Seven Ways to Enhance Your Storytelling with Color

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As a storyteller, heightening the emotional response of your audience to your story is paramount. You’ve dialed in your writing, cast the perfect talent, the locations capture the scenes artfully, the DP is consummate, the composer’s music deftly supports the story arc – you’ve thought of it all. Or have you? Great storytelling takes us on an emotional journey full of hope and desire, worry and relief, joy and sorrow, longing and fulfillment and so much more. There is a powerful tool you may not be considering – color. Modern film directors and their cinematographers use color as a tool to create atmosphere and elicit intended emotional responses from their audiences. Whether the color strategy is scene specific as in The Matrix or embraced across an entire film, such as yellow tones in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, color is a powerful emotion creation mechanism.

At Ricochet we like to think of color as visual music. We apply color correction and color grading to enhance the stories we tell. Color grading is used to bring out specific colors the Director and DP have determined are essential to telling a story. But what colors generally signify what emotions? Psychologist Robert Plutchik developed a Wheel of Emotions decades ago, associating specific colors with specific emotions. The wheel is still used for film today, as it is here at Ricochet. The more intense the color, the more intense the emotion.

So as you conceive your next visual project, consider these 7 applications of color to enhance your storytelling:

1. Color can be used across a story to signify the specific feel or atmosphere of a location. The infamous film Fargo by the Cohen brothers uses the cool color blue to illicit the frigidness of the brutal North Dakota winter.

2. Color can be used to convey a specific character attribute. In the Disney film Beauty and the Beast, Belle is the only character in her town who wears blue, showing how she is different from those around her. Blue is then used to portray the Beast, portraying a kindred spirit between the two.

3. Color can be used to create different emotions in different scenes. Audiences begin relating color to specific emotions as a film progresses. For example, check out this great post by Isaac Botkin who diagrams the color theory on the film Black Hawk Down. Scenes expressing safety, confusion, danger etc. each have their own consistent palette.

4. Color can be used to indicate a specific state. For example in The Sixth Sense, anything which was contaminated by the nether world was red.

5. Color can be used to create contrast between people, places, or times in life. The classic example of this is The Wizard of Oz. Kansas is black and white exemplifying Dorothy’s boredom where the Land of Oz is in full saturated color, depicting interest and excitement. The yellow brick road itself uses yellow to communicate joy – the path is the resolution for Dorothy’s longing to return home.

6. Color can be used to make a statement, political or otherwise. In Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg used the color red on the little girl in the Krakow Ghetto as the only color in the film. “America and Russia and England all knew about the Holocaust when it was happening, and yet we did nothing about it. We didn’t assign any of our forces to stopping the march toward death, the inexorable march toward death. It was a large bloodstain, primary red color on everyone’s radar, but no one did anything about it. And that’s why I wanted to bring the color in,” said Spielberg.

7. Color can be used to show the change in a character’s degree of goodness or evilness. A classic example of this is Hitchcock’s Psycho with Janet Leigh’s character Marion Crane. In the beginning she wears a white bra and carries a white purse to establish her as being good. After she has taken the money which she knows is wrong, she wears a black bra and carries a black purse to indicate her evilness.

At Ricochet we tell stories across visual mediums. We’d love to talk with you about how we can help you tell yours. Drop us a note at


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