Saturday, 24 December 2011

Black-and-White Filmmaking

Designing black-and-white productions is an art and craft in itself. During the
classical Hollywood studio era, production designers and art departments were well
trained in working in the black-and-white medium. The principal difference in
designing in black-and-white as opposed to color is that the designer’s palette does
not consist of the color spectrum. The black and white designer is working within
the gray scale and must understand how each color translates to a value from black
to white.

If your film is being photographed in black-and-white, watching other films in the
medium will motivate and inspire, but it will not help you to learn how colors are
interpreted in the gray scale. Practicing and experimenting with black-and-white still
photography will give you an understanding and feeling for how black-and-white film
records a color scene. Since a bright green and a bright blue of the same hue may read
as the same tone on the gray scale, colors in a black-and-white film are not chosen for
their color value but for their tonality on the gray scale. To the untrained eye, the colors
of a well-designed set prepared for black-and-white photography will look unbalanced
and may appear to be garish and to clash in relationship to each other. The production
designer works to achieve balance, contrast, and a sense of space and dimension,
using the range of the gray scale. The architectural silhouette is the same, but
the detail and modeling must be projected through gray scale values.

After each value is tested, the set is built, then carefully checked and tested with
the black-and-white film stock to be used. Camera tests are made to discover the
tonal range. During shooting, a black-and-white video assist system will help the
designer to see how the set will look in black-and-white. The art department must be
prepared to make corrections and changes to enhance, augment, or correct the design
so it can best serve the characters and story.

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