The Wizard of Oz. Traffic. These are films that don’t just use color to make pretty pictures; cinematography and set decorations mix to actually add to the narrative. But there’s really no way to explore their story of color without re-watching the entire film.
Spotmaps is a Python-based project by Andy Willis (inspired by Brendan Dawes’s Cinema Redux) that simplifies each second of a movie into its most prominent color. These frames are then lined up 60-wide to designate a minute per line in a long tapestry of pixels that you could easily call art, or you could just as easily pigeonhole as a strictly scientific, anatomical view of a film’s color.
Of the 294 color maps that Willis processed, my favorite may be that of Wall-E because you can actually follow the movie’s story in its lines. We open on a dusty, brown landscape in which Wall-E is alone. Slowly, we begin to see white dots appear here and there—EVE maybe? All of a sudden, things go dark and we’re in a world of blues and purples, humanity’s last ship. Eventually, the film concludes with the ship landing back on Earth, and the two color palettes join in harmony.
Ghost in the Shell, Titan AE, and even Wall-E, have a level of saturation and color variety beyond most camera-based films. That makes sense: Animators aren’t limited by film stocks or naturalism, so they can use whatever colors they can imagine. But even more monotonous films are fascinating. Marathon Man is a sea of gray, punctuated with '80s fluorescent colors. Its spotmap becomes a whole cultural artifact unto itself.
I can’t help but wonder how deep Spotmaps could go in the realm of big-data film criticism. Willis told me he’s making his code open source to host more maps, and within that code, you can actually output the raw RGB hex data (rather than mere thumbnails to look at). With so many concrete color values, the analysis you could do could be extraordinary, like comparing works through a director’s catalog or documenting the shifting color tastes over time. You could even just pull the Adobe swatch to create a product or article of clothing to match a movie. Forget those ugly Taco Bell cups. High-end designers could capture the feel of an inspiring film in some awesomely tangential ways.