Director Ridley Scott has said: “Life isn’t black and white. It’s a million gray areas.” From Alien to Gladiator, Ridley Scott movies explore the often difficult questions surrounding morality and existence.  Actions accepted in one reality, may be condemned in another.  But what helps Ridley Scott films dissect these complex issues are their use of color theory.

In this post, we’re going to review Ridley Scott’s approach to choosing color palettes, and provide a free Ridley Scott color grading LUT Pack you can use on your next project.

Watch: How to Use Color Like Ridley Scott

Monochromatic Colors

Monochromatic colors create a strong sense of visual cohesion.

By using varying shades of a single color, the harmony of a scene can either be soothing, or create a bleak worldview (depending on the colors used). Ridley Scott movies recognize this aspect of color theory, and use singular tones to construct and reinforce narrative elements. Consider The Martian, for example.  
Ridley Scott - Movie Color Palette - The Martian

Ridley Scott movies use monochromatic colors to establish bleak worlds. The Martian (2015)

Orange is often associated with warmth, ambition and a new perspective on life.

It is a source of energy meant to shelter characters from moments of grief and disappointment.

Here, astronaut Mark Watney finds himself stranded in a seemingly desolate landscape.

But rather than lose hope, the all-encompassing warm colors provide both the character and audience a sense of optimism.

Cinema is first and foremost a visual medium, and knowing how to utilize the language of color palettes will will help in progressing the narrative forward. 

Associative Colors

In Ridley Scott films, color palettes often use associative colors to enhance the symbolism within a story.

A recurring color scheme can represent a particular person, place or idea. This can elicit a visceral reaction when viewers see the color on screen. This color theory tactic is very much present in the best Ridley Scott movies.

In the case of Black Hawk Down, Scott uses muddy brown and olive tones to establish the desolate and bleak landscape that is war-torn Mogadishu.
Ridley Scott Movie Color Palette - Black Hawk Down Helicopter

Although green can represent renewal and growth, it can also relate to greed, jealousy and sickness. 

Ridley Scott - Movie Color Palette - Black Hawk Down - Flea Market

Ridley Scott movies use associative colors to enhance symbolism. Black Hawk Down (2001)

Here, Scott uses the themes of steadfastness and health associated with brown, and puts them in conflict with the moral and emotional sickness of green.

The battle between these colors reflects Scott’s desire to showcase psychological turmoil, as well as the physical adversity between US forces and the Somali militia.  

For Ridley Scott films, color theory is a beneficial tool in strengthe

Discordant Colors

Color discordance is a deliberate decision by a filmmaker to deviate from a balanced color scheme.

Discordant colors help a character or detail stand out, and become more thematically impactful in the moment.

Often, Ridley Scott movies use dissonant color palettes to build tension and suspense within his alien worlds.

Take Prometheus for example. 
Ridley Scott - Movie Color Palette - Prometheus - Ship

Ridley Scott movies use color dissonance in building tension. Prometheus (2012)

The introduction of an out-of-place color in an otherwise balanced color scheme breaks the harmony of a scene.

Ridley Scott Movie Color Palette - Prometheus - Yellow Chambers

Here, David’s presence raises questions about his intentions. Is he simply curious about these sleeping passengers, or is there something more sinister afoot?

It is the color dissonance that heightens an audience’s sense of unease.

Ridley Scott Movie Color Palette - Prometheus - David on Ship

For Ridley Scott films, foreign colors against monochromatic landscapes reinforce the notion that characters are not natural (nor welcome) in these alien worlds.

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Download Your FREE Cinematic LUTs Pack for Color Grading

Make your project look and feel like a Ridley Scott masterpiece. These LUTs are designed with S-LOG footage in mind but can be used for any type of footage.

"The Martian" LUT Pack

The Martian - Free LUT Pack Download - StudioBinder

A perfect pack to give your project a highly saturated and contrasty look.

"BLADE RUNNER" LUT PACK

Blade Runner - Free LUT Pack Download - StudioBinder

Delivers a variety of styles to give your scene a cold, desolate look.

THE "BLACK HAWK DOWN" LUT PACK

Black Hawk Down - Free LUT Pack Download - StudioBinder

Two tones are included to give your a scene gritty, saturated look.

Download your FREE cinematic LUT pack below.

Wrapping Up

Ridley Scott has said, “Perhaps because of my background, I’m drawn to rich and beautiful colors.” Although Ridley Scott movies have taken on a wide-range of subject matter, they always make color integral to strengthening the elements of the narrative.

By embracing the psychology of color theory, Scott has ensured that his stories remain not only visually impactful, but thematically as well.

Still curious about color theory, and how it can elevate your own projects? Download our free ebook on using color in film.

And if you want to learn more, check out our Movie Color Palettes video series!

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