Were B+W movie sets painted B+W?
August 25, 2009 1:11 PM   Subscribe

Were black & white movie sets painted black & white?
posted by one_bean to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
posted by ejazen at 1:12 PM on August 25, 2009

No. Painting them in colour provided more subtlety in the greyscale. Also, you may have noticed when watching B&W films that your mind sort of 'fills in' the colours based on knowing that shade of grey is a blue sky, that shade is red lipstick, etc.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:15 PM on August 25, 2009

No, but what a great question.
posted by rokusan at 1:25 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not necessarily. A lot of great artists were insane.
posted by ND¢ at 1:25 PM on August 25, 2009 [14 favorites]

Response by poster: Painting them in colour provided more subtlety in the greyscale...your mind sort of 'fills in' the colours based on knowing that shade of grey is a blue sky

More subtlety, maybe, but far less control. To get the "correct" shade of gray in the real sky, they would have had to use a yellow (or more likely red) filter. If they were shooting on set, why not just know exactly what the B+W was going to look like? In other words, links please?
posted by one_bean at 1:26 PM on August 25, 2009

Best answer: There were some cases where color was used in B/W films for special effects. In one case I've heard of they drew patterns on an actor's face in one color, using two kinds of makeup (foreground and background) which looked the same under a different color light. While the camera rolled, they gradually switched from one color of lighting to the other, and how it looked was that the pattern gradually appeared and became more clear. They used that for a transformation sequence in a monster movie, and it was really quite effective.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:27 PM on August 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

Superman's costume in the 1948 B&W serial was made of gray, white and brown cloth. Same for the B&W episodes of the George Reeves TV series.
posted by Guy Smiley at 1:30 PM on August 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Well, the costumes certainly weren't. The classic example is Bette Davis' shocking red dress in the cotillion scene of Jezebel. It was actually brown, carefully selected to best be perceived as "brilliant scarlet" in a B&W film. One imagines that similar choices were made in set dressing.

or what Guy said.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:33 PM on August 25, 2009 [6 favorites]

oops. Dropped the "not" in that post.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:33 PM on August 25, 2009

This is pure speculation but I imagine it would be easily ot immerse oneself in a role if the sets were colorful. It may not have any effect on the quality of the picture, but color sets may have an effect on the quality of the acting.
posted by valadil at 1:33 PM on August 25, 2009

Were black & white movie sets painted black & white?

The sets, no. But they were lit with black & white in mind, to emphasize contrasts.

However, the costumes skewed to the monochromatic, and the makeup was often monochromatic, to emphasize highlights and facial features. There's a reason Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp character was dressed the way he was.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:40 PM on August 25, 2009

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari apparently had sets where the shadows were painted on the walls.
posted by drinkcoffee at 2:05 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

This doesn't give definite prooof, but here's a passage from The Film daily year book of motion pictures of 1927^ from p. 511, a page that seems to be giving suggestions for projects:
Colorful Drop For Act: Deviate from usual painted set and conventional backdrop by using a set composed entirely of drooping variegated-color all fabric drapes.
Doesn't talk about color specifically but here a passage from a 1918 book Film folk: "close-ups" of the men, women, and children who make the "movies" ^ p. 165 ^ talking about movie sets in general:
As our locations were usually in the mountains or on the desert, we had small use for "sets." The side of a barn, with a few borrowed pictures nailed on; a carpet laid on the ground; a couple of chairs; a table, and behold an "interior" of the sheriff's home! A volume of Dante's Inferno served as a Bible, a law book, dictionary, and for purposes less polite, in all scenes where a book was needed. Sometimes, when we wanted to be very splashy, we had a set painted by a real scene- painter. The men were "hired off" the legitimate stage; and, having worked under its traditions and artificial lights, they did not change their technic to meet the fierce white light of day.

As we had no diffusers, our interiors were made in strong sunlight, which often resulted in shadows of the actors pointing east, while shadows on the scenery headed west. Instead of the painted mountains receding in atmospheric perspective through the open door or window, they looked like little painted mountains only a few feet away. Even when we attempted realism by sticking a eucalyptus branch in the ground, like as not it would cast a shadow on the sky!

These sets, painted on canvas, would shake like aspen leaves every time anybody opened or closed a door. An adobe wall or prison tower would suffer perpetual seismic disturbances whenever the action became at all rough. As we had no windbreaks, curtains and papers would fly about as though a tornado had come tearing through the transom.
Again unfortunately without details related to color, here's an article "Camera Wizards of the Movies" from the August 1936 Popular Science.
posted by XMLicious at 2:09 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When there was a craze to colorize black and white movies, one source for design input was color production stills. A lot of movies had color pictures shot on set for magazine articles. So, yes, the sets were often in color.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:21 PM on August 25, 2009

Best answer: Here is a fairly recent book (scroll down the page a little) that talks about set design in black and movies. It says they use color but not necessarily the color that you would expect. They use the color that looks best in black and white. Which several people mentioned above.
posted by interplanetjanet at 2:35 PM on August 25, 2009

Per Wikipedia, the blood in the infamous Psycho shower scene is chocolate syrup. Apparently it filmed better than typical stage blood. So if you were freaked out by that scene...you were afraid of chocolate syrup.
posted by graymouser at 2:44 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can use a monochromatic color scheme without necessarily using black and white. Also it is not a black and mysterious art to know how certain colors appear in black and white film stocks. Of course they use natural colors and don't paint wall colors in garish, hard to find colors just for the fun of it. Much of the variation was handled with lighting, same as is done in modern color cinema.
posted by JJ86 at 6:24 PM on August 25, 2009

A detail I recall from an early 70s "Making of..." Star Trek (TOS) book was how a special filter was used when filming (or, I guess, videotaping) the original TV shows. This filter wasn't placed over the camera lens -- instead, production personnel looked through it, at any given scene, to ensure there was enough contrast between the colors -- this filter somehow turned down the color information, so they could see what the scene would look like on a black&white TV. At the time, this conversion was still in progress, and they wanted to be sure viewers of old televisions could tell red shirts from blue shirts from yellow shirts, and that green-skinned alien women looked different from both Lt Uhuru and Nurse Chapel.
posted by Rash at 11:06 AM on August 27, 2009

Not so much a set as special effects prop: Bosco Chocolate Syrup seems to have been popular for blood in black and white films.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:15 PM on November 5, 2009

« Older Will I be guilty through association?   |   I used to sell lingerie, so this should be easy... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.