Graphic and visual arts

The effect of colors on perception. Part one: color red

The effect of colors on perception. Part one: color red

The public space in which we live, work and through which we move more or less consciously, feeds us with crafted images. Each image is information fueled and enhanced by color.

Each of us goes to the cinema, watches movies, spots and commercials. Everyone feels the emotions after watching them – receives what the director wanted to convey to us. In this article, we’ll look at how a conscious creator uses color to achieve the intended effect.   

On several examples we will show how – with the help of colors – directors manipulate our emotions during screenings. It’s amazing how unwittingly our mood and emotions succumb to the magic of the image and how we let them manipulate us. 


This is the most intense of all colors. The hottest color whose impact on the recipient is compared with the effects of caffeine. Red releases adrenaline in us and raises blood pressure. It is an exciting and arousing color associated with sport and competition. Does the red color not emphasize the sporty character of the car? What feelings are aroused in us when we see red Ferrari?

By stimulating our body, red also increases our appetite. The giants of the food industry have used this effect. Let’s recall the logo of companies such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s or KFC. This color focuses our attention the most, which catches our eyes and evokes stronger emotions. 

red is the color that most stimulates the human mind
Research shows that red is the color that stimulates the human mind the most.

Since the dawn of time, red has signaled danger and the need for a firm response. Red means fire, blood and aggression. It forces you to remain vigilant and focus your attention. It is like a warning, it serves to emphasize dynamics, it is also a call to action.

The original meaning of red is used to this day in the advertising industry – by focusing the consumer’s attention and stimulating him to act, it can be used to sell a specific product or service. Buy now! Final sale! Last chance! These are just some of the slogans that shout out to us from store displays. And they are shouting in red. 

Red color also means love, passion and passion.

Red is often the dominant color in scenes filled with eroticism and sensuality. There is a reason why red lips or nails are attributes associated with true femininity.

red lips or nails are attributes associated with true femininity
Source: https://www.dior.com/diormag/en_gb/article/splendor/
Lighter shades of red symbolize joy, love, passion – while darker strength, anger or leadership.

Light pink is a color used in the design of clothes and accessories for young girls, while blush, known as episcopal, is associated with the attributes of church power. Intense red has always been associated with power and wealth, which is why wealthy noblemen used this color so often during Sarmatian Poland.

Red is also the color of kings and emperors. The crimson color in the Polish flag means courage and valor, as well as dignity and wealth. There is a reason why red is used in 77% of flags in the world. 

Red color palette
Red allows you to express yourself.

People who choose red are characterized by courage, extravagance, ambition, energy, directness, dynamism and generosity. They are people with a strong character, willing to compete and take risks. 

Meanings assigned to red and the use of red in movies

The right choice of colors is the basis of any graphic design. This is especially visible in cinematography, where the use of color emphasizes the character of the scene, building the atmosphere around the story. Red is a color whose meaning may change depending on the context, but its character always remains the same – determined, absorbing and stimulating to act. 

The right choice of colors is the basis of any graphic design

Run Lola, run – a German film from 1998 directed by Tom Tykwer

The heroine of the movie, Lola, has twenty minutes to get 100,000 DM (Deutsche Mark) needed to save the life of her boyfriend – Manni. The red color on the screen is her fuel, it is her main driving force. The bright red of the screen is a vivid illustration of adrenaline.  

It either stimulates your libido or makes you become aggressive, impatient or compulsive. Red is a power that does not combine with moral imperative. 

Run Lola, run - a German film from 1998
Color palette

Schindler’s List – American war drama from 1993. Director Steven Spielberg

In this dramatic black-and-white world, one detail draws the main character’s attention and catches the eye of the viewer – she is a little girl walking through the streets, wearing an intensely red coat. The color symbolizing innocence, hope and shed blood gives the girl identity and allows her to be separated from the mass of nameless shadows. 

Thanks to red, we also recognize her for the last time – lying lifeless on a pile of nameless corpses, on her way to a mass grave. This scene shakes, causes pain and a sense of huge loss.

Schindler's List - American war drama from 1993
Source: https://www.filmweb.pl/Lista.Schindlera/photos/455316
Color palette

American Beauty – Sam Mendes movie from 1999

A midlife crisis in the suburbs, Lester Burnham, falls in love with her teenage daughter’s friend.(1)

The director uses red as the leitmotif throughout the film. Sometimes as a detail, timidly catching the viewer’s attention and sometimes as a dominant absorbing all his attention. Red distinguishes the real world from the erotic fantasies of the main character.

The ubiquitous rose petals – a flower symbolizing beauty, passion and youth – are also important. It is the rose petals in Lester’s fantasies that always conceal Angela’s most intimate parts, causing the man to desire her even more. 

Let’s not forget about the other meaning of red – it is a symbol of danger, aggression and blood. In this sense, red becomes a harbinger of the brutal end that is written for the main character.

American Beauty - Sam Mendes movie from 1999
Color palette

(1) Source of the description: www.filmweb.pl
The tool used to generate palettes was: www.canva.com/color-palette/