The Blue Man Group – Promoting the Color Blue
Everyone knows the Blue Man Group. They are the sensational stage act with a fifteen-year run. Founded by three blue-painted extroverts performing on the streets of New York City, Blue Man Group now delivers their multi-sensory experience in NYC, Vegas, Boston, Chicago, and even Berlin (now that’s art). There are nearly 60 blue men performing today.
“Our identity is enigmatic, engaging, thought-provoking, and slightly intimidating. All of which are words that we use to describe the Blue Man character itself.”
Like any growing organization, Blue Man Group has developed a visual identity to accomplish its goals. Unlike any other organization, that identity is based on “three enigmatic bald and blue characters.” Sarah Seroussi talked to Michael Quinn, Artistic Director at Blue Man Group, about how this visual identity has evolved.
Q: Your overall identity at your site and in promotional materials revolves around the color blue. Why was blue originally chosen to be the skin color of the blue men?
Michael: Blue just felt right on all counts. All other colors had some sort of connotation that we didn’t want. Green was alien or Martian, and it represents envy. Red is angry or has socio-political connections. Black and white have racial connotations. Yellow is jaundiced and sickly. Blue was perfect. It represents serenity, calmness. It represents water, the stuff of life. It is neutral, vibrant, and simple.
Q: What specific color is the blue man color? Is it a custom paint color? And who chose it?
Michael: Technically the color is IKB, International Klein Blue, which is a shade of ultramarine developed by French visual artist Yves Klein. Klein has had a major influence on our work and the color seemed a natural choice both because of its satisfying hue but also because the reference to Klein himself seemed appropriate. Klein has a series of monochrome paintings using this color and we often imagined the Blue Man literally squeezing off these canvases. The actual make-up is created for us custom. In the end while it’s very close to IKB it sometimes tends a bit more towards cobalt blue.
Q: Who developed your visual identity? Was it home-grown or did you work with an agency?
Michael: It’s mostly home-grown. Our visual identity developed out of the character itself. People have never been able to describe the show verbally and even using imagery from the live experience never really captured our identity as well as a simple image of the Blue Man. Our identity is enigmatic, engaging, thought-provoking, and slightly intimidating. All of which are words that we use to describe the character itself. The logo was created in conjunction with a company called Performance Media way back in the beginning of the project.
Q: Talking of your logo—it’s interestingly weighted. The prominence of MAN somehow reinforces that there are three characters. What is the significance/story behind the way in which your logo is weighted? Is the white color significant?
Michael: When we think of Blue Man we think of Hu-Man. The character is supposed to be the barest essence of a human being, the acorn to the oak tree. We don’t think of the Blue Man as putting a mask on, we think of it as a human with all the masks off. The logo is an attempt to capture that sensibility. The “Man” is supposed to reinforce the connection to humanity. It’s utilitarian and simple in its edges and lack of serifs. We want it to appear underground as though a tagger spraypainted it on a subway wall. The white color was chosen simply to make it pop out of the blue or black background. The words themselves can be a variety of colors depending on the background. We mainly stick to white, black, blue, or gray. We have some other logos that we use for certain things such as merchandise and specific collateral material, but the “stack” logo is our main branding logo.
Q: How much time is spent color choreography during the shows?
Michael: The use of color in our shows is obviously of major concern for us. We like to think that in our best moments you could take a photograph of any instant of the show and it would make a pleasing and well-directed image. To that end we try to choreograph as many of the elements onstage as possible. Color is high on that list because we not only have lighting to think about but we also usually have paint or something flying around. In general our stage sets are black or perhaps a dark grey so we want colors that stand out.
We have a basic palette that we work with in terms of paint colors: Red, yellow, and lavender. We find that these colors stand out against the blue heads the best. In general our color schemes are based around what we think looks best with the blue heads. For instance, we use very little yellow/orange lighting onstage as it tends to turn the performers a bit grey. Green is tough because it is generally too dark and creates deep shadows and tones around the eyes which are so important. We like to use indigo lighting on the BM directly as it makes the blue paint glow.
We also use color to help tell the story or what we call the “spine” of the show. We think of color as representing the joy and elation of being connected with other beings. The BM are trying to spread that connection throughout the night. They want to share it with the audience. At the end of the night if they are successful then color will literally explode out of their chest as they are overcome with the joy they are able to share with the audience. In one piece the BM begin playing on our instruments made out of PVC piping. At the beginning of the song the pipes are their normal white color just like what you have in your house. As the music builds toward the big crescendo at the end the color of the tubes begin to change. The tubes themselves change from white to multi-color, again using our basic palette of red, yellow, and lavender.
Hopefully the audience is feeling the build as they see it. In our touring rock show we began the night in almost pure white then added color throughout the night as the audience began to “feel” more and more of the joy, exuberance, and connection of the live, group experience.
Q: What a beautiful way of talking about color! Are the same color schemes then used in your promotional materials?
Michael: Our promotional materials follow some of the same guidelines but do allow for some boundary crossing. We try to use vibrant bold colors that capture the eye. We try to pick looks that pierce through the “numbscape” that surrounds all of us everyday. In Las Vegas, we introduced a campaign that was shot entirely on a white void because we found that white was able to stand out in the casino which is one of the most Gaudy atmospheres on the planet. In newsprint we often refrain from using the Blue Man at all because so much of it ends up being black and white. Black and white Blue Men look grey which is no good. Instead we might simply use the logo in stark white to try and pop off the paper. In magazines we often set the Blue Men against a bright, almost neon background, so that when you turn the page you can’t help but notice the color which leads you to the Blue Men.
This post was authored by NoD staff. Notes on Design is a design industry blog sponsored by Sessions College for Professional Design.