Graphic Designer Roxy Radulescu Explores Film Through Colour Palettes

Fancy yourself a film buff? You may be surprised by American graphic designer Roxy Radulescu‘s rather unique approach to film appreciation. Roxy runs the website Movies in Color, where she features stills from beloved films and their corresponding colour palettes. Roxy believes that the study showcases the relationship between cinematography, production design and set design.


Roxy started her enormously popular website after her fascination with titan cinematographer Roger Deacon’s work creating Skyfall‘s famously striking colour palette. “I wish there were a way for me to physically grab these colours,” she thought, and thus Movies in Color was born. Roxy has been building a database of palettes from a large number of films ever since, selecting stills she finds compositionally interesting, and compiling a basic range of swatches with the help of Photoshop. After that, she chooses further tones she sees in the image. All are uploaded onto the site, and become part of the rich and informative database.


Her site is loved by fans of graphic design, colour, films and data geeks. Check out what we can all learn from her studies.

The Plus: What do you think you can learn about a film from its colour palette?
Roxy Radulescu: The most important thing to me is mood. The differences in colour palettes throughout a film can also tell a story by putting you inside characters’ heads. Colour can also be a recurring theme to highlight specific scenes, characters, or objects, and to provide visual consistency throughout a film. Colour is very important for context clues in film, and when it’s done well it draws you in.


TP: Is there a particular genre of film you find particularly interesting in terms of colour?
RR: I’ve learned to love most genres, and there are too many films to name. The Red Shoes comes to mind, and any Wes Anderson film, or from Hitchcock. Colour can be used well stylistically, but it should go beyond that. First and foremost it should support the storytelling.


TP: What is your favourite film in terms of colour palette?
RR: An obvious answer would be any Wes Anderson film. His attention to detail is unbelievable, and he is notorious for mapping out his movies with heavy attention to colour and production design. Jean-Pierre Jeunet also uses colour in a bold, bright, and interesting way.


TP: Having studied colour in movies, could you talk to us about how you’ve seen it used, and what sort of purposes it serves?
RR: Colour is often used to show contrast, an era, a mood, or a meaning. Many movies in the early 2010s used a predominantly blue/orange palette for visual contrast (mostly action movies). Movies set in the ’60s and ’70s tend to have more orange, yellow, and brown tones, and warmer and richer colours overall. Movies set in much older time periods (the Golden Age for example) draw upon paintings or art references for colour palettes.


TP: How do you go about distilling the colour palette in your work?
RR: I just have to study the image and play with it, and get to know it a little bit before committing to the final colour choices. It’s not just about showing what dominant colours are in the image, but about picking the colours that are used to tell a story. There’s a reason why the image is impressive, and I try to figure out why and how colours work together in the image. I’ve rarely gotten interesting results solely from an automatic colour generator.


TP: What lies in future for Movies in Colour?
RR: I think it would be fun to start making prints and offering rewards for fans. As a graphic designer, it’s taught me the purpose of colour in any art form. I’d like to eventually focus my energies on more of the educational aspect, so something like tutorials or online instructional videos would be fun.