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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.
Most of the time, using lots of Color Wash turns the product into something horrible; but other times, it is used in a very clever way.
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.
- 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.
- Traffic has different filters for different locales. In particular, Mexico was always awash in orange-yellow. The US had a blue filter.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- Related, CSI: NY uses Unnaturally Blue Lighting (and the crossover with Miami has Horatio Caine bringing his orange light...).
- Not to mention, CSI had a green tint.
- Not so much. In earlier seasons, scenes set in daylight had a noticeable Blue Orange Contrast, while those taken indoors or at night had a more feasible blue tint.
- 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.
- 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.
- It's not uncommon for a Lighting Designer to implement one or two dominant colours in a play.
- 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).
- 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.
- Deus Ex Human Revolution also has this, but yellow.
- Metal Gear Solid's Shadow Moses and a good deal of Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty 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.
- 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.