Understanding the Color Theory for Video Production

Who says that creativity and science are mutually exclusive? When it comes to colors in any art product, they go hand-in-hand. That is what the color theory essentially embodies.

We use the color theory in our everyday choices. In clothing, business, and product consumption.

When it comes to a visual arts project, be it a painting, a design, a photograph, or a video, color is one of the basic and most crucial choices an artist can make.

It plays a pivotal role in message transmission and increasing visual appeal. Ignore the color theory and your video become downright unappealing and a pain to watch.

Color theory is the fundamental guideline that plays with color themes, palettes, combinations, harmony, and the moods they represent.

Color theory is pivotal in representing your values as a brand and thus connecting with your audience.

Marketers have been employing the theory of colors for decades to extract an emotional or behavioral response from them.

There is so much more to it than picking the shade of red you like best or matching everything to the color of your logo. It is more in the basic understanding of color.

For this reason, it is very wise to get familiar with the color theory and understand the color wheel definitions.


What is color theory?

The world we live in is as visual as it gets. Wherever you look, you see color. They affect our emotions and play an important role in setting the mood.

Color theory is a broad study that deals with different color combinations and the psychology associated with colors.

This theory goes way back to the time of Leonardo Davinci. Issac Newton built further on this theory in 1666. Later in the early 1900s, Albert Munsel developed it in more detail.

Nothing about the color theory is set in stone. However, there are some ground rules that the color theory builds on.


The color wheel

Sir Isaac Newton developed the first-ever color wheel based on how light gives a spectrum of colors when refracted through a prism.

It has been a point of reference in the development and understanding of color theory as well as the practical application of color.

What he essentially did was bending the color spectrum to a point of a circle. You will find the VIBGYOR (Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Red) going around the color wheel.


Application of the color wheel in video processing

If you are editing your video on Adobe software, Adobe Color Wheel is a cool function that helps you adjust the color to what you want it to look like.

Paletton’s Color Scheme Creator or Coolors are also some of the preferred choices. They will help you achieve any of the color schemes that we are about to discuss below in our article.

If you want to customize your colors to the color of your logo or brand, you can put that in and you will get an automatically made color scheme.


Color harmony

For a collection of colors to make sense in a product, one needs to be mindful of the color harmony. It is an important aspect of color theory.

Color harmony is the understanding of placement of different colors on the color wheel. It is important in everything from your wardrobe and interior to brand representation and art products clicking with the audience.

Color harmony is what makes all the difference in the aesthetic ability of your video. You might want to stay away from the extremities like too bland or too chaotic colors.

One key rule in this regard is staying away from over-saturated colors altogether that may be hard on the eyes.

You want any text on the screen to be easy to stand out but not too jarring at the same time.


Primary colors

Primary colors include red, blue, and yellow. They are called primary because you get other colors by mixing them.

You cannot make a primary color by mixing two other colors. They only exist naturally.

All of the other colors on the color wheels are derived by mixing primary colors.


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Secondary colors

Colors that you get after mixing two primary colors are secondary colors.

Adding yellow and blue produces green. Adding red and blue gives you purple. Red and yellow creates orange.

To put it lightly, all three of them are the beautiful children of primary colors.


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Tertiary colors

When you add a primary color with a secondary color in equal parts, you get a tertiary color. There are a total of 6 tertiary colors.

They can be called the grandchildren of the primary colors.

You get multiple forms of a hue by doing various applications on them. Some of them are as follows.


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Color values

What color values essentially mean is adding the amount of black or white in a color. It makes it lighter or darker.

When you add white to a color, you will get a tint. However, when you add black into color, you get a shade.

There is also a third thing that happens. It is called the increase and decrease in intensity. It happens when you add gray to your color.

Some people confuse color value with color intensity. However, they are very different. Color intensity is the general brightness and dullness of colors.

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Color schemes in the color wheel

When you put colors next to each other and they make sense, it is a color scheme.



A monochromatic scheme has only one color with its several shades and tints by lightening or darkening it. In your video or photograph, you can create a monochrome by including the blue sky, clear blue water, and your subject in a blue outfit, all in different shades.

These color schemes have a very harmonious and placid impact that translates from the screens. However, you are at an equal risk of having your video very dull and monotonous if not executed correctly.


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However, an analogous color scheme constitutes colors that are close together on the color wheel. For example, red, red-orange, and orange. They help in giving a harmonious and realistic effect to the video. In an analog, you use the primary color as the center or base of the visual product using it dominantly and then using the other colors to compliment it.

These color schemes are often naturally occurring which is why they are so easy to absorb. They have a certain appeal and balance.


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Color triads

Color Triads can be characterized as three colors that are present on the color wheel at an equal distance from one another. They form an equilateral triangle on the wheel.

They are a hit with designers with one of these three colors as background, the second as the color of the content and third for highlighting purposes.


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Warm colors are the colors that you expect to see naturally in for, light-emitting objects and bodies. Similarly, cool colors are the ones you usually see in things that are cool like water bodies.

If you cut a color wheel in half, you will find warm colors on one side and cool colors on the other.

Warm colors usually constitute hues of yellow, red, and orange. Meanwhile, cool colors are of the green-blue and purple family.


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In theory, combinations of warm and cool colors work well together on the screen but you must be mindful that it does not get too overcrowded.

It is considered a risk to use them in the video at the risk of it becoming too confusing for the viewer.


Complementary colors

Intermediate colors are the ones that are located across from each other on the color wheel.

Complementary are the colors you get when you combine the intermediate colors that are located opposite to each other on the color wheel.

These kinds of combinations have a high contrast because there is one warm and one cool color in them. They are the opposite of a monochromatic scheme.

Both triads and complementary colors are used to give a more contrasting, vibrant, and dramatic effect to an art piece or a video. If you think they are too contrasting, you can use different shades and tints of the original color to have them compliment better.

Split complementary schemes are the color schemes that are made out of a color and its complementarities along with the closest analogous color.

It is okay to choose a complementary color scheme for your videos, however, some of these combinations are reserved for specific themes.

Green and red are commonly used in Christmas videos. Unless you want a Christmas feel, you might want to avoid this combination in your video altogether.

Blue and yellow, however, are a combination that is frequently seen. They are good in contrast without clashing.

In a complementary scheme for your video, you might want to stick to one color as the dominant. Maybe place it in the background and then use other colors for a supplement of color in your video.


Tetradic colors

Tetradic colors are like triads only instead of making a triangle on the color wheel, they make a rectangle. They are four different colors that are located on an interval of three colors on the longer side and one on the shorter side.



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Which color combination you are going to use depends upon the feel you want to produce in your video. Choosing the right color palette is pivotal in the message you want to project in a video.

If you are working on a video for artistic purposes, you may use stylized colors and artificial lights to make one tone more dominant than the others (think the excess of green in Matrix).

However, if you are making a video for marketing purposes, you might want to stay away from stylized color choices.

You have to do something that will not seem too foreign and unsettling to your audience.

For videos with interviews like a corporate profile or a testimonial, the choice of background is very important. Everything from the subject’s skin-tone to the wardrobe choice interacts with the background.

The mode on which your audience will consume the video also affects the background colors very drastically.

Keeping the backgrounds in shades of beige can appear boring. However, if you try to keep vibrant colors like yellow and red, they wash out your subject.

Dark blues and greens work just fine sometimes. They have a professional touch while being vibrant at the same time.

However, if you don’t want to take the risk, sticking to gray might work just fine.

If you are uncertain about the color scheme that you’ve picked, then you can stick to any of the frequently tried and tested schemes that have been mentioned above.

You don’t want to force two colors together that just don’t work. They can make your video look awkward, unsettling, and out of place.

You can make a monumental increase in the visual appeal of your video if you choose a color scheme that works.

You might think that these schemes might be overdone, but that is not true. There are variations in palettes that you can choose from.

One thing that works really well for videos is considering the psychology of colors.

The psychology of colors elaborates very well on what kinds of psychological messages and moods specific colors normally generate. Especially in marketing.

If you have incorporated the psychology of colors in your video, you may have the chance of increasing the efficacy of your content by multiple folds in terms of message transmission and engaging the viewers.


Additive model in color mixing/ RGB model

Color reaches us in the form of light rays. When you mix these rays, you get an additive model in color mixing.

Mixing two of these colored rays gives you the third color. More the number of colors, brighter the light. Mixing all of the colors on the color wheel gives you white light.

Using all three of the primary colors is how your screen shows you colored pictures.

Not mixing the primary colors in your additive model may give you the color you want to see but not a pure one. You might end up with a picture or a logo that is muddy-looking on your social media.


Subtractive model in color mixing/ CMYK model

The above additive model that works in RGB colors is for electronic media. However, for color print purposes, the conventional color mixing model is different.

While printing the packaging, logs, brochures, and posters, etc. the CMYK subtractive model is usually used. As evident from the name, this model works on the rule of subtraction.

Essentially, what you do is you subtract certain amounts of light from Cyan, Magenta, Yellow to give the specific color that you want.

Using the RGB model over here might give you unclear colors. Printing isn’t cheap, you have to get it right.


Common examples of the color theory in cinema

Back when films were made in black and white, the filmmakers would give a certain tint to some parts of the reel to stress on one mood during a part of the movie.

During those times, blue was used to represent night time. Modern films still use the color blue and its tones to represent night time.

In the 2011 film Hugo, you can see the use of blue tones in the background to establish that it is night time.

They have also used reddish-brown to compliment it completing the color scheme.


Take a look at John Wayne’s costume in Rio Bravo. These are all shades of the primary colors red, blue, and yellow. These colors evidently pop against monochromatic backgrounds.


No one else in the entire film was dressed in the primary colors to converge all the attention to John Wayne and make him stand out.

While on the subject of primary colors, take a look at our boy Peter Parker in the posters of the first Spiderman movie and some of the very iconic scenes.


You can see a sharp scheme of blue and red of his costume against the warm yellow sheen of the city in the background.

The red and the yellow almost blends into the red because of both of them being warm colors.

All of this generates a certain heat for the scene giving it a whole vibe.

A similar mood board has been used all through the film 300. Conversely, the film Twilight keeps a cool-color mood board of greens and blues all through the film.

Now for the classics, the most iconic scene from when Jack and Rose were standing on the bow of the ship. Against blue sky and ocean, Kate Winslet wears a dark blue dress with a white bodice.

You see a tinge of orange light that separates the sky from the water. That orange lights up Kate’s bodice.

This not only generates a dichotomy of colors but is also very flattering to Kate’s face with her blue-green eyes.


You will also notice how directors use color grading to set the mood and tone of the scene as David Fincher did in Fight Club (1999).

The damp and grimy scenes adequately portray the gloomy, downcast yet intense vibe of the concept.


There is also a stark difference in the colors that look natural and a fabricated look. You will see that stark difference in the color grading of the real world and the Matrix in the Matrix Trilogy.

You will see green overpower in the Matrix which is not the hue of natural light. However, the real world has a bluish tinge overpowering in the scene that helps the audience register the difference between reality and Matrix.


In the same way, you can see the magical impact of the bright technicolor when Dorothy lands in Oz.


You can also witness this but with a contrast of vibrant colored characters, creatures, and objects against the somber background in the 2010 adaptation of Alice in the Wonder Land.

It amplifies the air of fantasy and unrealistic imagination that is the premise of the plot. Check out the end of this scene.


You don’t just see it in live-action films. There is also evident use of color wheel and color psychology in animated films as well.

Consider the example of Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles. The coloring fluctuates in accordance with the points in the plot.

When there is a high point in the film with lifted moods, you will see bright colors. As soon as things start going downward and a tragedy hits, you will witness the scenes getting a bluish grayish tone.

They propagate the emotions playing out in the scene by introducing colors that the audience might associate with grim and depressive states.

It is not just muted colors and somber tones that project the gravity of a situation. You will see in Toy Story 3 in the dumpster scene when all the characters are holding hands.

The intensity of the scene has been amplified by using the warm colors of the fire.


The color red has always been associated with the forces of evil, considering the Redcoats, the Nazi flag, the Japanese flag in WW2.

You will see how always one of the key hues in the iconic Hollywood villains is red. Be it the inner lining of Dracula’s robe or Darth Vader’s lightsaber.

However, China holds a different meaning entirely for red. It is a symbol of positivity and festivity.

So, it is very important to be mindful of culture when you make a video product and consider what effect the colors will have on the mind of the viewer.

You can address the color themes in pre-production as well as post. Decide the wardrobe and the background to complement the subject.

You can also try to maintain this vibe by using the color wheel that your video editor gives. Enhance the saturation of colors that you want dominant and play down the ones you don’t want.

Apply the psychology of colors and color theory. It all comes down to understanding the relationships colors have and what they represent.

Keep your color schemes consistent and cohesive. Add meaning to your visuals through these colors and you are good to go.

If you are looking to give just the right look to your videos through colors, reach out to MotionCue.

Schedule a free consultation call with our video strategist



Posted by Fatima Najeeb

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