The Evolution of Movie Colors: From Black and White to Vibrant Color

Humans have always been fascinated with color. It’s how we perceive the world and is used to express ourselves through art. Colors show emotions and feelings. Red for anger or passion. Blue for sadness or dreaming. 

Color palettes have expanded as artists and creatives continue to push the spectrum. Back in the 18th century new blue colors were developed! A deeper black was discovered! Whether it’s a painting, a photograph or a movie, color is an integral part of art.

Seeing the latest blockbuster movie has become a huge thing in our culture now. Millions of dollars go into the productions of films and millions of people go to see them. Movie colors have changed over the years. Old movies used to just be black and white! Now you can see a full range of movie colors and directors can carefully pick and choose a color palette to set the scene.

 

The History of Movie Colors

In 1878, Englishman Eadweard Muybridge created a brief moving picture known as The Horse In Motion. Muybridge used multiple cameras to film a horse in motion. The photographs were assembled together, creating the first stop-motion movie.

The moving photographs became more refined as artists started to explore this medium. One of the great directors of the time was Georges Méliès. Méliès directed over 500 films between 1896 and 1913, ranging in length from one to forty minutes.

Slowly but surely, movies transitioned from black and white to color. Delicate film strips had paint carefully added to them by hand. The movie colors would translate onto the screen as the colored film strips ran through the projector. Hand painting was expensive and labor intensive so sometimes simple color tinting was used instead. 

Trip to the Moon by Georges Méliès is one of the more famous films of the time. The version with color is a great example of the painstaking process of painting colors onto the film strips.

 

1939 brought two of the most iconic early full color films: The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. The transition in The Wizard of Oz from black and white to color is not only a communication of the difference of those two worlds in the story, but also shows how much the technology in film has advanced through history. It was a triumph using Technicolor, a new 3-strip color process.

Modern Movie Colors

Color shows mood or style. Many different directors have signature color palettes. In particular, Wes Anderson is one that comes to mind. Even if you haven’t watched his movies, his style is very recognizable from just a screenshot. Wes Anderson chooses precise colors in his films. Pastel hues and an often hazy lens allow us to peer into a unique world that feels retro. It creates a dreamlike quality and a nostalgia for a time that could have been. 

movie colors | color palette | Wes Anderson | The Life Aquatic | movie color palette

The Life Aquatic, 2004 Color Palette by Movies in Color

movie colors | color palette | Wes Anderson | Fantastic Mr. Fox | movie color palette

Fantastic Mr Fox, 2009 Color Palette by Movies in Color

movie colors | color palette | Wes Anderson | Grand Budapest Hotel | movie color palette

The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014 Color Palette by Wes Anderson Palettes

The Batman v. Superman film faced criticism for its lack of color. We didn’t get the vibrant pop colors from comic book pages. Instead the muted colors made it hard to see the action on the screen. Many dubbed this color choice “grimdark.”

movie colors | batman v superman

In contrast, the recent Wonder Woman film showed a much more colorful version of her iconic suit than what we saw in Batman v. Superman. The reds and blues were more vibrant and the overall movie colors themselves were brighter even in darker war scenes.

movie colors | DC Comics | Wonder Woman | Gal Gadot movie colors | DC Comics | Wonder Woman | Gal Gadot movie colors | DC Comics | Wonder Woman | Gal Gadot

Finding Color Inspiration

Looking at your favorite illustrators, video games or movie colors is a great idea for finding inspiration. Pay attention to the color palettes, the shading and the style. Mimic your favorite style or color palette to practice something new!

For more color inspiration check out our color palettes inspired by movies and video games:
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Spider-Man Homecoming
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

 

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