One of the basic tools of lighting is color. When we use color, we are on a continuum from deep saturated hues to the catchall “No Color” designation. When we design big flashy musicals, or high concept abstract pieces, the use of saturated color is wholly appropriate. For example, see some of these production shots:
In many ways, this kind of stuff is what a color-loving designer like me lives for. But ignoring the other end of the continuum does a disservice to a huge sector of so-called “realistic” production. Is the answer then, when we present Shaw or O’Neill or Chekhov, to plot the lights with “NC” in the color column? While going naked in the gel frame is sometimes the right choice for a production (I’ve made this choice many times to great effect), it is important to realize that it is still a color choice.
Check out this ad which has been playing on television a lot lately.
What is really striking about this ad are the vastly different definitions of ‘white light’ in the various sections of the ad. During the first nine seconds of the minute long piece we go from a straw color in the opening shot (Image #1), almost immediately to a pink-hued key from the window in the left of the frame, and then, with a switch off of the light, to a pretty lavender dominant fill look (while also pulling the key light from the left to the right of the frame for the first time- check out the very ‘blue’ white light of the practical in the far right of the frame versus the much warmer amber practical in the middle of the frame of shot #3)- Try to ignore the sloppy cueing of the lightswitch shift and pay attention specifically to the color change- that’s a topic for another blog entry:
Not to be left out, the ad then shifts to a series of greenish tints, including a cyan backlight in image #4.
In theatrical lighting, it has become common to use CTB (Color Temperature Blue) color correction to present no color ‘daylight’, and the ad gives us a glimpse of that as well (Image #5, keying from the window), but only a glimpse as we shift quickly to the first outdoor scene of the ad (Image #6), pushed significantly to the amber realm of the spectrum, but a different amber than we’ve experienced in the minute so far. This is an emotional color shift that helps to reflect the ‘autumn of life’ punctuation of the ad itself.
So, going into a project in which “color isn’t important”, keep in mind the full spectrum of “white” light, and make your choices accordingly!