What is the Deal with Teal and Orange?

Look at the above image. That scene, from The Other Guys, takes place in a Bed, Bath, and Beyond Store. Notice anything strange? It’s becoming a really aggravating trend in Hollywood, precisely named for what it is: teal and orange.

I can spare you the details and refer you to an excellent breakdown at Into the Abyss, but the gist of it is that directors are using the digital intermediate, where a film is color corrected to the wishes of the filmmaker, in only one way. You guessed it… tinting the movie teal and orange.

Let’s go back briefly to The Other Guys. Here we have a buddy cop parody, basic comedy stuff, and we’re inside a popular store chain. It’s not exactly a film about reality by any stretch, but are we to believe that every item on those shelves behind Will Ferrell is blue/teal? Do they not make products in any other color? Even the shelves are light blue, and some of the items have an orange trim as if to annoy those of us who see this type of stuff. Ferrell himself looks a faded orange, as do most of the flesh tones of that movie.

This isn’t something new; it’s been going on for years now. Why though? Does tinting the color to this very specific palette suddenly make the movie funnier? Not at all. Does it make a movie more dramatic? Not at all x2. Apparently the idea is to take skin tones, which exist in nearly every frame of the average film (with a primarily white cast, at least), and match them with a complementary color in order to make them “pop”.

The point of this article is not to say that everything should look super saturated like Alvin and the Chipmunks. Lord knows that giving Saving Private Ryan a makeover on that scale would be a mess. Every film should have its own distinctive look, which is why those latter two movies have color saturation controlled to match a style.

That doesn’t seem to be happening anymore. Everything is orange and teal, and be warned that once you see it, you can’t unsee it (too late?). It doesn’t seem to have any purpose other than to show a complete lack of creativity on the part of these modern filmmakers. If you’re in the group that believes major studios have run out of ideas for scripts, you can now join in to the group that believes they’ve run out of ideas for color too. Look at what we used to have with the beauty of Technicolor, this from the classic musical/comedy/drama White Christmas:

Look at how carefully the colors were chosen for that scene. Everything needed a specific look to match and complement the other. We have infinite technology to make that work within a digital space now, and what do we do? This:

And this:

What have we come to?

Matt Paprocki has been a movie and video game critic for 12-years. His work has been featured on a variety of websites, and he currently edits DoBlu.com and Multiplayergames.com.

  • Colin


    Alright, Jerry…

  • Just feel the need to clarify that it was actually my headline, not Matt’s.

  • GfC

    I don’t get it. What in the world is wrong with the two pictures above?

  • I think it works for some films, but the problem as I understand it is that this is now the default colour scheme being used for almost every Hollywood movie, even when there is no good reason for it.

    Actually, one movie that I really noticed this in was The Girl Who Played with Fire, but I thought it worked thematically with the movie’s title.

  • alechs

    Well you know one director will never have the orange/teal combo – David Fincher: the man loves his desaturated yellows/brown tints.

    This source article is pointing at nothing new. This is just a passing trend that has been around for a bit. I think Michael Bay is probably the guiltiest for his unadulterated use of those two colours (in high saturation no less).

  • @GfC The coloring. There are only two shades used, orange and blue/teal, whereas the White Christmas pic is loaded with vibrant primaries.

  • you know another part to this issue is the over abundance of “face lighting” done during the color correcting phase of post. You know it – when the filmmakers don’t feel there is enough light on a characters face (usually when they are looking down) and they put an elliptical window around just their face an play with the contrast, hue, etc to bring out the expressions. (really good tutorial on this in LOTR box set)

    I’m finding on my Blue Rays this very distracting as with the added detail and smaller screen there is this weird halo/fuzzy affect following the characters face! What is really stupid is half the time the character isn’t saying anything that needs this extra effort.

    I want to hear a Jay Cheel rant on these things next podcast.

  • I think it was really noticeable in my blu ray, The Thin Red Line criterion collection….which is interesting since they made that film so insistent on natural environments and lighting!

  • Niklas

    this is running rampant in movie posters as well

  • Matt

    I think another movie that did this really well is Traffic, which came out around the same time as O Brother. But generally I agree that it is overused and cliche at this point. Audiences and filmmakers will probably look back at this period in time and regard it with a great deal of arrogance and contempt for its supposed lack of creativity, and the orange and teal movies will be some of the easiest things to point to as evidence. I think the biggest problem with the tinting is that there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason for it, except to bring it in line with what most other movies look like. And I think when used creatively and ambitiously, the technique still can make movies look very beautiful and make an impact.

  • The Bad Color Correction Hall of Shame:

    I am Sam


  • Brendan

    Another problem other than the colors is the brightness & contrast. Those shots just look way too dark. I’ve noticed Adam McKay films suffer from that a lot, which makes everything look flat with no depth.

    I wonder if these movies are adjusted this was particularly for how they look projected. Since film projected on a white screen looks different than video displayed on a tv which is much brighter due to its internal lighting, that might be another reason why these films are color corrected so poorly. Then they get spat out on dvd/blu-ray which scans the actual film stock, but they may not adjust the levels to be optimized for TVs. Just a theory.

  • Colin

    Really, you should be looking at movie posters, because that’s where this shit is originating from…

    Welcome to Hell: http://www.slashfilm.com/orangeblue-contrast-in-movie-posters/

  • Hah ha that link shows a Too Human game cover

    that means Sean is part of the problem!!

    now you have to blow up the Silicon Knights office – Fight Club style Sean!

  • here is the answer to this entire post, very nice


  • Brendan

    @Rus: I thought that video was supposed to be a joke at first!
    It’s funny, I randomly jumped ahead and got right to the part where they demonstrated the orange & teal oversaturated effect used in Transformers 2.

    Just noticed, Rus, looks like your avatar isn’t immune to the same effect!

  • eltorgo

    technology makes possible more effective lazyness lol

  • Meri

    Has anyone noticed that most t.v. programs and commercials are now sprouting shades of dayglow orange-teal combo? Fox News, CNN, sheesh even Dancing with the Stars and American Idol have a LOT of this neon like tealish-blue in the background. I’ve noticed many instances of juxtopositions of orange/blue – props in the background, peoples’ clothes, newscasters ties… I see this colorization in old movies, old t.v. shows….all over the place. Ok, posing a possible conspiracy…I think “they” are using the media as a type of conditioning to U.N. colors. No joke.

  • Paul

    Just watched the Red Giant Software demo… They should be ashamed, I thought it was a joke too. Hollywood stylizing every new film to look the same. Where is the realism? How does this help the story? I’d prefer if he left the shots as they were without this commercial meaningless gloss on top of it… We don’t all see the world this way. Now with the push of a button, idiots like this think they’ve made something cinematic!

  • Catharine C. Carpenter

    Teal and orange complement each other so nicely. One primary color used with the combo of the other two primary colors is always striking: blue and orange (red & yellow); yellow and purple (blue & red); red and green (yellow and blue).
    In the White Christmas pic, green and purple are NOT primaries.

  • Bill

    Ah ha! Like minded people. I do like teal deal but it is being way over done. I watched Sherlock Holmes: Game Of Shadows recently and it was tealed to death to the point it was starting to make me laugh! But thanks for the explanation as to why teal au courant; to make flesh tones pop.

  • Wrong about the white people though, black people and white people (and obviously all in between, correct on the same scale because of the different tones of orange. This is why color correction software has a guide to give you correct color saturation, regardless of race.

    Completely agree on the rest of the article though.

  • Matineer

    I had noticed the washed out colors years ago. The green, brown and orange color schemes came later. So they do this because it’s easier than actually constructing the color scheme before the camera? I’d see more movies if they had “real” color.