Every Frame Of 5 Famous Films, Distilled Down To Their Color Palettes

In “The Colors of Motion,” a designer averages the colors of every frame of a film to explore how color shapes a visual story.


When watching a film, thinking about color often takes a back seat to thinking about characters and plot. But unbeknownst to many viewers those elements are often strongly shaped by the colors in which they’re rendered. (Just think about the transition from black-and-white to color in The Wizard of Oz.) With “The Colors of Motion,” designer Charlie Clark offers an intriguing exploration of how color affects a film’s mood. In the series, he extracts the average hue from each frame of a film and presents them as an unusual, reductionist view of horizontal stripes or tiles. If you click on an individual stripe or a tile, you can see a still of the frame from which it was was extracted.


Some movies have a distinct, instantly recognizable color palette, claiming them like any company does with its branding. And those come through in Clark’s distillations: The Matrix is boiled down into variations of neon green and black; Avatar‘s profile distills the brilliant blues, greens, and purples of an idyllic alien planet before taking a darker, muddier turn.


As you might expect, brighter color profiles tend to correspond to films with brighter moods–they might be comedies or animated fantasies, like Frozen. The Grand Budapest Hotel, by Wes Anderson, notorious for his use of super-saturated colors, is summed up with the reds of the hotel’s elevator interior; the blue-grays of the wintry landscapes; and the Pepto-Bismol pink of the hotel itself. While scrolling down through this film’s profile, you can watch the mood of the film change from zany and whimsical to more comically malevolent: the dominant color palette goes from warm and bright to cool and dark.

More contemplative, somber narratives tend to be rendered in neutral colors, and often end up as muted palettes of browns, grays, and blacks, as in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The eerie suburban violence of Fargo is averaged almost entirely into beiges and blacks.

For techie geeks, Clark explains the design process on his website:

A bash script runs ffmpeg to export frames from a video file. The frame rate of the exports depends on the length of the video. The bash script then calls a PHP script which extracts the average color from each frame. The results are spit out as a JSON file with the hex values in an array. The front-end runs on backbone, and presents the color data. Navigate the colors in a number of ways, and compare the color to each frame.

Clark is taking requests for which movies to color-code next. Check out all the films here.

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.