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Mood Lighting

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This is your lighting.
This is your lighting on drugs.

The use of filters or digital post-processing to change the tint of the film. Common techniques include Color Wash.

Sometimes, this is used to create a particular mood — a washed-out, desaturated look creates a bleak atmosphere, while bright colors seem "happy" and naturally inviting, and orange is used in "sunny" places such as deserts or beaches. Other times, it's used to emphasize two contrasting colors to look more appealing, usually blue and orange. Especially blue and orange.

This is Older Than Television. Silent films used color tints to distinguish day and night, interiors and exteriors, and different moods. (The Other Wiki lists some of the conventional correspondences.)

If blue lighting doesn't signify a calm, cool scene, Unnaturally Blue Lighting is often a signature of science fiction works. When overused it can result in both glare and loss of detail in a scene.

See also Hollywood Darkness. Real Is Brown (a brown tint applied to video game graphics) and Red Filter of Doom (red tinting to create an ominous atmosphere) are sub-tropes. See also Post-Processing Video Effects. Compare Chiaroscuro, when one bright light source leaves everything else in shadow.


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  • Nearly ALL adverts for holidays will have some kind of yellow tinge to give the impression that it's sunny all the time.
  • Almost a required element of Too Incompetent to Operate a Blanket. The "incompetent" scene will be drab and depressing, but the new miracle product makes everything bright and happy!

    Anime & Manga 
  • The red room attack scene in Str.A.In.: Strategic Armored Infantry.
  • The Tokyo scenes in The Place Promised in Our Early Days are predominantly tinted brown or grey to reflect Hiroki's low mood, contrasting the verdant Aomori.
  • Some of the more serious scenes in Popotan have a red/orange tint to them. Most of them can be explained by the scenes taking place at sunset, but it happens so often that it's probably not a coincidence.

    Comic Books 

    Films — Animated 
  • Cars 3: At the beginning of the film while Lightning McQueen is racing, the speedways he races at are bright and full of color, representing his happiness. It’s also a sunny day at Willy’s Butte, where he practices. Later on following Jackson Storm’s arrival, the speedways and Willy's Butte become dull and darkly colored, representing his struggle and suddenly being outmatched by the new high-tech racers. At the end of the film, with thanks to getting his mojo back and career saved with thanks to Cruz Ramirez, the colors are once again bright, with a sunrise at Willy’s Butte repressing his return to form.
  • Coco: When Miguel first meets Ernesto at his tower, the inside of the ballroom is full of vibrant colors. After the party is over and when Héctor reveals the truth, the room is darkly colored, with the pool's lightning giving an Sickly Green Glow, to show Ernesto's true colors are exposed to the viewers.
  • The Incredibles: The film opens with a very warm and vibrant color palette as we're introduced to our superhero protagonists in their prime, before they're outlawed and the movie gets a depressing look with desaturated colors, and the main character Bob Parr stuck with a Soul-Crushing Desk Job for his Obstructive Bureaucrat Bad Boss Gilbert Huph. However, things stop looking desaturated the moment Bob sees a mugging outside Huph's office, symbolizing his superhero outlook and instincts to stop a criminal being revitalized. Although he regrets the way he does it (getting fired after hospitalizing Huph) Bob quits his soulless job soon after this visual change and begins his journey to become Mr. Incredible once more, with the world around him looking more vibrant again.
  • In The Little Mermaid, the grotto turns hellish red when King Triton is destroying it, followed by turning a light chalky gray afterward.
  • Tangled: When we first meet Rapunzel as a teenager, the inside of her tower is brightly colored with thanks to the sun shining through. After she returns from seeing the lanterns, it is dark and cloudy, and the inside of the tower is desaturated and shadowy, showing she no longer sees the tower as amazing.
  • In Turning Red, most of Mei's room is bathed in green especially her desk signifying that it is part of her mother's domain while the underneath of Mei's bed is bathed in red signifying that it is her own domain away from her mother's eyes.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • An example of using this technique well can be found in Steven Soderbergh's Traffic (2000), where scenes in the US were shot with a blue filter and scenes in Mexico were shot through sienna.
  • The movie Sleepy Hollow (1999) was shot almost entirely with a creepy bluish filter to enhance the horror atmosphere of the setting. Only at the end when the threat is past does the filter shift to a warm color (ironically, in New York City...)
  • In The Matrix, scenes inside the Matrix are shot with a green filter, while scenes in the "real world" are shot with a blue filter.
  • The Adventures of Picasso uses this in the scene in Sirkkas home (from 3:10 and about one more minute), switching between full-colour and black-and-white.
  • Director Mario Bava was known for using colored lights — often in non sequitur shades of green or purple — to create a mood of unease.
  • The Mamoru Oshii film Avalon (2001) has everything tinted brown, until one sequence which brings up the possibility that it's real and the rest of the film isn't. This possibility ends up not being true.
  • The entirety of the Mel Gibson gangster film Payback was seemingly shot in Chicago at the height of Blue Filter Season to emphasize how grim the film was. But an alternate director's cut version (Payback: Straight Up) reveals that most of the mood lighting was a post-production effect due to Executive Meddling.
  • The movie version of South Pacific is an infamous example of color tinting gone wrong, a mistake which haunted director Joshua Logan for the rest of his life.
    • The "plot" part of the movie is shot normally, the musical numbers are tinted. The overall impression is that the characters have some kind of disease that periodically gives them either a rash or jaundice while also making them spontaneously break out in song.
  • Battlefield Earth overused color filters, as well as weird camera angles.
  • City of Angels (with Nicolas Cage) used a lot of sunset/sunrise tones.
  • Every shot in Sin City invokes this trope due to City Noir roots and the shot-for-shot nature of recreating a comic book in live action.
  • The film Thirteen (2003), noted on the DVD commentary, was shot with warmer colouring when the girls are partying and colder, more stark lighting as things fall apart.
  • Man of Steel has a dark bluish tint when Clark is out in the world, while Smallville scenes use yellowish lighting instead.
  • The movie version of Christiane F. is mostly green-tinged. This might be deliberate on the part of the film-makers (since it's about drug addiction), but it looks largely shot under fluorescent lights (in subway stations, etc.), due to budgetary restraints. This will give a green tint to film if not corrected with filters.
  • For John Carpenter's original Halloween (1978) in 1978, cinematographer Dean Cundey used color filters to cast daytime scenes in brown (to evoke Midwestern autumn in the California-shot exteriors) and nighttime scenes in blue (to evoke a supernatural eeriness). A high-res DVD release in 2003 "fixed" the color timing, much to the consternation of both Cundey and the fans.
  • Chopper has all kinds of uncomfortable lighting, including unnatural blue, sickly green, and lurid orange/blinding yellow.
  • Hero (2002) might have this along with the color-coded flashback costumes.
  • Margin Call has a predominantly blue tint as the film is set predominantly at night, amplify the growing realization of what was about to happen to the firm, and to emphasize the fact that the only available lighting are the glow of the computer screens and fluorescent lights.
  • In The Phantom Carriage (1921), exterior shots have a blue tint while interior shots have a sepia tint.
  • In Marvel's The Avengers, the scene where Hawkeye wakes up in the Helicarrier's infirmary uses an odd, extremely unsettling color palette to indicate how 'off' he still is. The colors gradually revert to normal as the last traces of the Mindstone's effects fade from his mind.
  • The Last Five Years: The color is more vibrant during the happier/beginning parts of Jamie and Cathy's relationship, and the light gets duller when their relationship is falling apart, and eventually the light completely drains when their relationship ends. The same happens with their clothes. The happier they are in their relationship, the clothes are more vibrant and colorful, while at the end of their relationship their clothes are more dull and grey.
  • Look Both Ways (2022): The "young creative" Los Angeles plot is lit in warm reds and yellows; the "young mom" Austin plot in cool blues and greens.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 13 Reasons Why employs this heavily, especially in its first two seasons. During those seasons, all the flashbacks featuring Hannah are given a yellow filter while the scenes that take place in the present after she's dead use a blue filter. This has the double effect of making the flashback sequences appear warm, vibrant, and vivacious and making the scenes in the present, even the ones featuring broad daylight appear cold, dull, and lifeless.
  • Black Mirror: In "Beyond the Sea"'s opening scenes, David's happy family life is lit in warm colors, Cliff's unhappy family life in cool colors.
  • CSI: Miami seems to have incorporated another show's use of this trope in its Poorly Disguised Pilot for CSI: NY. When the camera focused on Mac Taylor (the NY character) it looked darker, while shots of Horatio Caine were brighter.
  • During the first season of Heroes, Mood Lighting was used to differentiate the different regions that the show took place in. New York was blue, Texas was gold, Nevada was bleached out, etc. This was dropped in the second season.
  • Used in the Firefly episode "Out of Gas" for flashbacks more than a day or two previous.
  • In Dexter, the kill scenes are usually shot with green gels on the lights to create a sickly or monstrous appearance for the character. In addition, bold red lighting is sometimes used in relation to kills.
  • Done frequently in Power Rangers to suggest an Alien Sky. The moon usually uses blue tinting, a volcanic planet uses red tinting, and in Power Rangers RPM, the earth post-nuclear Robot War uses a yellow tint.
  • Veronica Mars: One of the notable differences between the Season 4 pitch and the rest of the show was the drastic change in mood lighting. Neptune, Neptune High and Mars Investigations all had very orangey, red warm hues—whereas the FBI office Veronica was slated to work in was all white, blue and cool chrome.
  • You can tell the 'dramatic' episodes of Castle from the 'regular' ones as the show has generally darker lighting.
  • Breaking Bad was famous for always using an orange filter whenever the action went into Mexico.

  • Featured in Jersey Jack Pinball's The Wizard of Oz, which uses color-changing LED lighting to change the playfield colors according to in-game events. For instance, the table turns red when the Winged Monkeys attack.

    Video Games 
  • Several video games use the graphics card to give the entire scene a certain lighting effect:
    • Crank up the visual treatment in Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and you'll see how the entire world is seen through a yellow tint and a lens vignette effect to make it feel like a rough, gritty city during the day. The tint even changes depending on the actions, such as if you succeed in evading cops or making the cops angrier by rising the "heat".
    • Likewise, if you turn on the Over Bright and the Enhanced Contrast in Need For Speed Underground 2, you'll see how the dark parts become darker while the light parts become glaring, in order to accentuate the shiny lights of the city and the cars.
    • Need for Speed 2015 has each borough of the city use street lights of different colors.
  • What's your favourite Metal Gear level design - grey buildings with a blue tint (Metal Gear Solid), grey ship with a green tint, orange buildings with a green tint, averaging out to grey (Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty), green trees and buildings with a yellow tint (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater), or brown brown with brown and a brown tint (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)? Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker has conventional (if perhaps a little psychedelically bright) colors in a conscious attempt to break away from using this trope, as did Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has dark, blown-out colors, mostly in blue and gold.
  • Although the areas are often right next to each other, World of Warcraft colors the sky (and the artificial fog of the area if you don't have maximum distance set on your visual settings) of many of its areas to fit the type of area. For example, the sky is colored orange to fit a burnt or volcanic area, the Eastern and Western Plaguelands have a reddish-brown tint and yellowish-brown tint respectively to give off an infected, ravaged feel; and Shadowmoon Valley has a yellow-green sky to match the green lava of the area. And with Wrath of the Lich King comes Icecrown, which has gloomy dark blue lighting to match the pure ice wasteland. Thus moving past a zone border can turn previously-clear lakes to sickly green, for example.
  • In Psychonauts, this becomes a gimmick in one of the levels which takes place in a theater that plays the memories of Gloria Van Gouten. By using the lighting, one can induce Mood Whiplash upon the scene, changing it in order to progress.
  • In Stray, the game is bathed in a smoky, colored filter to accentuate the decayed cyberpunk setting. Every level has a differently colored filter, giving each level a different feel. Safe places like The Slums are given a warm yellow light, dangerous places like The Rooftops have an ominous red light, the empty and abandoned Dead City has an eerie blue light, and so on.
  • Level 10 of Splatoon 2 does this, as lampshaded by Marie.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Big City Greens episode "Green Christmas", at first it's a beautiful, bright snowy day which represents Cricket's happiness. When he starts to feel down, it becomes a dark and cloudy night with a blizzard. Also in the middle of it all when he becomes naughty, everything in the background is blood red.
  • The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack uses this a lot; for example, the colors on Cammie Island are much darker, in the morning are yellowish, and in the West are all red and black.
  • Used in Danny Phantom: During any ghost attack the scenery changes colors, usually to a dark blue, purple, or red—though with the other "ghost" powers on the show, it's plausible to Hand Wave it as an effect of ectoplasm on a human environment.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In "Magical Mystery Cure" when Twilight is wallowing in her room over messing up her friends' destinies, the background colors go from bright to muted, along with a blue sky to a grey and cloudy sky thanks to Rarity's bad weather manipulation.
    • Throughout the infamous "The Mean 6", the colors and portions of the Everfree Forest are meant to reflect whoever is on the screen at that time. Scenes with the real Mane 6 and Starlight take place in brightly colored areas, whereas scenes with their fake clones and Chrysalis take place in darker colored ones; when the two groups intertwine, the background becomes a mixture of light and dark colors. In addition, the forest is bright and full of color with the sun shining through when the girls first enter the forest, but as their camping trip starts to fall apart due to the misunderstandings caused by their clones, the forest gradually becomes darker and duller to represent their friendship nearly on the rocks. Then when they reconcile near the end, it is sunset, and the darkness of the forest is slowly washing away.
  • The Diet Coke and Mentos experiments have a strong blue tint to the video, although this does not extend to the sequel.
  • Phineas and Ferb: In "Summer Belongs to You", as Isabella is trying to expect a romantic moment from Phineas in Paris, the view becomes pink and sparkly, with hearts floating everywhere. But as Phineas is more focused on fixing the plane which upsets her, the colors become muted, lose their sparkle, and the hearts litter the ground and break.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls (1998) episode "Tough Love", the city of Townsville turns a hellish red when everyone (sans the girls) is under HIM's control.


Video Example(s):


Burning Breakfast

Helga dreams of happier times with her lover Gereon.

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Main / DreamIntro

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