Text: Dorukalp Durmus
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10. Jan 2013

Colour theory in modern cinema

Colour in cinema can be defined as a context for meaning, indicating that what we perceive is fantasy or reality. Colour is not just a complimentary perceptual property of light. It also has a robust subliminal effect on our visual system. With the story it tells, colour is able to alter any given content significantly.

Greek historian Heredotus described the famous seven-storey Tower of Babel by dividing the magnificent temple into seven colours. In Greek mythology Iris is the goddess of rain-bows, the divine mother of colours. Later, when the Greek gods lost interest, Da Vinci picked up the story. Besides using chiaroscuro, different shades of colour and highlights to create depth, he used his under-standing of light to create his famous paintings. His theory was based on six colours and these are represented in most of his works, including the Mona Lisa, the most popular work of art in the world. Newton and Goethe had colour theories as well. When Goethe started painting the walls of his summer house according to his theory, many others started to show an interest in the reasoning be hind colour. It is clear that colour is indispensable to the story of human-kind, not only as a medium (a wave-length), but as a crucial element of meaning in the way it is reflected.

Are we manipulated by colour?
It is very important to understand the motivation of light and colour to fully appreciate the inherent effects. The science of psychology claims that colour affects our comprehension of reality. Cinema takes this a step further, arousing and manipulating our expectations by using colour for purposes we are not used to, and thus making it a part of storytelling. In modern cinema, colour theory is pretty much established and in a way is related to what is widely known in the field of lighting as “colour temperature”. […]

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The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 85.

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