Combination of Colours in the Cinema with the Chromatic Circle

We have already talked about colour in graphic and web design : how the good choice of a colour palette can help us convey what we want. But colour is not only important in design, but is present in all areas of our day to day.

We could talk about colour in many different areas, but since the delivery of the Oscars is still present, today we will focus on the colour in the cinema. In this article we were discussing some films and series and how the colour made us move to the atmosphere that the director wanted. The colour (or the absence of it) is responsible for making us feel fear, love … And even make us intuit that a certain situation can happen.

Sometimes the good use of them can tell us more than the words themselves, so that the analysis of a film by colour can get us understand some aspects that maybe we had overlooked.

In this way, since we know perfectly the colour combinations in the chromatic circle (if not, you can remember them in this infographics) and what each one represents, today we are going to look for those combinations in the cinema. As you will see below, they are much more common than you think, because thanks to them, it is easier to represent some feelings.

Remember, before beginning the analysis it is worth remembering that there areseveral feelings that are coupled to a colour, so depending on how we use it we will be representing one feeling or another.

For example, red colour. As you all know it is the colour of passion and love but so is the colour of violence. Depending on the context in which we find it, this will transport us to one or another atmosphere. Or… do these two frames represent the same?


American Beauty, by Sam Mendes


The Shining, by Stanley Kubrick

In general, the use or absence of colour is carefully thought out and in most cases is done to represent what the director seeks. For example, it is not uncommon for a film to be developed in the desert that all coloursare warm (even those of actors’ clothes that could be of any colour,) and if on the contrary we want to transmit cold, the Director uses blue and grey.

Just as we always say that we use colours to convey the exact feeling we want, when we talk about design we see that cinema does it continuously. Let’s start with the combinations!

Combination of complementary colours

It is perhaps one of the most used in the cinemaby the contrast that marks. With the use of this combination it is easy to represent conflicting feelings, whether of the protagonists or the scenarios.

One of the combinations widely used in cinema is blue–orange or blue-yellow (depending on the hue of blue.) It is perhaps the one that gives the greatest contrast, mixing the use of a warm colour with a cold one at its highest essence. In addition, these two colours are present in many everyday areas, the sky and the sea are blue and our skin orange.

If we want to mark this hue much more, we can play with the shades of colour and introduce a stronger yellow or a brighter blue, depending on the case.

In this case, the example that we bring you is very current, La La Land, Damien Chazelle. In it we can see different combinations of colours that vary depending on the mood of the protagonists as well as the way in which they matured their ideas. But perhaps the most characteristic is the one we can see on the billboard, in which under a blue atmosphere, the protagonist, who already perfectly represents the orange, appears dressed in a yellow dress.


Although the complementary colour of red is cyan, often in art a traditional form of complementary colours is used to reach the harmony of colour. In this case the complementary colour of red is green and this combination is widely used in cinema.

In addition to being two colours with great force, they transmit countless feelings and sensations, which makes them very versatile. It is also worth remembering that green is the colour from which we are able to distinguish more tonalities, so we can see this combination of colours in an infinity of films that do not use the same tonality.

Although there are many films in which we can observe this combination, today we show you Vertigo, by Alfred Hitchcock. In addition to being able to appreciate this combination in almost all scenes, if we analyse it more carefully we realize that each colour is matched to a character and when they begin to change, so does the colour they had.

In this way there are many scenes in which we can see the contrast of these two colours, which mark the differences between them.


Combination of analogous colours

As you know it is the combination of close colours in the chromatic circle. Although it takes much of the monochromatic combination we cannot confuse it with this, because in addition to a main colour, there are two or more adjacent colours that have the same strength.

This is the combination most used when you want to represent a very specific feeling or transport us to a special atmosphere in which the entire film unfolds.

For this reason, there are movies that use it in very concrete scenes to signify a change of expression or the maturation of some characters for example, and others that do it throughout the film, as if we were looking at it through a filter of this colour. Clearly, each option comes to represent something different.

On the one hand, in Life of Pi, by Ang Lee we find some scenes in which the warmth is seized and the chromatic range that predominates is warm. This does not happen during the entire film as it involves a contract.


In Lost in Translation, by Sofia Coppola we can observe how those scenes that speak of the solitude of the characters appear behind a blue filter that turns them blue / grey and transports us to that restlessness and sadness that the characters feel.


On the other hand, there are other films in which the whole atmosphere itself transmits us to a place. In this case we have chosen two, one that uses a range of cold colours and others that uses a warm one.

The Revenant by Alejandro González Iñárritu, presents a range of cold colours, that transport us to that “hardships” of the protagonist. It makes us feel the same cold as him, and for a moment we forget that we are in the cinema and we are in the cold snow at his side.


In The Martian, by Ridley Scott the oppositehappens. We are in the red planet, so everything is shown to us from that atmosphere. Everything is seen from a prism of that colour, making us perfectly understand the place where the character is.


Combination of Monochrome colours

This combination is used more in concrete scenes than in the totality of a film, since it consists in giving the same tone to the whole scene to represent a concrete feeling.

In this way, sometimes the chosen colour expands to the whole film as analogous combination, but in other occasions the opposite happens and we use a complementary colour to give contrast and to represent in the scene an opposite feeling.


The Truman Show, by Peter Weir

Combinations of Triad colours

This combination is also very usual in the cinema, being a very striking combination. It has the contrast of the complementary but adding a third colour that gives harmony to the triad.

Having great strength, they are more used in superhero movies or animation, in which we need to highlight vibrant colours that attract attention and that does not go unnoticed.

In addition, because of this force, it is more difficult to balance them so normally one colour is taken as the principal and the next two are added.

As I said, it is very used in superhero movies, so the example I bring is Batman, by Leslie H. Martinson (in this case of 1966,) in which between the two characters we find the triad of colour.


In Made in USA by Jean-Luc Godard, we can also see how to use a tricolour combination of two colours provides that harmony and contrast at the same time.


I hope you have enjoyed these examples. As I have been saying there are many more, so all the proposals for the next article are welcome!

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