Color Grading Your Story

Happy Good Friday/Regular Friday (if the celebration of Good Friday is not your thing).

Days ago, I watched a YouTube video on the digital color grading for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy (2001-2003). I know. Random. The following is not the video I watched that day. But it provides a really good explanation about digital color grading for film.

Lest you’re sitting there, unable to muster concern about the subject, let me just say there’s been a lot of talk of movie color palettes. While some praised the Lord of the Rings movies for their color palette, others denounced Jackson’s The Hobbit (2012) for being “too crisp and bright.” And while some Marvel’s movie palettes have been praised for their brightness, some DC movie palettes have been criticized as too murky. Even when DC tried to brighten things up with Justice League (2017), some people still criticized them. Movie fans can be fickle, I guess.

       

In an article by David Geffin, “The Power Of Color Grading And The Benefit It Can Have On Your Work Summarized In Two Minutes” (and yes, all of those articles and prepositions were capitalized by this author, so please don’t feel the need to point out capitalization errors in the comments), we find this truth:

Color is so important because, like lighting, it affects a mood and feel of a piece, and therefore how we interpret the final image.

Geffin includes the two-minute video mentioned in the title that you can check out if you click here.

I’m a big fan of color to enhance mood. But what can you do in a book where the imagination is the only screen you have to work with?

I like to use thematic colors in narration. In my young adult novel with three protagonists, I have a fire wielder, a plant wielder, and one person in between who is neutral. (While he does not wield an element, he has the ability to block magic.)

Let’s say Rosie Bloom (left) is my fire wielder while Macy Macaron (right) is my plant wielder. (Okay, the fact that Rosie has roses kind of messes up the analogy, but work with me here.) Shuri (middle) is my neutral person.

My plant wielder might be dressed in natural colors on the cooler side of the spectrum (green and blue) to make you think of a forest or a river flowing by trees. Emotionally, she’s a bit down also, so the blue palette does double duty for her.

My fire wielder was trickier. As an assassin, I couldn’t put him in warm, fiery colors, because he’d stand out. He prefers the shadows. So, I had to use color in a different way—to highlight his emotion, i.e., through phrases like “the red blaze of his anger.”

My neutral dude was a lot easier. He wears a lot of gray, because some of his actions fall into a gray area morally at times.

Another way to color grade a story is to make sure the colors that emphasize mood are the ones emphasized on a page.

19063In this passage from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, what do you see? (SPOILER ALERT. Look away if you don’t want to know something that could possibly spoil a plot point in the book or the movie. I will tell you when to look.)

   There were shocked pajamas and torn faces. It was the boy’s hair she saw first.

Rudy?

She did more than mouth the word now. “Rudy?”

He lay with his yellow hair and closed eyes, and the book thief ran toward him and fell down. She dropped the black book. (Zusak, 535)

In this aftermath of a bombing, I see two colors: yellow and black. This scene involves Liesel Meminger who makes a grisly discover concerning her friend, Rudy Steiner. Zusak mentioned two colors that enhance mood: the bright yellow of Rudy’s hair, which shows the brightness of a life tragically ending in death—reminiscent of the black book Liesel drops. Ending with the black book after the yellow hair is like watching a solar eclipse. (END SPOILER)

In what ways have you seen colors used effectively to enhance mood? Perhaps you’ve seen filters and other highlights done well on Instagram or Facebook. Do tell!

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print.

Color grade image from fstoppers.com. Book cover from Goodreads. Justice League movie poster from fanpop.com. The Hobbit movie poster from flicks.co.nz. Rose Bloom and Macy Macaron are Shoppie dolls made by Moose Toys. Shuri, from the movie Black Panther, was made by Hasbro. Photo by L. Marie.