ByRob Harris, writer at
Sometimes I play video games.
Rob Harris

It might not look it, but this still from Jupiter Ascending singuarly encapsulates an industry-wide trend that's been plaguing movies for years:

That is, the ever-pervading presence of the increasingly ubiquitous orange and blue color scheme.

The observant folks over at Priceonomics have noticed this rather strange phenomenon and think they might know why it's making all our modern movies look the same:

The color scheme, also known as “orange and teal” or “amber and teal” is the scourge of film critics – one of whom calls this era of cinema a “dark age.” You’re probably skeptical, so check out the following.

But I have to warn you, once you notice it, you won't be able to un-see the fields of blue and orange tainting our screens...


The Imitation Game

Into the Woods

The Wolf of Wall Street

Mad Max

And then there's the posters...

So why exactly is this happening - it can't just be coincidence, right? Well, it all has to do with modern technology's influence on color correction:

Back in the day, the colors projected on the silver screen depended first on how you shot and developed the actual, physical film, and then whether or not you had somebody go through and painstakingly, expensively apply more colors to every frame.

Now, most movies are shot digitally and it’s a lot easier to go back and rebalance things to achieve whatever affect you want. The big change that digitization made was it made it much easier to apply a single color scheme to a bunch of different scenes at once. The more of a movie you can make look good with a single scheme, the less work you have to do.

One way to figure out what will look good is to figure out what the common denominator is in the majority of your scenes. And it turns out that actors are in most scenes. And actors are usually human. And humans are orange, at least sort of! Most skin tones fall somewhere between pale peach and dark, dark brown, leaving them squarely in the orange segment of any color wheel. Blue and cyan are squarely on the opposite side of the wheel.

You may remember from preschool that “opposite” color pairs like this are also known as “complementary” colors. That means that, side-by-side, they produce greater contrast than either would with any other color. And when we’re talking about color, contrast is generally a desirable thing.

One theory for why orange and blue has become so popular among filmmakers comes from blogger Todd Miro, who believes that making actors appear orange denotes a certain warmth and likeability, while the blue background serves as an aesthetically pleasing contrast. As Cracked's Dan Seitz wrote:

It's not necessarily laziness per se. Your average colorist has to grade about two hours of movie, frame by frame sometimes, in the space of a couple of weeks. It doesn't take that many glances at the deadline bearing down on the calendar before you throw up your hands and say, 'Fuck it. Everybody likes teal and orange!'

Well there you have it.

Have you noticed this growing trend - does it annoy you?

[Source: Priceonomics]


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