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Color Wash
aka: Colour Wash
Scarlett Johansson looking orange.

This trope applies to films, TV-series, video clips and graphics.

The director/director of photography/production designer thought it would be a good idea to do something fancy to the colors. This could be saturating the colors so everything looks more vivid than normal. More often than not, this means making skin appear orange-y and everything else teal. Another example would be shifting the entire color palette - making (almost) everything appear a certain color.

Compare with tropes such as Real Is Brown, Unnaturally Blue Lighting and Deliberately Monochrome. The difference between those tropes and Color Wash is that (a) the film uses both or (b) uses another type of visual trick entirely, such as cranking up the saturation of the colors.

See also Mood Lighting, Post Processing, and Color Contrast. Often used to signal a flashback. Orange/Blue Contrast is a common result.

Using lots of Color Wash can sometimes create a grating visual, but it can also be used to highlight important details or comment on a character's state of mind. Like any trope, it depends on execution.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Animated Films 
  • Brother Bear uses an orange wash to emphasize the setting of Native American Alaska.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In the Toei first series anime of Yu Gi Oh, the palette seems to be made up entirely of super-saturated neons that do not go together.
  • The infamously confusing anime Bounty Dog takes place on the moon, and everything is colored a shade of sickening yellow.

    Comicbooks 

    Live-Action Films 
  • James Cameron always uses a strong blue tint when scenes are supposed to be set at night. It allows the scene to be strongly lit so that the audience can see everything, but give the indication of darkness.
  • The first film of The Twilight Saga: Because Forks is a dreary, rainy town, the director decided to desaturate the colors to bring this across. The point is that the colors are also very desaturated when Bella is in another place, such as California, meaning that (a) the director's explanation does not make sense and (b) the whole movie looks bland and boring.
    • Done again in the sequel, where everything seems washed with gold.
  • Among the many, many reasons that the Battlefield Earth movie was awful was the blue filter over many of the shots. The movie also enjoys combining green and purple, using the same logic as movies that use orange and teal - the colors contrast, and putting them together causes them to "pop".
  • In The Matrix, the scenes in the normal world are tinted a cold blue; the scenes set in the Matrix itself are tinted a digital green, like an old monochrome computer screen. In fact, the green tint becomes more and more prominent as Smith takes over the Matrix. The final scene, after Smith is defeated and the Matrix freed, is completely devoid of this tint.
  • Spy Game uses different filters for each flashback segment. Vietnam is orange as hell, Berlin is kind of a cool blue, and Beirut is sort of a sandy yellow. This serves to easily delineate between the flashbacks and the central hub of the story.
  • Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings uses digital colour grading, which becomes blatantly obvious at times. It's especially noticeable in day-for-night scenes, like with Merry and Pippin in Fangorn. There's even a scene in Return of the King where Pippin is searching for Merry, that appears as a daylight scene in the theatrical version but was regraded to night for the extended version. An interesting example occurs with several shots used more than once (Green Dragon Inn exterior, Boromir's last stand, a certain close-up of Elrond) in different movies: frame-by-frame comparison shows exactly the same imagery with drastically different colors.
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? plays with this a lot; they messed with the hue and saturation until everything was an intensely colorful brown, imitating the look of old-timey photos. Also, the first feature film to be entirely digital color corrected.
    • This was also done because dying yellow crops look better in a Depression-era film, whereas most of the greenery was verdant as Hawaii during filming.
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona is very golden-yellowy looking.
  • The movie version of Kamikaze Girls is really, really yellow.
  • In The Thirteenth Floor, one character comments on how the colors are off in the computer simulation.
  • Used far too much in the made-for-TV film Jason and the Golden Fleece, with desaturated colours and hard light.
  • Avalon has a very amber filter, to the point of monochrome until the end, when it's removed to suggest that the main character is now in "the real world."
  • The Moroder version of Metropolis used color washes over the whole screen — blue for scenes in the underground Worker's City, reddish tones for surface scenes, though there were some variations.
  • The original Star Wars trilogy has a fairly consistent dark blue wash (very noticeable in scenes set on mostly-grey spaceships) in the DVD version that wasn't in any earlier version (compare the bonus disc, which has the original theatrical version without the blue wash).
  • In the film adaptation of South Pacific, everything appears heavily yellow because the film was filtered through a yellow sheet of cellophane in postproduction. This was overkill of what they wanted, which was to make the film "more yellow", and they hadn't actually intended it to be all yellow. They released it anyway.
  • David Fincher is a big fan of brown.
    • A big part of this is his use of natural light, rather than artificial lighting. Stanley Kubrick did this a lot on his later work (most prominently, Eyes Wide Shut).
  • In The Book of Eli the entire world is brownish, as though it's being seen through the sunglasses everyone's wearing.
  • Saving Private Ryan looks fairly washed out due to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski playing with the shutter speed of the cameras. This also made the images appear sharper and shakier, making it look more like documentary footage than a $70 million Hollywood production.
  • Clerks II, except for the dance scene.
    • The film was originally intended to shot in black and white like the first one but producer Harvey Weinstein wanted the film open wide so director Kevin Smith chose to desaturate the colors instead.
  • I Am Sam is very blue, both in color and in mood.
  • The Harry Potter films, the first installment is full of vivid colours, with plenty of warm reds and gold. Each of the films thereafter gets more and more desaturated until Deathly Hallows is practically in B&W.
  • Ghostbusters used a purple wash to give the film an eerie, paranormal feel.
  • The theatre release of Payback has a stark blue filter applied throughout the whole movie. The Director's Cut however doesn't have this (and changes the whole last third of the plot).
  • The Wrong Guy uses a bland mix of grey and blue-green in the early "corporate" scenes. After the boss is murdered and Nelson discovers his corpse, color begins to seep in, starting with the red blood. By the time Nelson meets Lynn, the palette is brighter and a broader spectrum.
  • The Raid is very blue.
  • For some reason the Hollywood Darkness in the Action Prologue of On Her Majesty's Secret Service wasn't considered dark enough and it suddenly was given a dark blue color wash in the Ultimate edition DVD.
  • Kontroll is set in the Budapest Metro (underground railway), and most scenes have a green/yellow cast. When we see these scenes being filmed in the "making of" feature, they all have natural colour, and are brighter.
  • Man of Steel has a dark bluish tint when Clark is out in the world, while Smallville scenes use yellowish lighting instead.
  • Some of Steven Soderbergh's films:
    • Many scenes in Side Effects are tinted warm yellow, especially in the first half of the film.
    • Contagion varies from scene to scene, with green, yellow and blue being popular choices.
    • Traffic has different filters for different locales. In particular, Mexico was always awash in orange-yellow. The US had a blue filter.
  • The color and lighting in the '70s scenes of X-Men: Days of Future Past deliberately invokes the feel of 40-year old movies.
  • The 1960s film, Reflections in a Golden Eye, directed by John Huston and starring Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor, was originally color tinted with a golden color. However, there were so many complaints from audiences that the film was pulled from distribution to reprocess the color back into a conventional pallet for rerelease.
  • Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom uses a sickly yellow tint for the scenes set in China, and washed-out colours for the part in Dublin. The final scene, in a Gaeltacht, has no filters, making the colours seem bright, vibrant, and full of life.

    Live-Action TV 
  • CSI: Miami: Because this spin-off is set in Miami, everything is drenched in orange. Whenever someone is walking outside in daylight, the sky is a vivid orange too.
  • On Skins, scenes that take place outdoors have very saturated colours. This is often seen as very good cinematography.
  • Life On Mars did this. The entire show was made to look older (took place in the 1970s) by washing everything with yellow during the coma/ whatchamacallit (and that lasted the entire show). The 2006 scenes were, in comparison, almost drained.
  • Cold Case uses this a lot. Scenes that take place in the present have only a slight blue tinge, or no color wash at all; those in the past, however, have a color wash that 'fits' the time. For instance, scenes in the 1970s have vivid, warm colours to contrast with the present.
  • Battlestar Galactica: scenes on lifeless planets tend to be very washed out. But the scenes on Kobol had implausibly vivid green foliage.
  • Charlie Jade had a different colour wash depending on which dimension you were currently watching. Alpha was green, Beta was Blue and Gamma was red.
  • Jekyll plays with this to wonderful effect. When Tom Jackman is awake, colors are subdued by means of a subtle blue filter, while vivid colors mark Hyde being awake.
  • Similar to Traffic above, from season 2 onwards Breaking Bad would frequently visit orange-yellow-tint Mexico.
  • In House, earlier episodes had an almost orange look to them, fading out to a very slight greenish tint for the rest of the series.
  • Heroes often filmed their New York settings in a blue or green light, while Texas, California and other outdoors settings in the show had a yellow or orange light.
  • In Scrubs, the episode "My Way Home" features heavy colour saturation as a homage to The Wizard of Oz.
  • The entirety of Utopia is shot in vividly over-saturated colours.

    Music 
  • The video for Devo's "Girl U Want" is very purple-and-green, to the point that there almost aren't any other colors. Even skin is mostly purple.
  • Animated band Savlonic exists in a world dominated by shades of red.

    Theatre 
  • It's not uncommon for a Lighting Designer to implement one or two dominant colours in a play.

    Videogames 
  • Singularity is overly fond of lighting everything with the color orange. Anything that isn't orange tends to be blue.
  • Vagrant Story, like Singularity, is fond of a yellowish-brown color for absolutely everything with occasional blue-lit areas (usually in the Undercity).
  • Battlefield Three is the bluest game in the history of gaming. Even the night maps are blue and not black.
  • Prototype is one of the reddest games ever made; red menus, red monsters, red zombies, red pulsing hives and building, and red skies.
  • Deus Ex has a color scheme where the primary color on the palette to denote high technology is blue.
  • Metal Gear Solid's Shadow Moses and a good deal of Metal Gear Solid 2 are green-blue.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the Twilight Realm was initially designed as grayscale with some splahes of color. However, the design later changed to an incredibly hyper-saturated color scheme, with gold, brown, and magenta being the most prominent colors. Most have praised the new design, citing it as more original and evocative of a creepy, alien twilight world.
    • Used to a lesser extent with normal-Hyrule, which had a faint yellowish tint to most things.
  • World of Warcraft uses different color grading in different areas. The difference is sometimes very noticeable—for instance, Ghostlands looks very different when you're looking in from Zul'Aman than when you're inside and the darker color grade takes hold. It's sometimes so strong (particular with red colored areas like Durotar) that it takes a while for eyes to readjust to another color when changing zones.
  • Used in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for an accentuated atmospheric sense. Since San Andreas was a really huge state, with contrasting environments, there's a Color Wash scheme that differs from place to place. Los Santos had a slightly orangish weather with heat hazes. San Fierro had a unnaturally teal lighting to convey a mild-to-cold atmosphere. Las Venturas went for a less blatant color scheme, but still conveying a hot weather. The contry-sides had a pastel green/brown tint to them, and the deserts took it further with bright white/yellow skies that turned purplish at night.
  • The NES games on the Wii's Virtual Console has a filter that not only darkens the screen, but it also darkens the colors. This was supposed to emulate how NES games would look on a TV set from the 1980s, but it makes the games look like someone put a gray film over the screen. Ports of the NES games plus emulators don't use this feature, which makes the games look brighter and more colorful by comparison.
  • Super Mario galaxy uses colour tints on the cosmic comet missions. Red for the speed run missions, Yellow for the Fast Foe missions, Blue for the cosmic clone missions, white for the daredevil missions, and purple for the purple coin missions. The effect is subtle, but it's there.
  • Almost everywhere in Fallout 3 has a strong green tint (save for the Tranquillity Lane simulation, which is sepia-toned in the style of old photographs). In fact, if you remove the tint with one of the various visual overhaul mods out there, you will see that a lot of the game's textures have been almost entirely desaturated to exaggerate this.
    • The areas added by the first two DLC packs have their own colour pallettes. The industrial setting of The Pitt is denoted with a red-brown wash, whereas Operation Anchorage is tinted blue, in keeping with its winter themes. However, the fourth DLC, Point Lookout, cranks the green wash of the main game Up to Eleven, complete with a heavy green haze (which was probably added to hide the lack of detail beyond the borders of the playable region).
  • Final Fantasy XIV has a slight gray tint that dulls out the colors of the whole game/

    Webcomics 
  • Played with in latest arc of No Need for Bushido. Scenes seen through the eyes of Yori (who at that point is under the effect of a powerful hallucinogenic drug), have duller colors and a sap tint, as opposed to the usually vivid visuals of the rest of the battle.
  • In Far Out, the color palette is all tinted toward ruddy orange.
  • In Cucumber Quest, by the water scene, in blues.
  • A frequent technique used by TamberElla, often to set up a specific mood. This is taken to the extreme in their webcomic Ink which is set in a world made of stain glass.


Color MotifAmazing Technicolor IndexComplimentary Duo
Channel HopTelevisionDirected by Cast Member
Closeup on HeadCamera TricksCukoloris
Vicky Cristina BarcelonaImageSource/Live-Action FilmsWaiting for Guffman
Clifftop CaterwaulingFilm TropesConsolation Award

alternative title(s): Color Grading; Colour Wash
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