Arts & Entertainment


Martin Scorsese

Lesson time 07:04 min

Martin gives you a lesson on the historic use of color in cinema and explains his use of color in his own films.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Early Use of Color in Cinema • Color Always Has to Be Designed • The Possibilities of Color Are Endless


I really loved to color when I was a child watching these films. And I found that as the color process changed, the color changed, you know? And eventually by the early '50s, the change from three-strip to mono pack changed the nature of the color. And colors became more muted I thought. I happen to like the very bright colors of early Technicolor. That doesn't mean I don't like black and white. That's the difference. The black and white was color, and still is. But I was really fascinated by that projection on the screen. Because the first film I saw was Duel in the Sun. It was three-strip Technicolor. And the credits, the opening credits come up, and it's the blazing hot, yellow sun. And the titles come up and you hear gunshots. And it was absolutely overpowering feeling watching that film, or trying to watch it. It actually terrified me. I was about five years old. But the use of color in that I think set the tone for me. And there's no doubt that I respond to the vibrant use of color in that. Or the moment like in 1948 when my brother took me to see a re-release of Wizard of Oz, when the sepia sequences at the beginning when the house lands in Oz, you know, and it's still in sepia, but she opens the door and it's Technicolor. That moment has always been something that I love. I love when films in the late '40s were in black and white and then there was one sequence in color, like The Portrait of Dorian Gray, or the end a Portrait of Jennie where it's tinted green, the storm, and ultimately the last shot is in color of the film. This made it very special for me. And then seeing the two color films, which I felt were magical to me. And so this all revolved around that technical process that Oswell, Mongerson, John Huston used on Moby Dick, the desaturation of the color, which I tried to do many times, basically coming up with an image that looked so desaturated that it was almost like a colorized daguerreotype in a way, and had a great sense of almost like looking at paintings, or, I should say, scrimshaw etchings done on whale bone. It was quite beautiful, I thought. You see, when a picture is made in color, you also have to design in color. That means the color means something. And color is special. And the use of color was something new in a way. But just to shoot because it's color doesn't quite make sense. So the use of primary colors is important. As I say, color means something. Even when you don't want it to, it does. And so you have to be very careful the colors you allow in the frame. When color became somewhat expected all the time, it lost its special nature for me. There was a different way of using color, too. Different lenses then, different film stocks. So you really had people utilizing color to tell a story also in a different way from the studio films. Because they did tell a ...

About the Instructor

Martin Scorsese drew his first storyboard when he was eight. Today he’s a legendary director whose films from Mean Streets to The Wolf of Wall Street have shaped movie history. In his first-ever online film class, the Oscar winner teaches his approach, from storytelling to editing to working with actors. He deconstructs films and breaks down his craft, changing how you make and watch movies.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Martin Scorsese

In 30 lessons, learn the art of film from the director of Goodfellas, The Departed, and Taxi Driver.

Explore the Class
Sign Up