How Guillermo del Toro Uses Color to Create New Worlds

Watch a video essay about ‘The Shape of Water’ director’s striking color palette.
Shape Of Water
By  · Published on February 16th, 2018

The Shape of Water’ director’s striking color palette.

Last month, Guillermo del Toro won his first Golden Globe for directing, and then he received his first nomination for the equivalent Oscar. His new film, The Shape of Water, also received a Best Picture nomination and is one of the most talked about features heading into next month’s Academy Awards. It is a breakthrough work for del Toro and one of my personal favorites.

As FSR’s own Matt Hoffman observes in his review, the film “continues to operate in accordance with the director’s established milieu, this time within a greater scope.” Like del Toro’s past films, The Shape of Water could be defined by its highly stylized color palette.

As part of their “Mastering the Movie Color Palette” series, StudioBinder explores del Toro’s use of color in a new video essay. Part one concerns the way in which vivid colors reflect the spirit of his characters. Think of the rich red associated with the title character of Hellboy. Or the shades of orange that define Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth.

Del Toro also uses opposing colors to contrast two different worlds. In The Shape of Water, he casts the lab in shades of brown and green. The green reminds us of the sea, the home of the Amphibian Man (Doug Jones). And the brown reminds us of the drab world of Sally Hawkins’s character, Elisa. This divide is what the two must overcome in their pursuit of love.

Finally, the video essay explains how triadic colors contribute to del Toro’s knack for creating vibrant fantasy worlds. Roger Ebert wrote of Hellboy that it is “not only based on a comic book, but also feels like a comic book.” As this video essay demonstrates, triadic color schemes — blue, green, red — accentuate that fantasy feeling.

This video is a wonderful testament to Guillermo del Toro’s ability to craft beautiful moving images invite us into his worlds. Check it out below.

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Will DiGravio is a Brooklyn-based critic, researcher, and video essayist, who has been a contributor at Film School Rejects since 2018. Follow and/or unfollow him on Twitter @willdigravio.