first thing I ever submitted to HN. It got several hundred points and hit #1 for a time. It's amusing to see things resurface here.

EDIT: It was the 17th submission, 538 days ago, My god! http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1193657

I first noticed this in the movie "Traffic." Great movie and cinematography in my opinion, but I noticed how the orange came out in the Mexican drug cartel scenes and a heavy blue in the DC ones.

That was an intentional narrative device from Soderbergh though.

From IMDB:

"To achieve a distinctive look for each different vignette in the story, Steven Soderbergh used three different film stocks (and post-production techniques), each with their own color treatment and grain for the print. The "Wakefield" story features a colder, bluer tone to match the sad, depressive emotion. The "Ayala" story is bright, shiny, and saturated in primary colors, especially red, to match the glitzy surface of Helena's life. The "Mexican" story appears grainy, rough, and hot to go with the rugged Mexican landscape and congested cities."

"Inception" took a similar approach, where each dream level had a unique tint.

Tron certainly takes the prize here, but at least they had a plausible excuse for the palette choice :)

The blue/orange palette comes straight from the 1982 original. The author does not make a valid point with TRON, especially as he is concerned about color realism. As he says it's set inside a computer so it could look like anything. Any way I read his argument, it ends up contradicting itself on that one.

Blue/Orange contrast is used because red/green has too much of a Christmas vibe. Complementary colors look good. Its not like its a conspiracy.

Yellow and purple don't look particularly good. Besides, you can make any combinations of color look good.

Not a Lakers fan eh? NY's complementary sports colors of choice seem to be orange blue, pretty close to the palette the OP hates (Knicks, Mets).

Actually I'm fairly certain it has more to do with tungsten/daylight balancing of the film stocks. While many features have shifted to full digital production, tungsten lights read as orange on daylight-balanced films and daylight reads as blue on tungsten-balanced films.

Insightful article. Happy for the repost. Missed this the first time around.

These correspond to the basic axis of light typically found in the real world (up until fluorescent, anyways):

Blue = natural light (5000-8000K)

Yellow/Orange = artificial/tungsten light (2400-4500K)

Anyone who's shot actual film will know that if you shoot daylight film in tungsten, it comes out yellow, and vice versa. For you young folks who only ever knew digital cameras, that's the "white balance" function automatically correcting for you.

It's only natural for this set of color contrasts to show up in film (try shooting something lit by a tungsten lightbulb in front of a north-facing window).

/professional photographer

I disagree. The effect of illumination temperature does take place, but in the article the stress is on color grading. It is that color grading that makes faces orange under both daylight (Transformers example) and tungsten light (iron man example).

The first time colors really stood out to me in a movie (and I noticed it while watching) was One Hour Photo. The range was so wide and the colors really added to the story telling. Later (I think on the DVD special features) someone broke it down into it's constituent parts and I really understood an example of how someone designs with color. Very illuminating.

When all you show is frames that happen to be teal and orange, of course you can make it look like all movies are just teal and orange. Also, the sky is blue and light-colored skin can easily look orangish, which explains most of the frames.

Ever since I saw the first of these articles a few years ago, I've occasionally paid attention to this effect (and a little before then). It's not when teal and orange occur that's distracting, it's when nothing else does. You sometimes see scenes with orange trees and teal shades, with no other hues.

The best example of this, to me, is the CSI franchise. LA was light blue, NY was straight up blue and Miami straight up yellow.

Yup. Never really been upset by the teal/orange thing in movies, but in CSI everything looks like they've let a first-year cinematography student go wild on it. And even so, I wouldn't say it looks ugly, it's just a cheezy effect.

Another way to look at it: http://moviebarcode.tumblr.com/

I agree. I'm open to the possibility that this is a widespread phenomenon, but a handful of frames, some of which don't even feature much orange, are unconvincing.

It is pretty common in any form of art or photography to use color balance to convey a mood.

The eye is pretty good at dealing with these things, does the author get frightened and angry when the setting sun makes things appear orange?

In the the article he says that both effects (nighty blue and sunset red) can't happen at the same time IRL...

The last bit about this 'disease' infecting artists through history was particularly odd. Can you imagine! We might end up with works like this:


Van Gogh was a big fan of these colors and it shows in his work.

Van Gogh also admitted, in a letter to his brother Theo, to using deliberately exaggerated colors because he suspected the pigments he used were of such poor quality that they'd quickly fade to something more sensible.

Which turned out to not always be the case.

"Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I see before me, I make more arbitrary use of color to express myself more forcefully." (Letter to Theo van Gogh, 11 August 1888), see http://painting.about.com/od/artandartistquotes/a/Quotes_Van...

That link has several quotes on use of colour.

Van Gogh is notable in his symbolic use of colour.

Post processing isn't exactly new. Not sure what the big deal is. I'm just wondering how long it'll be before we see entire feature length film processed using HDR?

Pretty much every film ever made on real film is in HDR. What would be "tone mapping" in a digital HDR image is just "developing" a film.

Ironic value of complaining about the ugliness of Hollywood movie color schemes while utilizing an absolutely putrid color scheme on the blog itself: priceless.

Physician, heal thyself.

Can we please stop this?

You are not making a valid argument, not in any way, shape or form. It’s pure, irrelevant bullshit.

It’s possible to be completely unable to color grade yet still notice trends and write that you think they are horrible.

But you are not even talking about the author’s ability to color grade, you are talking about fucking web design which is a tenuously related field at best. It just makes no sense at all.

Critics do not have to be good at what they criticize in order to be good critics. Would Roger Ebert be a good director?

It’s astonishing really, a complete non-sequitur.

He's not talking about "web design", he's talking about the color scheme that this particular blogger has chosen for his site.

It's not a "complete non-sequitur" to connect the color selection criticism skills of the author to his own color selections.

Colors, not "web design".

Are they the same? No. Are they wholly unrelated? No.

Readability and typography is not something someone who color grades deals with. It’s unrelated. It’s a non-sequitur.

Inverted text is fine for any application in movies since there is so little of it. Inverted text becomes only a problem if the texts get longer. (And even then inverted text is certainly not a completely wrong but merely a debatable choice.)

You are making no sense.

The author is a colorist.

The point he's making is that work, art and design done by the author doesn't have anything to do with the arguments he puts forward in the article/blogpost. If the arguments he uses are wrong, point that out and explain why they are wrong.

And? Was I suggesting the author isn’t or what? Criticizing the author’s web design skills just makes no sense whatsoever. It just doesn’t. There is no connection.

I was also trying to make a larger point: Even if you think the author’s work sucks you can’t just dismiss everything that is said.

Even if you think the author’s work sucks you can’t just dismiss everything that is said.

Yes. We can. Some ppl may not like it, but we certainly can.

The reason that "some ppl [sic] may not like it" is because it's logically unsound. Dismissing a point of view based on the party, rather than on the position, is the definition of a tu quoque fallacy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tu_quoque

P.S. I agree the author's web design isn't exactly "web 2.0" but it clearly does not diminish the author's credibility to comment on film colorization. They are completely separate.

> Dismissing a point of view based on the party, rather than on the position, is the definition of a tu quoque fallacy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tu_quoque

Except that the original poster's comment was not a tu quoque fallacy. Note from your source:

   This form of the argument is as follows:

       A makes criticism P.
       A is also guilty of P.
       Therefore, P is dismissed. 
In this instance "P" is "Hollywood color choices". The original poster did not dismiss P (i.e., a dismissal of P would be that Hollywood color choices are perfectly fine). The original poster dismissed the blog authors reputation to assert an opinion regarding Hollywood color choices because the blog author, by virtue of having made awful color choices in his blog, had presented evidence of lack of knowledgeable sufficient to assert an educated opinion about P (Hollywood color choices). Whether Hollywood color choices (P) are bad or good remains an open question, P was not dismissed.

Note further in your own citation:

   Legitimate use

   The legitimate form of the argument is as follows:

       A makes criticism P.
       A is also guilty of P.
       Therefore, A is dismissed (from his/her role as a model of the principle that motivates criticism P).

   The difference from the illegitimate form is that the latter would try to dismiss P along with A. It is illegitimate to conflate the logically separate questions of whether P is a valid criticism and whether A is a good role model.
Which is exactly the use made by the original ironic/priceless comment. "A" (blog author) criticized "P" (poor color choices). "A" is also guilty of "P" (poor color choices). "A" was dismissed.

It’s unrelated. Color choice is not color choice and color choice for good readability has nothing to do with color choice in movies. It’s a bullshit argument.

1. As another poster already said, "Readability and typography is not something someone who color grades deals with." EVEN IF I were to accept that this is not a tu quoque argument, the two skills are completely different. I am personally a web designer, and I have no basis or knowledge to comment on color grading in films. None.

Nevertheless, it's a moot point because...

2. I believe the original poster's comment, "physician, heal thyself" is a reference to a person (in this case, the author), and not to a position.

Can I make this any plainer?

> I believe the original poster's comment, "physician, heal thyself" is a reference to a person (in this case, the author), and not to a position.

That would therefore be an incorrect assumption:


"The moral of the proverb is counsel to attend to one's own defects rather than criticizing defects in others, ..."

Or, in other words, before criticizing movie color defects, attend to his own web color defects.

> I am personally a web designer, and I have no basis or knowledge to comment on color grading in films.

Granted. But, would you say that your experience in web design and color selection would allow you sufficient knowledge to identify an absolutely awful movie color scheme? I would posit yes. The converse would also be true. Someone with movie color grading expertise should have sufficient knowledge of colors to at least make a reasonably passing effort at reasonable web color selection. I.e., the underlying basics apply and carry through in both arenas, even if the particular technical specifics differ.

No, this is nonsensical. You don't have to be a good role model to bring forth a criticism. Who better to point out your alcohol problem then an alcoholic?

Are you talking about color grading or web design?

If you are talking about web design you are making no sense whatsoever. No sense.

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