How many colors can you make with black and white? If you were as optimistic as Aristotle, your answer would be, “All of them!” In his “On Sense and What is Sensed,” c. 330 B.C. the Greek philosopher theorized that all colors derived from combinations of just these two colors. In Baht Oyunu the lead character Bora Dogrusöz (Aytaç Şaşmaz), a principled man who values honesty above all else, sees the world in black and white with little sympathy or understanding for the grays in between. Ada Tözün (Cemre Baysel), on the other hand, is…everything in between. Yet she is anything but gray. Aristotle may have been mistaken about color, but he perfectly describes the frenzied, bubbly, off-course Ada; a young woman stuck between the black and white who simply radiates color.
Baht Oyunu uses color in bold, whimsical ways that help transport the audience into the fictional environment of the playful summer dizi. The most noticeable of which is the vibrant, neon lighting used throughout the sets, but also appears to a lesser degree in scenery and wardrobe choices. The production’s use of lighting and color may initially seem arbitrary or unusual; however, more often than not it conforms to many principles of color theory.
Color, How Does It Work?
So what is color theory? In a nutshell, it’s a practical guide to color mixing based on the art and science behind how humans interpret color and the effect those colors have on each other. Let’s take a brief highlights tour. While our friend Aristotle believed colors were produced by bright, white light passing through or reflecting off dark objects, this theory was rendered moot by Sir Isaac Newton’s famous 1665 discovery that the sun’s light itself is made of colors. These can be seen when their wavelengths are bent at varying degrees and separated out as they pass through a prism. This is the foundation for our first color model: RGB, an additive color wheel of red, green, and blue light which ultimately creates white when the three primary colors are mixed.
However, most of us are used to a different color model, introduced in our primary school days: RYB, a subtractive color wheel of red, yellow, and blue pigment, favored by painters and other artists, and ultimately producing near black. Actually, no painter can make pure black by mixing pigments, which is why your home printer uses a slightly different subtractive color model: CMYK using cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Subtractive describes how a pigment absorbs certain wavelengths of light and reflects the remaining color back to our eyes. The RYB model gives us our familiar primary, secondary, tertiary colors, and so on.
So now that we have our color wheels, what can we do with them? Quite a lot actually. All colors have several characteristics: hue (the color family, e.g. reds, greens, yellows), value (light or dark), chroma (the intensity, e.g. saturated or dull), and temperature (warm, cool, neutral). These characteristics can be manipulated to create a host of visual effects. Choosing a color palette quite literally sets the tone for a work of art. It can make a work loud or quiet, cheerful or melancholy, frenzied or calm, etc. Observe the two rooms below, from the series Baht Oyunu and Baş Belası respectively, with wildly different takes on hue, value, chroma, and temperature. One has great variation in the color palette, while the other is limited; one is heavily saturated and the other muted, and so forth giving an exciting, slightly chaotic feel to the Baht Oyunu office versus the peaceful, sophisticated sitting room in Baş Belası.
Many factors go into creating the general aesthetic of an artwork and color theory is one of the easiest to manipulate. The following are several examples of the myriad ways color theory manifests in Baht Oyunu. Since we watch our show via a screen using an RGB color model, let’s mostly compare with that.
Playing With Hue
Complementary colors which sit opposite each other on the color wheel will create a vibrant scene and can draw focus to a particular area. Notice how in this overwhelmingly blue room, your eye follows the path of yellow objects in an arc straight from the painting above Bora to Ada’s desk.
In addition to focusing our gaze on a specific area, contrasting colors can also be used to give an overall sense of drama to an otherwise boring area, as we see with Ada’s apartment building and Bora’s driveway.
Analogous colors residing next to each other on the color wheel create a harmonious, relaxing scene. Colors support each other and a small accent color adds visual interest.
Getting into more complicated variations, a split complementary color scheme uses a base color and makes the overall contrasting effect less intense by using two colors on opposite sides of the base color’s complement. Tuğçe’s office is a great example where the blue-greens and yellows balance and soften what could be an overwhelming amount of pink light.
A triadic arrangement has colors evenly spaced around the wheel. They are vibrant schemes, even with unsaturated colors; one color should dominate.
A square color scheme uses four colors in complementary pairs. There is a lot going on in this arrangement so it works best if one color dominates.
Playing with Chroma, Temperature, and Mood
With such a vibrant world surrounding its characters, care must be taken to prevent them from clashing, or even getting lost, in the colorful sets. You may have noticed the main characters, particularly Ada and Tuğçe, are often dressed in muted or neutral colors. This might seem an unusual fashion choice, but color theory comes into play. Neutrals are either colors not found on the color wheel (black, white, gray, brown) or hues with a very low chroma (saturation). Neutrals don’t compete with hues and can even pop when set against them. This strategy is perfect for focusing on the actors in an otherwise busy set.
This is not to say colorful wardrobes can’t work, but they perform best when the surrounding color palette is kept to a minimum.
Let’s look at little case study. Both Baht Oyunu and the dizi Cam Tavanlar gave us tango scenes this summer. However, the usual kaleidoscopic lighting surrounding Ada and Bora was kept to an absolute minimum, while the Cam Tavanlar set had colors in spades. Clearly the productions have different goals. In Baht Oyunu all eyes are on Ada, both for those of us watching and for Bora, who is beginning to finally acknowledge his feelings and attention towards his assistant. Her red dress, without any competition, relays this sense of attraction. In Cam Tavanlar, the tango scene follows an eventful, and stressful, couple of days where the romantic leads, Leyla and Cem, can finally share a happy, cathartic moment. The setting reflects this celebratory mood; the focus is not on Leyla, but rather the joyful energy between the two. Her red dress stands out, but is not as striking against the busy scenery. It’s an excellent example of how color can be used to achieve vastly different outcomes despite similar scenarios.
Warm and cool color divisions also affect what we notice on screen. Cool colors tend to recede into the background, while warm colors advance, playing on our depth perception. Color choice also has a psychological effect on a scene. Warm colors tend to feel more aggressive, energetic, passionate, but can also be comforting and optimistic. Cool colors, on the other hand, evoke calm, safety, openness, but also sadness and mystery. There’s a lot more to be said about color psychology than I have time for here, but do check out the pioneering work of psychiatrist Carl Jung, as well as The Theory of Colours by artist and writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (yup, that Goethe). In the meantime, take a look at this beautifully colored scene that has a little bit of everything:
Notice the cool tones receding into the back, while a pop of warmth jumps out in front. The one green light in the foreground both makes the pink flowers more noticeable and contrasts nicely with Ada’s red skirt, preventing it from blending into the red light. A trio of the RGB primary colors (hello, triadic arrangement) also adds visual interest off to the side to balance the knickknacks hung on the opposing wall. Now let’s look a bit closer.
During this dramatic conversation, the colored lighting harmoniously reflects what is happening between the actors. In the beginning of the conversation, Bora remains calm and ready to listen to Ada—his face awash in blue. However, when his tone changes and he becomes angry, he steps into the harsh, warm light. At the same time, Ada retreats into the cool light; the sadness evident on her face. It’s a lovely subtlety that really sets the mood for the scene.
Color combinations can also change temperature. In the scene above, even though Ada is both dressed and lit in what would normally be read as a warm, happy pink, the even warmer yellow light behind her turns the pink into a cool tone—an effect that helps unite the characters in this split screen.
When It Doesn’t Work
Above are many solid examples of color theory at play in Baht Oyunu, but is it always given deep consideration? Probably not. Often we use it unconsciously because certain color combinations just look right to our eyes. After all, color theory is simply a tool to help organize what we already see. A meticulously set up scene can look fantastic, but at times Baht Oyunu’s colorful lights are seemingly added at random and don’t create much visual interest. Most likely they appear for continuity, in the sense that the show’s overall atmosphere is always colorful and even minor scenes support that aesthetic. Let’s take a look at a few examples of when the colorful world falls flat.
Sometimes the simplest of props can achieve the most effective outcome. Here we have two outdoor conversations at night that add a bit of color to varying success. In the scene between Ada and Bora, the lighting is poorly utilized, adds no visual interest, and Bora almost disappears. The camera and the actors are all too far away for the lighting to achieve its full colorful effect, so it looks out of place—like a sparsely decorated Lite-Brite. In the scene from Sen Çal Kapımı, however, the umbrellas set against a monochromatic background do wonders. The black pops, the rainbow adds richness, and they act as stand-ins for the personalities of the two characters—Serkan as the stoic, brooding black umbrella and Eda as the vibrant, colorful rainbow. It’s a much more effective use of both color and background lighting.
Back to Aristotle
In “On Sense and What is Sensed,” Aristotle wrote not just about visual perception and color, but also taste. He likened black and white to the contrary tastes of bitter and sweet. I prefer this analogy to the common association of these two colors with “bad and good.” Bitter and sweet have a stronger connection to our feelings and memory, as do colors. It also allows more wiggle room for all the variation in tastes, colors, and emotions in between the black and white. Baht Oyunu’s characters too operate in this range. They are more complex than they first appear; they are messy, they are wrong, they are hurt, they are pretending, they are in over their heads, they are changeable, they are trying their best. In short, they are colorful.
As the story unfolds, we glimpse a more varied and conflicting spectrum in moments such as Evrem’s beautiful speech on growing up without parents, Belma’s developing attachment to the aunts from which she wants to rid herself, or Ada shaking off her struggles in the mirror as she puts on a smile. In Episode 9, Bora recounts the story of a treasured kaleidoscope from his youth, likening it to the vibrancy Ada introduced into his life. Though his trust in her may have broken like his toy, the man who sees the world in black and white is surrounded by all those colorful, messy beads spilling forth from a woman who is becoming just as precious. Much as we learn our color wheel as children, starting with three basic primary colors before exploring all the combinations that result, so too have our characters evolved in complexity as the show progresses. It is only fitting then that Baht Oyunu’s characters move through an otherworldly set as colorful as they are.
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