The Extensively Colourful world of Wes Anderson in: ‘Isle of Dogs’ (2018)
This video essay delves deep into the colourful world of Andersons set designs and characters discussing the emotional (and general) effects that his extensive colour palettes are able to elicit focusing on Anderson’s second animated feature film, ‘Isle of Dogs’ (Wes Anderson, 2018). Set in a dystopian near future Japan in a city called ‘Megasaki’ , it is a moving tale about responsibility and sense of belonging in which we follow a young boy (Atari) who is in search for his dog (Spots) after the species is banished to ‘Trash island’ following the outbreak of a ‘canine flu’. Colours effect on us is a psychological anomaly, we may not know exactly why they affect us in these ways, but they do, and we continue to read the scene and tone through the film’s palette.
Wes Anderson has become one of the most beloved filmmakers of today known for his very distinctive visual and narrative styles. His incomparable aesthetic vision has given him his reputation of a modern-day auteur creating fantasy worlds which we become warped into through many elements and techniques of filmmaking. Most noticeably, he has created these bittersweet narratives with fine detail paid to his composition and precise colouration. Colour is the most fundamental element of any film and yet falls second to last in many directors’ final cuts, it can be used to elicit emotions in the audience psychologically whilst connoting certain ideas and moods through complex yet simple colour palettes.
The films colour choices subvert Andersons traditional washed out, pale toned palettes of his previous work taking to a darker more monochromatic tone with hints of pastel pinks and blues used to accentuate the grittier, gloomier themes of the film. There is an acute relationship between the colours used and emotion(s) with an ironic play between bright colours and hollow sadness (themes involving violence, death and suicide). The film is renowned for creating these distinctive emotional effects or cues in particular moments. The essay goes into detail regarding how colour is chosen in films and how this can affect the way in which we watch them and perceive the events within them.
There are 3 factors which determine colour, these are the hue, saturation and brightness. The hue is the colour itself i.e. red or blue, the saturation refers to the intensity of that colour, when the saturation is increased the purer the form of the colour, as it decreases the colour becomes more washed out. Wes tends to use quite highly saturated colours in his animated features to make the main characters and their environments stand out (however he does still incorporate de saturated and washed out colours in particular scene but only in a way to accentuate both the brighter (radioactive) and darker colours of Trash island). And finally, the brightness which refers to how light or dark that colour is. These colour choices are based on schemes which favour colours that harmonise together to create and communicate an appropriate tone for a film. These include the Triadic, which uses three colours evenly spaced out within the colour wheel often used in animations such as ‘Isle of Dogs’ as it is exciting and striking. And Complimentary colour schemes, which create less tension using colours opposite to each other on the wheel i.e. red and green, high contrasts of complimentary colours create vibrant looks especially when used at full saturation (also appears common to the palette of the film). By utilising these elements and properties, we can precisely identify the right colour to convey certain emotions to audiences. We find throughout the essay that the best way to control colour is to limit it. Wes is known for his limited colour choice with recurring images of red and yellow, the essay dives deeper into the meaning of these two colours for both the auteur as well as its implications in the film in relation to the colour meanings in Japan as the interpretations of colour are multifarious, and can be influenced by culture. Japan is steeped in tradition and they use the language of colours in their art, dresses, phrases and rituals. Red and white are prominent traditional colours in Japan, both used in decorations at events which represent happiness and joy. However, as Anderson has created a niche which holds high standards on his colour decisions as well as composition, I find that he attempts to place a western meaning onto the traditional cultural aspects of Japan used in the film, utilising the artwork and robes as props rather than communicating through them.
Particular colours are used sequentially throughout with the introduction of brighter colours seeping throughout the narrative with browns, greys and white the most predominantly used. The darker and more monochromatic palette allows for other complimentary colours to pop out more, guiding our attention towards them.
The aim of this essay was to explore the psychology behind colour in film and how it is utilised to portray sentiments throughout the narrative, referring to different theories of colours presented by theorists such as Vaughn Vreeland and Greg Smith. Smith argues colour is the most fundamental aspect of a film and is needed to fulfil a successful structure which aims to increase probabilities of evoking emotions (this is the ‘Mood Cue Approach’). Colour is widely agreed to be an integral element when creating cinematic worlds like ‘Megasaki’ and ‘Trash Island’. This essay aims to link these theories to Andersons ‘Isle of Dogs’, with textual analysis of scenes which portray the ideas conveyed throughout this statement.
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- ‘Bottle Rocket’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Gracie Films, USA, 1996
- ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. 20th Century Fox, Regency Enterprises, UK, 2009
- ‘Hotel Chevalier’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Premiere Heure, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, USA, 2007
- ‘Isle of Dogs’. Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Indian Paintbrush, 3 Mills Studio, Studio Babelsberg. USA, 2018, Main Cast: Jess Goldblum (Duke), Bill Murray (Boss), Bryan Cranston (Chief), Edward Norton (Rex), Scarlett Johansson (Nutmeg), Live Schreiber (Spots), Koyu Rankin (Atari), Kunichi Nomura (Mayor Kobayashi)
- ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Indian Paintbrush, Scott Rudin Productions, American Empirical Pictures, Moonrise. USA, 2012
- ‘Rushmore’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Touchstone Pictures, USA, 1998
- ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Fox Searchlight Pictures, RatPac Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, USA, 2007
- ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Studio Babelsberg, TSG Entertainment, Indian Paintbrush, USA, 2014
- ‘The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Touchstone Pictures, USA, 2004
- ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Touchstone Pictures, USA, 2001