Approaching colour per era
When we were approached to do the colour correction for McDonald’s ‘Bungeejump’ (TBWA\NEBOKO, Electric Zoo, directed by Martin Werner), I was asked how we could achieve different looks. In ‘Bungeejump’, our main character jumps off a tall brigde and has a several flashbacks of him enjoying the famous burger throughout his life. I also jumped to the opportunity to compile a few ideas myself and separate what could be done in post and in-camera. In the past I have been involved in many a session where I, as a colourist, sat with the cinematographer, make-up and art department. Synchronizing ideas, testing of stock, lenses, make-up, clothing, and ironing out potential issues long before the shoot. My experience is when all of these departments play the same sheets, it will all come together like a beautiful orchestrated piece in the end. The following is what I sent as ideas and suggestions. Hope you enjoy it.
1950: Vibrant technicolor tones of the skin. Muted blues and cyans, with a high contrast film-noir style of lighting. Classic studio hair lights and hard fill lights. Note the use of coloured props and clothing, the blue pj's, yellow raincoat, olive green vest and red bedspread.
1960: Improved film stocks delivered more detail in the blacks and highlights, producing less contrasty images and more subtle colour tones. Lots of pastel tones in the art-direction with the occasional vibrant primary colours. Earlier productions, like the examples of Spartacus, saw a less refined understanding of balancing the colour temperatures of the light sources. It produced an interesting look of deep blue, almost magenta, shadows with tungsten key light faces. Also note the studio-esque style of lighting.
1970: New styles of cinematography start to emerge. The 35mm film stocks have improved dramatically and so has the choice and quality of glass used. Being able to shoot on location, forced film crews to adapt its lighting techniques to more natural. Softer fills and careful bounces are the norm. Hair and rim lights are subtle to none, except for when intended for dramatic effect, as there is no need to accentuate the separation of subject from background as film stocks pick up on these subtleties. Popular warming in-camera filters create near sepia effects. Warm filters, combined with tungsten film and cool-toned art-direction, create the near duo-tone images like in 'Jaws'. Smaller 35mm and 16mm cameras also allowed for shooting on location more than before. Like shooting from inside a cab. This sort of pioneering in guerilla-style shooting produced interesting colour tones, due to the lack of controlled colour temperatures, like green in the blacks and warm highlights in 'Taxi Driver'.
1980: There is divide in high and low(er) budget productions. Carefully balancing the colour temperatures on set, is time consuming and therefore expensive. But the differences are clearly visible by comparing "Back to The Future" with "The Breakfast Club". Bigger productions reintroduced the use of hair and rim lights and carefully lit night-for-night shoots as an addition to their production value. In productions like 'The Goonies' and 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', we can clearly see the 'harder' studio lighting, creating film-noir-like venetian blinds effects in the shadows which are often cleverly combined with atmospheric elements like dust and water. In-camera filtering stepped up a gear as well with gradients. Very popular became the tobacco-gradient as seen in the 'Top Gun' examples. 'Miami Vice' took it to the next level by combining the film-noir lighting techniques with the heavy in-camera-filtering. Hair lights on a carefully lit night-for-night shoot. Note the subtle wet-down which is standard issue for any night shoot in the 80s, 'Blade Runner', 'Black Rain'
1990: In this era people either backed away from the heavy in-camera filtering, or experimented even more. Those who backed away regressed to an almost 70's style of high production value cinematography, but with the addition of improved film stocks creating more colour separation and therefor more saturated images. 'Forrest Gump', 'The Fugitive' and 'Silence of The Lambs' focussed more on clever editing and improved camera-motion enabled by smaller, more agile cranes and dolly's than their 70's counterparts. Those who did experiment more, did so in bleach-by-passing in the lab, creating high contrast images, cool and low saturated images like those in 'Saving Private Ryan'. Experiments with the shutter angle from 180 to 90 degrees. And purposely combining incandescent or fluorescent light with either daylight or tungsten film to create surreal tones.