In Living Colour: Tyler the Creator
“We’re biologically wired to care about color. It’s a useful cue for telling us about people’s social condition and our environment.” Wellesley College neuroscientist Bevil Conway tells Fast Company that color impacts the way we feel and the way we interact with visual stimuli. Color is a way for artists to translate their ideas to their audience. Film and TV are media known for their use of color with the hopes of manipulating the audience’s perception of what it is they are seeing and, in turn, feeling. It is the colorist’s job to alter and correct the colors that appear on your screen, frame by frame, shot by shot, making an attempt at aligning the footage itself with what we would perceive these colors to look like in the real world. Dave Markun, a colorist in film and tv, talks about this “rulebook of emotions” in which he believes that every color serves a different purpose and when used correctly can evoke a particular emotion within the viewer.
Think of the color red. What emotions come to mind? Passion? Anger? Love? Red is a bold color choice. It makes you pay attention. Imagine you are watching a motion picture. The opening scene is shot on a busy street in Midtown NYC. Truck loads of people running around trying to get home. Everyone has on their work attire so think khaki colors and navys and an abundance of black. Hundreds of people and yet your eye is drawn to just one. A woman. In a red dress. The filmmaker has increased the saturation of her red dress just enough for you to want to know more. Not because she’s attractive. Not because she’s behaving strangely but simply because she is in red. That is how important color is.
You can manipulate a scene in such a way that it will force your audience to pay attention to what it is you want them to pay attention to and ignore what is not important. Quentin Tarantino uses yellow in Kill Bill as a way of conveying instability and hope within the protagonist. In The Shining, Stanley Kubrick plays with warm colors making the viewer feel welcomed in this fictional world and by adjusting saturation accordingly reminds them that there is something a bit off happening. But perhaps one of the most famous directors known for his meticulous color palette is Wes Anderson. From the calming blues of The Life Aquatic to the pastel yellows of Moonrise Kingdom and the bubblegum pinks of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson has never been one to shy away from color. Robert Yeoman, his tried and true Director of Photography has been able to transform ordinary scenarios to extraordinary worlds.
Tyler the Creator, leader of the infamous Odd Future gang, is as meticulous with his use of color in his music videos as Anderson is in his films. As an avid Tyler/OF fan and die hard Wes Anderson obsessive I find myself drawing parallels between the work Wes does and the visuals Tyler creates. Both Wes and Tyler use the same respective DP's for each and every one of their bodies of work. Robert Yeoman and Wes are attached to the hip in the way that Luis Perez and Tyler are which provides a level of continuity throughout. They both pull from the same pool of talent. Tyler makes sure the OF boys get their shine and you’re bound to have a Bill Murray sighting in a Wes Anderson production.
Colors make us feel stuff. Visual artists, presumably filmmakers of any kind, use color to translate story lines into real life emotions. As the artist grows the content of their work shifts and just as the content of Tyler’s music has shifted and his story lines have developed, his color palette has followed suit. He is able to explore all of these varying treatments from the dark and cynical to the vibrant and joyous. As we analyze Tyler’s use of color within some of his most visually jarring music videos we can decipher the role in which color has on the way we perceive images.
Tyler's Visuals: A Timeline
Standouts: 50 Shades of Gray
Emotion: detached and emotionless
Significance: By removing all of the color you are left with no distractions. All you have to focus on is Tyler. "I'm opening a church to sell Coke and Led Zeppelin" becomes all the more poignant of a line when you don't have color to look at. Adding several shades of gray puts some space between the presumably white background and black t-shirt allowing the viewer to transition between two non-colors which adds a level of balance to the picture.
Standouts: Black and White
Emotion: mysterious and introspective but rather innocent.
Significance: The stark contrast between the white background and the shadows of the subject cause the eye to be drawn towards the center of the frame. Similar to French, by pulling out all of the colors out of the shot, the viewer is forced to focus on storyline and lyrical content. The audience is immersed into this Tarantino-like world where Tyler channels a serial killer and bites off the head of a cockroach.
Standouts: Queasy Greens
Emotion: eery and death-like while still maintaining a level of youthfulness.
Significance: Sick sad world filled with jealousy and death, She tells the story of a deranged stalker who wants love and affection from a girl who is in a relationship with someone else. Colorists typically use the color green to symbolize health and growth but when the goal is to create a scene that is far from serene, you desaturate the green and cast a sort of green hue on things that aren't normally so and create a world that is decaying before your very eyes.
Standouts: Orange you glad I made this joke?
Meaning: vibrant and rather flamboyant
Significance: Here you see a major shift in Tyler's work. We see him transition out of the angsty world of Goblin (and Bastard for that matter) and into this utopia where Tyler is riding bikes, playing GOLF and falling in love. The opening shot of Tamale is a trifecta of floating Tyler heads against an orange background. Crank up the saturation and we've got ourselves an inviting and rather cheeky set up. I mean look at the guy. The music is still angsty but that still doesn't take away the fact that we went from world with no color to a world with an abundant amount of it.
Standouts: Bright Blues and Glorious Greens
Meaning: healthy humor
Significance: So here we see green used in a different manner. The greens are strong and mighty and the blues are equally as bright making for a shot filled with humor and imagination.
Standouts: Mighty Magenta
Significance: Markun refers to magentas and purples as the "unicorns of film" in that they are not usually used and when they are one usually adds them to atypical scenes and what is stranger than Tyler standing next to a giant cat with a golf club?
F-- Young (2015)
Standouts: High Yella
Meaning: sunshine and happiness
Significance: Tyler talks about his love of yellow all the time and it is evident in his work just how much he's attached to it. Yellow is his way of inviting the viewer into this garden party where he has to break his girl's heart and tell her she is simply too young for him. The warm tones are carried throughout. The rather sweet peach shirts on the main subjects lovingly guiding the eye to the center of the frame. What's not to love?
Standouts: Magentas and Pinks
Meaning: charming and delicate
Significance: Now we see the pastel pink juxtaposed to the fuchsia background conjuring up these feelings of sensitivity and of vulnerability. Tyler is all alone in this frame and while we cannot only listen to the lyrics seeing as the colors are so vibrant, we can note that he is feeling a bit introspective here.