ver the course of nine feature films, Denis Villeneuve has shown himself to be one of contemporary cinema’s leading filmmakers.

Known for his intense dramas, Villeneuve often allows his environments to act as extensions of his characters. Much of this is accomplished through color choice.

Here’s how Denis Villeneuve uses color theory to enhance the narrative.

Create a Movie Color Palette Like Denis Villeneuve

Discordant Colors

Denis Villeneuve Movie Color Palette

Mystery is at the center of Denis Villeneuve movies.

Since the perspective is often restricted to that of the characters, the audience learns about events as the characters do.

By keeping the viewer in the dark, Villeneuve enables intrigue and suspense to rise.

But more than just the story elements, Denis Villeneuve wants the movie color palette and props to enhance these feelings of tension.

Take Sicario for example.

Denis Villeneuve - Sicario - StudioBinder

Suspense built with out of place colors | Sicario (2015)

In a movie color palette, discordant colors deviate from a film’s color scheme and draw attention to important elements.

Here, as Alejandro enters the interrogation room, the blue water jug contrasts with the yellow room, helping to reinforce the idea of approaching violence.

In Denis Villeneuve movies, an object can reveal just as much as a character's dialogue.

Denis Villeneuve Movies Color Palette

Transitional colors

One of the major ways a movie color palette functions is by representing character traits and transformations.

Denis Villeneuve believes that every aspect of a character’s environment should reflect their emotional state.

Consider the character of Louise Banks in Arrival.

Denis Villeneuve - Arrival 1 - StudioBinder

Denis Villeneuve - Arrival 

Denis Villeneuve - Arrival 2 - StudioBinder

Character transformation through lighting | Arrival (2016)

While trying to understand the intentions of her alien visitors, Louise’s world is cool and blue, a monochromatic landscape mimicking her reservations about the situation.

But as her insight grows her perspective becomes vibrant and warm, like a light has turned on in her mind.

Here, the movie color palette is an extension of her being, making the emotions of the situation all-encompassing.


Associative colors

As mentioned, Denis Villeneuve movies employ striking colors to reinforce emotion.

Movie color palettes are ideal for enhancing the mindsets of their characters, and Villeneuve completely embraces this idea.

In his films, warm colors act the same way fire does, illuminating both mental and physical pathways.

Cool colors, on the other hand radiate, a sense of distance, keeping the character in an emotionally frozen state.

Take Blade Runner: 2049 for example.

Denis Villeneuve - Blade Runner 2049 - StudioBinder

Cool tones to enhance the tone | Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

In the example above, K (Ryan Gosling) walks down a street, his figure silhouetted against the cold environment.

In a movie color palette, blue represents melancholy and isolation.

K doesn’t have to utter a single word, for the movie color palette reveals the uncertainty of his current situation and future.

Again, for Denis Villeneuve everything within a scene should have purpose and draw attention to the emotional states of his characters.

up next

How to Use Color in Film

Because color has become so commonplace in cinema, it’s easy to take it for granted. Denis Villeneuve movies, however, understand the power of color theory, and how it compliments the events unfolding on screen.

As the filmmaker once said, “Making poetry with a camera--that’s the essence of what I do.” Denis Villeneuve’s poetry extends far beyond words into the movie color palette Still Curious? Download our free ebook on color theory or watch Mastering Color in Film Series!

Up Next: 50+ Examples of Movie Color Palettes →

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  • Matthew Vasiliauskas is a graduate of Columbia University. His work has appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, Berlin’s Sand Literary Journal, Chicago Literati and The Pennsylvania Review. Matthew currently lives and works in Los Angeles.

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