Sunday, January 25, 2009

Color, Music and Mood

As I mentioned in the post below, when putting together a film, the palette you use and the music you choose are the most important tools for making the audience feel the way you want them to feel from scene to scene. As I said, a dark palette will make your audience feel one way and a bright palette will make them feel another, just as a palette of cold colors will give one feeling to the viewer and one of warm colors will give a different feeling.

Anyway this is far from a hard-and-fast rule, of course, and there are plenty of contrary examples. Sometimes contrast is your greatest tool: for example, if your character is depressed, putting him in the middle of a colorful birthday party may make him seem all the more depressed by contrast, and may work even better than putting him in a gray room on a rainy day.

Anyway here are some screengrabs that I got from this great site: As you look at each one, think about the feeling you get from each based on the colors used. It's easy to see why so may film makers exploit the way color and tone can help amplify the feeling they are trying to communicate.

Music functions the same way; the musical soundtrack is very helpful at getting the audience into the mood that you want them to experience. We all know what it's like when they show a trailer at the movies and that sweeping, epic music kicks in...we know exactly what type of movie they're selling and what type of emotion we'll get from that movie. And then think about when you see a trailer for a comedy, and think about the kind of music that usually kicks in...a light, jaunty kind of number that makes the movie feel light and fun. So in the minute or so that the studio has to sell you on the idea of the movie they use music to help sell the type of feeling the movie will have when you go see it. Imagine what it would be like if the type of music in the trailer was reversed, if a trailer for a movie like "Revolutionary Road" had light and bouncy music, or if the trailer for "Hotel for Dogs" had big sweeping music that sounded like it came from "Braveheart" or something. The contrast would probably have a confusing effect, although it might also be pretty funny.

If I had the time and/or the resources I would love to take clips from movies and re-cut them with different music. Definitely if I taught a film class I would do that, it would really be informative to experiment around with that. Maybe somebody on the Internet has already done this and somebody could point us all in that direction.

That's one of the most interesting parts of animated film production - when you're assembling the story reels, cutting together the storyboards with the temp dialogue, sound effects and temp music - culled from other soundtrack CDs, of course - it's really a great opportunity to see how different music can affect the feel of the storyboards. The wrong music can really keep the boards from succeeding. A lot of times the music is too far one way and it feels like the music is trying to oversell the emotion of the scene. If the music is bigger and more dramatic than the moment deserves, the music calls attention to itself and the sequence feels false because the film hasn't earned it at that spot.

Making films is all about manipulating the audience and getting them to react to your story and characters in the way you want them to react. But if the audience becomes aware of what you are trying to do to manipulate them then it won't work and they won't have the emotional reaction you want them to have. It can be very easy to overplay your hand and ruin the effect you're trying to accomplish.


Kris said...

I'm not sure if you've seen this, but it pretty much epitomizes your point. A while back, someone made a fake trailer for The Shining that makes it look like an uplifting family film. The music they chose has a big effect on it.

Dan said...

I was just going to point that out. Great post mark. When I was at AAU, one of my teacher's pointed out a bunch of examples like this being done by students from another school. I watched a slew of examples, and really realized how imporatant editing and music are to a film.

I wish I had the link, but there's all sorts of famous trailer recuts out there. It would be worth it to Google them to better illustrate your point.

mark kennedy said...

Thanks for the suggestion! I did think of those - particularly "Scary Poppins" - but I really wish I could show the same thing with actual sequences from movies, because the trailer is one thing, but a sequence from a movie is another...anyway, great suggestion - if anyone hasn't seen those two trailers definitely go seek them out.

Thanks guys!

Adam Barteluk said...

There's a website call Trailer Mash that has the Scary Mary Poppins and Shining trailers mentioned. There's loads of them, it's dedicated to re cutting trailers. Here's the link:

I haven't checked the sight in a while but one of the classic ones there a couple years back was the re-cut Back To The Future III to feel like Brokeback Mountain.

Worth Dayley said...

The users over at the SomethingAwful forums occasionally take movie scenes and replace their soundtracks. Some are more successful than others, but it is exactly what you're talking about and they all rely entirely on a new soundtrack as opposed to creative editing like the remixed trailers do. Search YouTube for "inappropriate soundtracks" and it will yield way more than you'll care to watch.

Here are some examples:
Fight Club:
Batman Begins:
The climax of Star Wars: A New Hope:

Rachel B said...

Yeah, that guy Worth mentioned does some fun soundtrack replacement stuff. Personally I couldn't stop chuckling through this one:

Noel said...

I love your blog
just that :)

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Ive used your image to advertise You and linked this site with it. I hope You dont mind. I also added You to my blogroll.
Best Regards and thanks for posting!


Masked Stinker said...

Mr Kennedy, I'm a regular follower of your blog.

Great info you share here.

I've linked to your blog on my own little blog.

Keep up the informative work.

Ian said...

Hi Mark - Sorry for making a comment off topic but I have a question I was hoping you could answer in a post.

There have been many posts across the net (and on your blog) about layouts with triangles and how good they look. I'm working on something with four characters all standing in a circle (or square).

I'm curious as to how you would takle a situation like this or if you can think of any goos examples to use as ref. I could push two characters closer together to force a triangle, is that the only option for keeping the layout apealing?


Sam Nielson said...

Great post, and wonderful examples!

I want to add also to the discussion on rules, if that's okay. I've studied this subject a lot, and I found two kinds of rules:

1. Universal response: Some rules exist because people universally respond to some visual stimuli, and they draw conclusions on what they are seeing based on context. This is a fact that has been well-studied, just look up Gestalt psychology.
When artists break these rules without knowing it, they risk confusing the viewer. But when artists choose to break these rules, it is because they want to carefully control the viewing experience.

2. Cultural response: Other rules are because of how people have been "trained" by previous experience. This goes from life experiences to common art experience (advertisement, etc.).
When artists choose to break these rules, they are usually trying to play against people's expectations to create something new and inspiring. When artists are ignorant of these rules, they risk alienating their audience.

mark kennedy said...

Adam- Great, thanks for the link. There are some really funny mashup trailers out there.

Worth - great, I knew there were some out there somewhere...thanks for the link!

Rachel - thanks, I'll check it out!

Noel - thanks for letting me know! I am glad to hear it.

Torturr - great, glad you like the site, I don't mind at all.

Masked Stinker - great, glad you like the site!

Ian - there is no rule that says triangles are the way to go. I did a post just a little while ago showing some circular and square/diamond compositions. All of those work just as well. Hope that answers your question.

Sam - no problem about being off-topic. What you say makes a lot of sense, as far as I know all that is true. Great comment!

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P.Petrilli said...

Great Post!!! Its also just as important to know when to use music and when to leave music out as it affects the overall pace/flow of a film and its mood as well.
A great example is James Cameron's masterpiece Aliens. His descision to only use music in the films most tense moments gave the film greater impact than an overall running score. Add to this the film being shot in a blue chromokey giving the film a sickly pale hue,their was a feeling of emptiness and forboding overtone over the entire film.
When the audience finally hears those eerie strings kick in its impact is immense. As Mark said Colour,Music and Mood used effectively give life to an idea.