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Visual Storytelling

Visual Storytelling

How can colors tell a story? The use of color in film.

The use of colors in films has drastically matured over the last 100 years. Filmmakers can create memorable emotional journeys through the masterful implementation of colors. Although we know that colors affect us on a psychological level, we have just begun to discover their full potential in improving visual storytelling.

“You need a sympathetic hero on a vital quest against insurmountable obstacles.” Charles Wilkinson

The essential piece of a well produced movie is a story that resonates with its audience. Good movies capture our attention from the very beginning through their sound, visual atmosphere and characters we cannot help but root for or despise. We watch movies because they allow us to dive into an alternate reality for a brief moment and experience life from a new perspective.

The thrill of watching a new movie is not the watching per se, but rather the emotions we feel as the story progresses. At first we may be confused about the world but as we go on and understand its rules and the motivations behind each character, soon enough we start to relate with them and create our own protagonists or antagonists for that story even if it is not directly implied. A movie that does not invoke such an emotional journey is pointless and falls behind the idea of what movies exist for.

Creating a believable and investing story is an extremely difficult task and for that reason storytelling in movies often makes use of old but proven literary techniques that have existed since the times of Aristotle. Of course, the addition of carefully composed sounds to emphasise the emotions in each scene further adds the much needed action to the story progression.

Although storytelling is the most crucial part of any film, it is hard to deny that the main reason we watch movies is to them. Generally speaking, filmmakers are visual artists and they tell the stories we love so much using a universal visual language that we all feel and understand even when we are unable to explain how. It is exactly this visual component that turns a good story into a masterpiece.

Looking back at human history we can see that the development of visual arts has always been of great importance to us and has survived even in times of war and famine. If we make a recap of all the historical developments in visual styles and techniques it would become clear how clean and efficient we have become in conveying emotions without speech.

Filmmaking is one of the youngest fields in the family of visual arts. You may see this statement as a critique, but the fact is, it is more of a compliment for how far the industry has come in such a short timeframe and has managed to combine all the knowledge and wisdom of its predecessors.

The centuries of trials and errors in painting, sculpting and even architecture have provided filmmakers with a solid practical base for diverse visual expression.

Photography was born in the early 1800s when an image of the world, a fleeting slice of time, was captured for the first time. Since its discovery, composition, light and shadows have become core components of making pictures.

The use of color in films came a century later and has drastically matured ever since.

At first, cinematographers used solely light and shadows to tell their stories but life itself was never black and white and so the audience craved for colors. They wanted colors so bad that some filmmakers undertook ridiculous ventures in order to bring it into their movies.

Long before Technicolor began experimenting with color film processing, filmmakers would paint black and white films by hand, frame by frame.

Filmmakers are visual artists and they tell the stories we love so much using a universal visual language that we all feel and understand even when we are unable to explain how.

The reason for using colors in films might seem obvious: to make the images livelier, more dynamic and attractive. However, the true reason was to improve visual storytelling. Because colors affect us on a psychological level, filmmakers use them to make a scene resonate with us emotionally, to evoke joy, worry or fear.

It can be safely assumed that most viewers will exhibit similar or even identical emotions to colored scenes. Of course, in the end it is all subjective and vague and highly dependent on the current mental state of the viewers. Colors need to be effectively applied and used by filmmakers but should not be seen as a limitation.

The use of colors in a movie can bring to light the various personality traits of the characters, their psychological state or even their emotions and desires as they are developed throughout the story. They can also be expanded into providing a balanced and harmonious environment or towards the opposite effect of bringing heavy tension and locking the viewer’s attention through suspense. In essence, colors help set the tone and allow for the easier highlight of details in movies.

It should not be misunderstood that individual colors represent or suggest something concrete. Any color isolated from an idea or context has little to no significant effect by itself. That is simply not how our emotions work and most definitely not how the human brain processes visual data.

In conclusion, filmmakers combine the use of colors, composition and sound to establish meaningful multi-layered scenes that can take the viewers aback. In skilful hands, colors are a weapon that adds a unique character to any visual storytelling format.

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