History of Color Movies

Though traditionally motion pictures are presented in color, the art of filmmaking didn’t always have the advantage of telling stories with the same visual spectrum that the human eye sees the world. Early films were only available in black and white, and even after color started being used in Hollywood, it took quite awhile before black and white wasn’t the norm.

A new video essay dives into the history of color movies and also illustrates how important it is to storytelling by conveying feelings, describing characters, influencing tone and much more. Because we see color everyday, we might just take for granted how it can be used to do more than just make something look pretty.

Here’s the video essay from Channel Criswell (via The Playlist):

Unless you’ve taken a film class, you may not realize that the earliest form of color filmmaking didn’t result from filters or special cameras. Instead, people like Thomas Edison and George Méliès physically colored on the actual film in order to bring vibrancy to their films. Thematically, the color was used to denote dream sequences or fantastical worlds. Yes, even the earliest use of color had significance beyond just being aesthetically pleasing.

In the relatively short history of film, color has become one of the most valuable tools in a filmmaker’s arsenal, helping to bolster the fundamental concept of showing and not telling the audience what they’re seeing and feeling. This video essay really dives into the importance of color, even explaining the differences between associate and transitional color and other lesser known details.

More simply, there’s a reason that Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber is blue in Star Wars, why the emotions of Pixar’s Inside Out were each given specific colors and why there’s so much red in We Need to Talk About Kevin. Color does more in filmmaking than we think about, and this video just might help you notice some more subtle touches in some of your favorite films.

On the other end of the spectrum, be sure to check out this showcase of some of the finest uses of black and white photography, which has come to have a style, influence and implication all its own in the filmmaking world.

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