Originally appeared in Vague Terrain 03: Generative Art
ColorScheme is a moving “spectral painting” composed of textures sampled from Hollywood cinema. Presented as a screen-based video installation, it uses sampling to reveal how color is subconsciously used in Hollywood cinema to create meaning, support thematic directions, and to set the tone for narrative storytelling.
In a film production, the art director establishes a “look and feel” which is then used in the set design, lighting, costume design and set location. While these decisions are more than often overlooked in popular film criticism (where narrative and theme are more important), they are essential in the physical and emotional experience of a film. ColorScheme highlights these creative decisions by removing all the form from a film and examining its use of color.
In the history of visual arts, color has been used psychologically in expressionism, emotionally in impressionism, physiologically in optical art, and symbolically in medieval painting. ColorScheme places a lens over Hollywood cinema, inviting the audience to recognize it applications and uses of color.
A “spectral painting” is a composition that visualizes the relationships of the colors used to compose the scene of a film, focusing on the choice of hues, tones, and shades. The term “spectral” denotes the analytic process-based approach of the project; it is neither intended as a mechanism for creating abstract nor representational compositions, but rather as an aesthetic visualization.
The project runs on a custom-authored software developed in C using Apple’s QuickTime library. The software analyses films frame-by-frame, pixel-by-pixel to reveal which colors are used in the composition of a scene. It determines the most dominant colors of a film’s frame and visualizes those colors on a two-dimensional graph.
The painterly visualization displays hues on the x-axis (from red to violet) and brightness on the y-axis (from bright to dark). For example, if a bright red color is one of the frame’s dominant colors, then red-colored textures sampled from the film will be placed in the top left hand side of the composition/visualization. If that red color is very dominant then a larger patch of red will be “painted” in the visualization. Each frame of the film is analyzed and its corresponding “spectral” composition is generated. All of the compositions are then organized together in the original sequence and re-connected with the film’s soundtrack. The use of the soundtrack allows viewers to establish a connection between the original story and the use of color.
ColorScheme samples Hollywood cinema to create entirely new visual compositions. If those moving compositions evoke the original mood of the sampled scenes in the viewer, then the composition will have been successful. The work also pays homage to certain techniques in 20th century painting. Claude Monet, for example, utilized a layered brush stroke technique to achieve the texture of his impressionist paintings. When projected in a gallery space, ColorScheme can be experiences from multiple distances, to view the work as a whole and the sampled textures sampled from a film to create the composition.
Certain films will indeed reveal a stronger or more evocative use of color (Hitchcock’s Vertigo) while others may have less obvious uses or perhaps none whatsoever. Only a few films were initially selected for the project. They include BladeRunner, Vertigo, Aliens, and Apocalypse Now. ColorScheme will certainly be expanded in the future to examine films from other genres of filmmaking.
Jeremy Rotsztain's biography