The colors that humans can see are known to become more distinct to viewers when placed in juxtaposition against another color. Knowing this rule of perception, creators of visual media use Color Contrast
to draw the viewer's attention to an image, frequently using something akin to the pictured color wheel to know which colors contrast with what.
Several types of contrast have common uses:
- Black/White Contrast: The most common type of contrast as well as the most recognizable. Though early films used this by necessity, it can also be used deliberately, whether in the style of these old movies or for certain symbolic situations that rely on the popular idea of "as different as black and white" referring to polar opposites. See Light Is Good and Dark Is Evil; Chiaroscuro.
- Orange/Blue Contrast: Became very common during the Turn of the Millennium, its prominence is due to human skin tones having a median orange tint and blue being the color that contrasts the most with orange.
- Green/Purple Contrast: Common in forest settings, as the color green is already in abundance and purple, whether it's found in flowers or other sources, is bound to be there as well. Bodies of water found in forests are occasionally made purple instead of blue to fit this.
- Red/Blue Contrast (sometimes Red/Green-Blue Contrast): Used to contrast hot and cold or earth and water; see Red Oni, Blue Oni. Also used when creators want to give the same good/evil dichotomy as Black/White Contrast but either don't want to go the monochrome route or think that Black/White Contrast is overused.
On some occasions, creators go out of their way to avoid Color Contrast
. Creators may want a particular image not to stick out, but to be "flat," often because the mood of a scene needs to be either gloomy or simply understated. The Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty
typically guides such decisions. Other times, creators may think that Color Contrast
is too unnatural compared to real life; this results in Real Is Brown
and Mood Lighting
, when the contrast comes more from lighting than from color. See also Color Wash
and Color-Coded for Your Convenience
. Hailfire Peaks
uses this often to contrast the two or more Video Game Settings
mixed into it.
Anime and Manga
- Slayers has Xelloss, with purple hair and largely black clothes, and Filia with yellow hair and white clothes. They're also representatives of the two opposing factions, demons and dragons.
- The Hulk, in his most iconic version, is green with purple pants.
- Also from Marvel Comics: Green Goblin, the Skrulls true form, Drax the Destroyer, Impossible Man, all them with green skin (in Goblin's case, fake skin) and purple clothes.
- All the Green Goblin's evil sucessors named Hobgoblin used the orange-blue contrast: blue for the scaled parts of his costume (imitating reptilian-like skin covering arms and legs), orange for the rest of the costume. Mask is pale-yellow.
- The Joker, from DC Comics: clothes mostly purple with some green, plus green hair.
- Also from DC, most incarnations of Brainiac use the green-purple contrast, as well as some of his descendants, like Querl Dox/Brainiac V from Legion of Super-Heroes. Averted, however, with Brainiac II (from L.E.G.I.O.N), who wears black, white and yellow.
- Superman and Spiderman both contrast Red and Blue.
- Spider-Man also had black-and-white contrast costumes: 1- the alien symbiote; 2- the common fabric replica of the alien outfit; 3- the Future Foundation version.
- Two masked mercenaries created by George Pérez share the orange-blue contrast: Taskmaster, from Marvel Comics, and Deathstroke, from DC Comics. The latter daughter, Ravager, also follow this color pattern.
Live Action TV
- Avatar emphasizes the purple part of the Green/Purple Contrast a lot more than most forest settings.
- TRON has Orange/Blue Contrast for its Tron Lines, with Orange corresponding to the bad guys and Blue corresponding to the good guys. TRON: Legacy carries over this contrast, while also giving a more monochromatic Black/White Contrast to the non-Tron Line elements.
- Wes Anderson loves this. Especially in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
- Subtle but complex multi-film example with the Jurassic Park franchise. In the first film, the most prominent color on the logos, vehicles, and other objects made for the park is red. But in Jurassic World, the park's most prominent color is blue. This symbolizes how the owners of the latter park set out to avoid the mistakes made with the former park, as well as how the dinosaurs in the latter are more docile.
- Friends has this in Monica's apartment. She uses a lot of green and purple for her color scheme as well as other colors in the contrast. This is to reflect at how neat and upkeep Monica keeps her place whereas in contrast, Joey and Chandler's apartment is very dull and faded with all the colors blending together.
- Super Mario Bros. 1 used very basic color contrasts. Red, blue, green and brown contrasts are abundant (the grass and water levels), sometimes with black and grey (the underground and snow levels) or red, black and grey (the Castles). Justified, as the NES had an extremely limited color palette (53 colors) and they had very little memory to work with on the game.
- The Legend of Zelda:
- Whatever color you choose for your team and its paint in Splatoon, the opposing team will be the contrasting color.
- John Kricfalusi has written many blog posts detailing how to properly use Color Contrast in animation. He's also noted how anime is brimming with good color mixers (an unusual break from his general dislike for anime).
- Most (or maybe all) incarnations of Optimus Prime, are red and blue.
- The Constructicons from the original cartoon The Transformers are green and purple, as is Scorponok.
- As a homage to one of the Constructicons from the original show, Scavenger, from Transformers Armada, is also green and purple. Ironically, he is an autobot.