Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about why most movies favor two colors.
You can date a film based on its use of black and white film stock. You can date a film based on its use of Technicolor. And mark my words, orange and teal contrast is going to be inseparable from the early 21st century.
Did this phenomenon pass you by? Here’s the gist: over the last decade or so, orange and teal color grading became wildly popular. It’s in our movie posters. And it’s on our screens. Heck, the trend is even a joke in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. And yet, despite the ire that the color combo has accumulated in recent years, its prevalence and purpose are more than just Hollywood laziness or a passing visual trend.
Why is the use of orange and teal so persistent on-screen? Well, in part because of color theory. Colors from opposite sides of the color wheel are, in fact, harmonious. They accentuate each other in a way that looks visually striking. Contrast is, after all, the great boon of shooting in black and white, and designing a film’s “look” around colors from opposite ends of the color wheel serves a similar technical purpose. It adds definition, depth, and in a word: drama.
As the video essay below explains, this kind of color coordination is deeper than the infamy of orange and teal. Because in the end, two-toned art design isn’t just technically advantageous. In the right hands, it’s a significant part of how films tell their color story.
Watch “Why are Films Shot in Two Colors?“:
Who made this?
Wolfcrow is an online film school. Their YouTube channel is dedicated to educating their audience on the ins and outs of cinematography. You can subscribe to them on YouTube here. And you can check out their website here.
More Videos Like This
- Another reason the orange and teal team-up is so popular is that it helps to distinguish faces on-screen because human skin falls somewhere on the orange color spectrum. Learning this reminded me of an excellent Vox video from a few years back about how color film was built for white skin.
- Here’s another video from wolfcrow on how lighting ratios can change the mood of a scene.
- And here’s their breakdown of the different lenses and focal lengths and how great directors use them to achieve different ends.
- Here’s Masters of Movies on the power of color in cinema.
- And here’s Queue favorite The Cinema Cartography with a similar look at the importance of color in storytelling.
- The always astute Thomas Flight has an excellent video where he explores the special black and white version of Parasite on the Criterion Blu-ray.
- Here’s Lidia Mtz-Seara with a breakdown of how films weaponize color psychology.