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Denis Villeneuve’s Brilliant Use of Color Theory Explained in One Illuminating Video — Watch

From "Arrival" to "Sicario," lighting Amy Adams or Ryan Gosling, the "Blade Runner 2049" director uses color like no other.

"Blade Runner 2049"

“Blade Runner 2049”

Warner Bros.

Denis Villeneuve may be disappointed that “Blade Runner 2049” didn’t earn a Best Picture nod, but the gorgeous sci-fi epic did rack up five production nominations, including Best Visual Effects, Best Production Design, and Best Cinematography. The director knows how to tell a story with color and visuals like no one else in the game, crafting stunners like “Sicario” and “Arrival” with precision and emotion. An illuminating new video breaks down how the Canadian director uses color theory to communicate his characters’ interior lives.

To create tension and unease, for example, Villeneuve will use clashing or discordant colors in a single shot. This technique draws the eye to important details that will come into play later, enhancing a sense of mystery and intrigue. Transitional colors illustrate a character’s transformation, such as a subtle shift in “Arrival” from cool to warm hues as Louise learns more about her alien visitors. Similarly, Villeneuve uses associative colors to illustrate his characters’ emotionality, with blues representing isolation and reds for enlightenment and discovery.

Like a painter with his palette, the director uses the entire frame to communicate with the viewer. Check out the video essay below, and read more about Villeneuve’s use of color at Studio Binder.

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