Art Direction: Activity 3
Color and Texture
In addition to architectural elements and set decoration, production designers rely on color, tone and texture to help realize their vision. Often the main characters in a script are assigned color and fabric palettes. When choosing a palette, designers consider the characters’ emotional journey as well as their social and cultural background. The chosen colors may show up in the characters’ costumes, in the props they use, or in the décor of their habitat. Colors can have culturally specific symbolic meaning. In Western cultures, for example, red usually denotes danger; white denotes purity. In the Chinese culture, white is the color of death, and red signifies happiness and health.
Colors can hint at the emotions or states of mind of a character. As used in the story sequences in A Little Princess (1995), for example, the bright oranges and purples, when contrasted with the grays and browns of the rest of the movie, suggest the happiness in Sara’s past. Certain colors can even suggest physical states. To bring out the theme of drought in the script of Chinatown (1974), production designer Richard Sylbert chose white buildings for many of his locations, because “white makes you feel hotter.”
Color tones and shading are also important in art direction. Saturated, deep colors convey a sense of seriousness and intensity, while bright colors suggest lightness and delicacy. Black-and-white photography reproduces the world exclusively in tones of black, gray and white. Therefore, a production designer working on a black-and-white film must be aware of how the colors of his or her set are going to translate into those tones.
The texture of a wall, prop, furniture piece or costume is another tool of the production designer. Along with color, the choice of materials can add to the overall design concept. For William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, for example, production and costume designer Catherine Martin separated the Capulet and Montegue families through choices of color, pattern and texture. She selected dark reds and blacks and fabrics like leather and denim for the Capulet family, and bright-colored Hawaiian shirt patterns for the rival Montegues.
To illustrate how colors affect how we view a film, have your students observe and describe places in their everyday world in terms of color. Ask them how the colors of their classroom, bedroom, doctor’s office, etc., make them feel. Then have them write a scene set in their school or neighborhood and describe what colors and textures they might use to heighten the drama.
Have students pick a favorite novel and devise palettes for the main characters. Palettes may be done as a collage or a chart, but should include color chips and fabric swatches from local paint or fabric stores. Ask students to explain how their palettes connect to the story’s characters and development.