Are UK films and television programming shot in cooler colors than similar North American productions?
June 5, 2011 5:33 AM   Subscribe

Are UK films and television programming shot in cooler tones than similar North American productions?
posted by unmake to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know about UK, but I've always thought that Japanese TV uses much colder colors than the US.
posted by zachawry at 5:59 AM on June 5, 2011

You could be noticing differences between PAL and NTSC encoding.
posted by davey_darling at 6:05 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

seconding davey
posted by 3mendo at 6:20 AM on June 5, 2011

davey_darling: You could be noticing differences between PAL and NTSC encoding

Yeah, it's this.

According to my husband, who grew up playing on the floor of various UK television studios, NTSC was derisively said to stand for Never Twice the Same Color.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:24 AM on June 5, 2011

I'm not sure if the PAL/NTSC thing is actually the reason. Countries like Brazil, Thailand, and Italy use PAL also. My guess is that the cooler color temperature reflects the environment of where the program originates.
posted by cazoo at 6:36 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's as simple as PAL vs. NTSC. PAL is a broadcast standard, not a recording standard (frame rate aside). This should mean that, when broadcast over NTSC in the US, British shows should take on the NTSC appearance (and vice versa). This obviously isn't the case though: US shows stick out like a sore thumb on UK TV.
posted by caek at 6:41 AM on June 5, 2011

It's definitely a 'thing' - when I was younger US news reports used by the BBC always had a greeny-yellow tinge, as faithfully recreated by Chris Morris on The Day Today. I always assumed it was something to do with PAL/NTSC, but have never seen anything definitive on this.
posted by spectrevsrector at 7:00 AM on June 5, 2011

Actually, PAL and NTSC are both calibrated at 6,500 K.

There is a stylistic difference (and with some attention, may be visible) between LA/NYC colorists, so similarly on the other side of the pond.

Now, 10 years ago, the tools were worse, but the engineering was tighter; today the engineering is automated, less suites are calibrated, and the tools are stronger.
posted by filmgeek at 7:05 AM on June 5, 2011

On the off-chance that your observations aren't explained by the PAL/NTSC difference: I have noticed that the set design of almost every single talk, comedy panel and talent show in the UK is dominated by neon blue.
posted by hot soup girl at 7:59 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

British sunshine is distinct from most North American (due to the much higher altitude), enough so I can usually tell if any outside/location scene has been filmed in Britain or not.

Also, the colours of plants in Britain are cooler - grasses especially are a bluer-green than in North America. here's a picture of a cow and her new-born calf - the day was sunny and the light low and very golden, but the grass in the shadows still has a relatively cool tone. And given an overcast-day (somewhat frequent in Britain), the palette gets cooler. (hope the links work -- I'm just thrown to the mobile site.)

Here's another photo from an overcast day - football on a medieval street.
posted by jb at 8:04 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

my husband says I'm wrong abt the grass: NorthAm grass has a more blue-green colour naturally (with British grass a bright green) - it's just that our Ontario grass browns due excess heat & dry in the summer and cold in the winter.

But the general strength of natural light in Britain is softer (due to the angle of the sun), and with frequent overcast days the light is often cool-coloured. Also, I seem to remember the countryside being more green than the yellows of NorthAm, but maybe that's because I'm comparing lush grass grazing areas in summer (like Wiltshire) with the harvest-time wheat fields of Saskachewan.
posted by jb at 8:10 AM on June 5, 2011

Also, I'm an idiot and wrote "altitude" when I meant LATITUDE.
posted by jb at 8:12 AM on June 5, 2011

One possible problem here is that US readers won't know just how spectacularly awful NTSC can look when upconverted to PAL-I, and certainly I was somewhat surprised when first visiting the US that NTSC TV looked nowhere near as shite when shown on the right sort of television.

Americans: your TV looked like shit, colour-wise, to most of the world (since the pre-broadcast chain went digital about 20 years ago computers have been fixing it and it's gone away now).

Not-Americans: this probably isn't what the OP is referring to. We should probably let it go, even though we still occasionally get headaches from the eyestrain caused by watching that crap in the 80s.

UK lighting design makes a concerted effect to reflect the colour of actual daylight, yes. When outdoors you'll get a look that reflects the UK's seemingly-perennial high cloud cover, or what Darlingbri would call "it looks like they put the whole damned country in a Tupperware box". Or you'll get good weather as it looks in the UK, which is pretty damned weaksauce compared to anywhere in the lower latitudes of the US.

The big one, though, is how they do daytime and indoors: ideally, by simulating the existence of daylight and windows. That means blue-white bulbs. NOT YELLOW.

By way of contrast you've got -- to pick an extreme example -- the CSI series, known in my house not by their actual titles but as 'the orange one, the green one and the blue one'. And in the blue one it never seems to be daytime anyway.

Also look at, say, 'Friends'. The *only* difference in lighting between daytime and nighttime is that the windows change colour. That's not how the sun works.

Er, so anyway: *kinda* colder, yes, in a "not colourwashing the entirity of reality" way. That sounds like the other lighting style bothers us, but we've been looking at it since about 1975 so we don't really notice your lighting either, except when we reference it on purpose as visual shorthand. Well, except for CSI. What the fuck is going on with those shows? Fucker's GREEN, ferchrissakes.

(There's a whole realm of discussion here to be had about film colour systems and national identities and how it's not that surprising that US TV drifted into a studiobound kinda-Techniolor-y look while the UK didn't because that same division also happened in the 40s. But you can decide that one for yourself.)
posted by genghis at 8:48 AM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

I definitely think the frequency of overcast days in Britain that jb points out is a factor in this. A warmer colour tone just wouldn't look right.
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:50 AM on June 5, 2011

I might have added that the British films/tv I've been watching are various police procedurals, Doctor Who, and assorted miniseries (G.B.H., Edge of Darkness, literary adaptations) - all as digital video on a color-matched LCD monitor. Even on one American channel, HBO, the British co-production Rome seems much cooler and muted than other series set on the Atlantic (Sopranos, The Wire).
posted by unmake at 9:30 AM on June 5, 2011

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