This is somewhat commonly known about how movie posters and movies incorporate orange and blue. Depending on the type of movie, whether it’s science fiction, romantic comedy or horror, people have seen orange and blue in most movies, especially in the majority of modern movies. Well, most of those movies were usually action-adventure movies. These action adventure movies became more prominent in the past decade of big-budget movies that emphasized adrenaline and things always happening on the screen.
From movies like Mission Impossible 2 in 2000 that used a lot of fire, cool colour setting and nighttime shots lit up with more blue tones, the 2000s was the beginning of a colour grading trend. It wasn’t present in all action movies, in the first Mission Impossible movie in 1995 had no specific simplified colour palette was used. It was a range from the ceiling drop scene being in all white and Ethan, the lead character, in black for high contrast or the train scene with the rogue agents highlighted by all of them standing directly under bright lights.
Most movies have their own language and style. So why are viewer picking up on the orange and blue lighting so much?
People are picking up on the simplified use of colour in action movies because it is very noticeable. Like film noir in the 1930s using shadows and lights sparingly for budget reasons and emphasis on who or what is important in a scene. The orange and blue tones are used similarly but instead of it being used sparingly for budget reasons just for emphasis and the technology is now available to everyone.
When digitally colour grading these films, the colour balances of the highlights, midlights and lowlights are changed. The midlights and lowlights have added cyans, blues and greens. The highlights have reds, yellows and magentas added. Some people overdue the raised colour balances to noticeable levels.
The orange and blue would be used to differentiation the person from the background and make the person pop more for viewing. This is similar to how Blaze orange is used in construction. Orange is a colour that closely matches human skin tone and blue is just a background colour commonly found in most locations like a field with a bright blue sky, an office place or anywhere that blue could be incorporated in naturally. The background is usually washed out and de-saturated a lot. Sometimes, the orange is the fire which is in an action movie means there was an explosion.
This works in the movie like in nature because these colours are complementary colours. In a colour wheel, there are primary colours and secondary colours that work well together because opposites attract. One of the few times opposites truly works well together. The colours stand out next to each other. One primary colour and a secondary colour are made up of the other two primary colours. Primary colours are hues that can not be combined to be created while secondary colours are two primary colours combined.
Movies using complementary colours us not the only time anyone would ever see them. Christmas ‘ red and green colours and the LA Lakers’ yellow and purple are common examples of complementary colours.
The type of genre the film is can play a role with the colours used in a movie. A horror movie is most likely not going to be using orange and blue combinations in their movie because it may be inappropriate to use. They would need to emphasize dread or the unknown so using colours closely associated with flesh tones really depends on the film. Unless it’s a movie taking place during the day and there is a necessary need for the colour combination. If you think about what a horror movie is supposed to look like broad daylight does not come to mind.
Good colour choices help paint the canvas of the story that you are making.
A quick study on colour grading
Colour grading is a process to film to enhance the colour to film to stylize it or make it more of a cohesive product. Movies like the Traffic, Fight Club, It Follows or the movie that was first digitally colourized movie O Brother, Where Art Thou.
In Traffic, colour grading was used to divide the story into different narratives with colour. This was done by choice by the director Steven Soderbergh to make a more compelling story but (to me) it was distracting to get into the movie like other movies. Unlike, orange and blue hues being used for tone manipulation; the “normal” lens, the blue and the orange screens would look overdone by most people’s standards.
Fight Club had a sickly green for the office scenes of the unnamed actuary and the “beige is boring” home decor scene is colour-treated with dulled colours. The colour-grading here is used as emphasis to tell what the narrator is feeling. The office life is making him sick which is why it’s a sickly green. And the beige is for the overwhelming feeling that he feels bored with his life, amongst other things.
It Follows uses desaturated colours to make a scene look either ghostly like it’s always just at twilight [5 a.m.] which adds to the theme of the horror of the movie. Plus it makes the current fascination of neon lights pop in the film.
O Brother, Where Art Thou had the whole film has a brown sepia tone throughout. This is an important film to remember when thinking about digital colour applied to the film. It was to make the film look “very dry, dusty like an old picture book.” More is said in the featurette about the colour grading the art department did to the film to make the colours an additional character conveying the period, personality and temperature of the film.
Most of the colour grading techniques that were done in the early days of film were being phased out in the early 2000s because new technology was available. Most colour grading in a film can be achieved in video editing software like Adobe Premiere. People can edit the overall film to achieve a certain look or bring out certain colours to be more vibrant. As an example of video editing software, Adobe Premiere has a feature called Lumetri which you can change the colour values like in Photoshop to what is needed. There is also software from Da Vinci Resolve and Fusion 9 from Black Magic Design that is also interesting to use.