Paint it Black? A Look at David Fincher's Color Palette. by Juan Hernandez

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1 Paint it Black? A Look at David Fincher's Color Palette by Juan Hernandez

2 A Look at David Fincher's Color Palette by Juan Hernandez 2 David Fincher has been labelled all variations of a 'prince of darkness'. Perhaps rightfully so, as his movies mostly are crafted with a signature color palette (the colors and tones used throughout a film) which consists of dark tones, mostly green and blue. Beyond aesthetics, why does Fincher shoot his movies this way? Because it looks cool? Or is there an additional layer of meaning to the colors in his films? In this Fincher Film School article I will give some examples on how Fincher uses tones and colors to amplify emotions and feelings of the story, supporting the actors' performances, the musical score and staging. There s a scene in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo where Henrik (Christopher Plummer) begins to tell Mikael (Daniel Craig) the story of the day when Harriet disappeared. The scene is filled with shots of them talking and flashbacks of the story Henrik is telling. Compare the tones of the frames and you see they are both yellow. But the ones of the present day are a cold yellow, the ones from the past are much brighter and a warm yellow. You have heard people refer to the 'the good old days'. This is how Henrik remembers those days; as warm, happy and much brighter than his present which is cold and empty. 1 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Henrik Vanger remembers the day Harriet disappeared. As the scene progresses there s a point where the tones and colors of the present day frames begin to get warmer and brighter, just as if Henrik gets happy about remembering and talking about those 'good old days'.

3 A Look at David Fincher's Color Palette by Juan Hernandez 3 This could also express that by hiring Mikael there s a small chance Henrik might get those days back, which is why as he talks to him the frames get warmer and warmer, his faith in finding Harriet, begins to grow more and more. 2 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Henrik Vanger and Mikael Blomkvist discuss the case. There s another interesting example of how Fincher uses color to express a character's feelings in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: The scene when Lisbeth returns to her home after being raped. A continuous shot approaches Lisbeth from behind, ending on her head upside down. The visual choreography literally says Lisbeth's world is turning 'upside down'. Yet the color also suggests something very important Lisbeth's burning anger. Her emotions are so vivid in this moment. It is as if she had a fire inside her. The tone of her face, accordingly, is red. When usually it is pale, in this shot it is a vivid red that lets the audience know how she feels. 3 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Lisbeth Salander burning with anger.

4 A Look at David Fincher's Color Palette by Juan Hernandez 4 You're still awake at 3:30 in the morning, and you feel all tired and kind of dry? Fincher uses color in Zodiac to convey this very feeling: When Graysmith and Melanie are waiting for Avery's call. As you can see in the frame, the colors are dried in comparison to the colors in the beginning of their date. As the colors of the frame dry, the characters' energy also begins to dry. The tiredness of the characters could be express in a line of dialogue, through posture, or as in this case emphasized by the tones in the frame. 4 Zodiac Waiting up for a late night phone call. Overall, Zodiac is given an old, vintage looking color palette rooting the story in the 1970s, and just as Graysmith himself searches through dated files, we re looking for the killer over some old footage. Whether it s on interior or exterior shots: The tones and light of the frame help immerse the audience in the time period. 5 Zodiac Colors from a distinct era: Zodiac's 1970s look.

5 A Look at David Fincher's Color Palette by Juan Hernandez 5 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has the most vivid and varied color palette of all Fincher movies. In this film the color palette helps convey emotions of sadness, happiness, love, fulfillment, and so on. A striking example is the scene in which Benjamin takes his father to watch the sun rise and accompany him in his death. At the beginning we see that the colors establish a sad mood. As Benjamin says but when it comes to the end, you have to let go, we see the sunlight on Thomas' face and the colors of the frame come to life. This change of tones can mean the sudden epiphany Thomas goes through just before he dies or as Benjamin says, the moment when he 'lets go' and embraces the life he had, regardless of how everything went. 6 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Benjamin and his father awaiting the sunrise.

6 A Look at David Fincher's Color Palette by Juan Hernandez 6 The second example from this film is a very similar use of color in past and present days as in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As we can see, the colors from the past are brighter, more vivid, and more varied in tone than the ones from the present day, which are very limited tones of blue and overall cold. The difference, here, is that the variety and brightness of the colors do not express happiness or a nostalgic feeling coming from the narrator. They express how alive the characters are at these times when they are presented. 7 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Daisy remembers: Now and then. To further comprehend this use of the color palette, we can compare how the flashbacks begin to gain warmth and variety of tones at the beginning of the movie. As the story progresses, however, there comes a point at which they begin to get cold and more muted. In other words, they progressively desaturate: When Daisy begins to take care of Benjamin as a child is the moment where the colors start to dry (SEE 8). Another interesting aspect of the film is how some frames seem to be dominated by one color. When this happens it is usually done in a way that a specific mood and feeling is expressed. After the battle at sea, for example, we see that the frames are almost entirely blue. This color makes that specific moment feel sad, cold, and lifeless (SEE 9). But just as some frames can be dominated by blue and cold tones, others are dominated by warm and bright tones.

7 A Look at David Fincher's Color Palette by Juan Hernandez 7 8 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Colors fade as story progresses. 9 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Colors fade as story progresses. As one of the most emotional scenes of the movie, Benjamin and Daisy lying in bed together shows how happy and fulfilled the characters were when they were with each other. A warm yellow tone of the frame helps expressing that feeling to the audience. 10 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button A happy memory: Benjamin and Daisy in bed.

8 A Look at David Fincher's Color Palette by Juan Hernandez 8 There s another interesting aspect to the use of a certain color in the movie the color red. During the film, there are scenes in which Benjamin or Daisy are shown wearing something red. This gives us a hint on which of the two is falling for the other. The one who is falling for the other in that moment is not wearing anything red. Watch the scene when Daisy and Benjamin go out for dinner. Daisy is wearing a red dress, Benjamin is not wearing anything red. In this scene, Benjamin is falling for Daisy. In a previous scene when Benjamin is leaving the house he s wearing a red shirt, while Daisy, whom in the scene tells him to send her a post card from everywhere, is not wearing anything red. This is Daisy falling for Benjamin (SEE ALSO 7). 11 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button A symbol of love: The color red. At the height of their romantic time together, Benjamin and Daisy take a swim together, staring at each other for a moment. Probably the scene with the most vivid and beautiful colors of the film, this could express that maybe this is the most beautiful memory Benjamin and Daisy share. 12 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Vivid colors: their most beautiful memory.

9 A Look at David Fincher's Color Palette by Juan Hernandez 9 LIST OF FIGURES 1 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Zodiac Zodiac The Curious Case of Benjamin Button The Curious Case of Benjamin Button The Curious Case of Benjamin Button The Curious Case of Benjamin Button The Curious Case of Benjamin Button The Curious Case of Benjamin Button The Curious Case of Benjamin Button...8 COPYRIGHT REFERENCES All images used in this paper fall under the ownership of the following copyright holders: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 2011 Sony Pictures Zodiac 2007 Paramount Pictures The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 2008 Warner Bros./Paramount Pictures DECLARATION OF FAIR USE 17 U.S.C. 107 The fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include: the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

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