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Skin Tone in Film

July 25, 2023

(Based on the Article: Understanding Color Memory - A Study of Skin Tone Perception in Hue, Intensity, and Chroma)

Color management in film is a tremendous undertaking. The color and tone of a film can make or break the story for the audience, especially when it comes to skin tones. When skin tones aren’t represented well, the results are obvious and off-putting.  This is why film makers work very hard to get it right, especially since that wasn’t always the case in the past.

There are three main components of skin tone that color managers in film need to address during the production and post-production processes. The first is the hue of the skin. Hue refers to the gradation of a color. For example, when someone describes something as “Blueish-green” they are describing the hue. The hue of a color can be described in several ways from the dominate wavelength of a color to its position on the spectrum.

The second component is chroma, which refers to the strength and saturation of a color. When people describe a color as “Light red” or “dark red,” they are referring to the chroma. Chroma has an even more specific definition when it comes to film, as it refers to the color strength in comparison to the accompanying luma signal.

The third component is intensity. Color intensity refers to the brightness of a color. The higher the intensity, the brighter the color. Hue and chroma can affect intensity and vice versa, meaning film makers need to pay attention to all three aspects when it comes to skin tone. Different techniques can help with all three of these, such as image lighting and exposure. The creation of new technologies, like high dynamic range (HDR), has also been extremely useful.

Still, color science is far from perfect. Historically, film makers have struggled to accurately represent darker skin tones. This issue has only been addressed recently, but progress is moving fast. Still, there’s work to be done, which is why members of the film technology industry are now experimenting with color memory, which addresses how audiences perceives skin tone in film.

Color management is a tremendous undertaking, but film technologies are putting in the work to get it right. Every skin tone deserves to be represented correctly and audiences deserve to see a film as it was intended to be seen. As time passes, techniques and technology will improve. Someday soon, every skin tone will be easily, and accurately, represented in film.

Tag(s): Skin Tone

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