The importance of colours in media.

I was asked to write a bit about colour grading in film, but I am a game developer, not a cinematographer, or colourist. As such I cannot talk about the intricacies of colour grading in film. Interestingly enough though, is that colour grading is also a part of the visual aesthetics of computer games.

What I can do though is talk about its parent, colour theory, which lends itself to both film and computer games. Colour theory is not to be confused with colour psychology though they do overlap quite heavily, to the point that I think they are almost inseparable.

Colour theory is a body of practical guidance to colour mixing and the visual effects of a specific colour combination, whereas colour psychology is the study of how colours affect human behaviour and emotion. It’s about why we react to certain colours the way we do. I think that in a small way, colour theory and colour psychology also cross over into semiotics.

To help along with the discussion, semiotics needs to be defined.

Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation.

Colour aids in the interpretation of the signs and symbols, and thus is the crossover.

In film, tv, and games, there are Three main colour models. RGBA and CMYKA. The first being Red Blue Green Alpha, the second being Cyan Magenta Yellow Black Alpha. RGBA is additive, where if you put the colours into a Venn diagram, the overlap of the three is white. Inversely, the CMYKA model is Subtractive, whereby if you put them into the same Venn diagram, the portion where they all overlap is black. The A stands for alpha, which is a value of transparency. HSBA/HSVA/HSLA which are different names for the same thing is just an alternate way of displaying RBGA. Again the A stands for alpha, the B, V, and L stand for brightness, value, and lightness respectively.

I think RGBA and CMYK are best represented as pie charts, whereas I think HSV is more of a graph when represented visually.

But I digress.

This post is supposed to be about colour theory, not colour models.

The first exploration of colour psychology I know of was the Temperamenten-Rose, compiled by Goethe and Schiller in 1798/9 (“the Rose of Temperaments”, 2021). It consisted of 12 character traits and grouped into four temperaments.

More modern versions have a lot more colours and are a lot more nuanced, but in many ways, it is the same.

There is an idea that because blue and orange are near opposite sides of the colour wheel that they provide good contrast, but I think it runs deeper than that. In Colour psychology, orange is associated with warmth and excitement (Elliot, 2021), so while it does provide good contrast, when it is used is also important. Blue is a cool and calming colour leading to not just a juxtaposition, but also an opposition of excitement and calm (“How the Color Blue Impacts Moods, Feelings, and Behaviors”, 2021).

I think this is the primary reason why you will see characters in a situation that is supposed to be exciting tinted ever so slightly too orange.

A film example I can think of is the Hunger Games. In the first scenes of the film shades of blue are the predominant colours, this was to create a sullen mood that showed the gloomy difficult existence she had. This culminated in Katniss being chosen as the female representative from her district. From that point on, the predominant colour scheme was more vibrant and exciting, leaning more towards red-orange and brown tones to show that she is a warm powerful and rugged person.


the Rose of Temperaments. (2021). Retrieved 29 January 2021, from

Elliot, A. J. (2021, January 29). Color and psychological functioning: a review of theoretical and empirical work. Retrieved from Frontiers in psychology:

How the Color Blue Impacts Moods, Feelings, and Behaviors. (2021). Retrieved 29 January 2021, from

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