Monday 11 November 2013

Research Bulletin: Exploring the Colour Palette of Different Film Genres

Different genres of narrative cinema rely upon different tropes. In a romance film, we expect that the two protagonists will eventually end up together, no matter the obstacles that might appear. Similarly, in a horror movie, we know that peeking behind the forbidden door will never end well. But genre films rely upon more than just familiar plot points, they often share different aesthetic devices as well, such as the sound mixing, the style of editing, and the cinematography. A study by I-Ping Chen, Fang-Yi Wu, and Chih-Hsiang Lin (National Chiao Tung University) recently explored how colour is employed in different genres of film. They began by sampling 30 random films from five separate genres: Romance, Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi, and Action. Random stills from these films were then sampled and analyzed with respect to colour, contrast, and brightness. What they found was that Romance and Comedy films tended to group together in their use of warm colours like red and yellow, whereas the other three genres tended to use cooler colours like blue and green. Comedy films also tended to be the brightness, followed by Romance, then the remaining three genres. A similar pattern was found with contrast, with Romance and Comedy being higher in contrast than Horror, Sci-Fi, and Action. The researchers were also able to explore the variability in these values among films within a genre. For example, there was little variability in contrast across different Comedy films, illustrating that films in this genre are consistently high in contrast. On the other hand, Horror films had the highest variability in contrast, which means that different Horror films were more likely to have different levels of contrast compared to other genres. Overall, this study provides an example of how innovative technologies can be applied to answer novel questions regarding narrative media. Although we might have had some intuitions regarding some of these findings, such as what colour choices were most common for certain genres, there are unique findings here that would have been difficult to predict based on lay intuitions, such as the amount of variability for these values for different genres. The application of automated computerized analyses to answer questions regarding aesthetics and narrative is becoming easier as a result of advances in inexpensive computing power. These approaches are a useful complement, and often starting point, for more in-depth investigations to determine whether these differences and similarities are psychologically meaningful. 

Chen, I., Wu, F.-Y., & Lin, C.-H. (2012). Characteristic color use in different film genres. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 30, 39-57.

* For a copy of the original article, please contact R. Mar (see profile).

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