An Analysis of Gravity Fails!
In which I interpret and reflect on my first visual story.
Story in question: https://s3.amazonaws.com/external_clips/3920182/Milica_Visual_Story_-_Gravity_Fails.pdf?1630860008
For a storyteller who would normally rely on a script, creating a story using only visuals proved to be quite the challenge. I found film producer Bruce Block’s lessons on visual components and structure to be especially helpful in delineating different elements of Gravity Fails! as clearly as I could. While I am not an artist I nevertheless desired an aesthetic that is not only visually appealing but also allows for such consistency, thus I turned to the Pixton comic maker to create my ten images.
Pixton’s selection of backgrounds, character designs, facial expressions, movements, and camera positions made it easier for me to adhere to Block’s guidelines in terms of how I wished to frame my plot points and set the narrative’s overall mood. To start, we can outline the general characteristics that encapsulate Gravity Fails! Colour is prevalent throughout to indicate a modern setting, albeit a more exaggerated reality highlighted by the 2D animation style (Block 4).
With the exception of the ninth image, with one of the aliens in the background, all the characters are either in the foreground or midground relative to their surroundings on each screen or within each picture plane to signify action, tension, and/or the audience’s relationship with the characters at a given point (Block 5). In the latter case, they are invested in the established main cast while the aliens are a distant, unpredictable enigma only seen once.
Space, movement, and rhythm nevertheless intertwine here to give the audience a sense of the characters’ personalities, and especially body language that communicates their reactions to gravity slowly failing and dynamic with each other (Block 3). They also contribute to visual progression whereby a simple event – the three friends wanting to visit a café – turns into something more complex, namely a sci-fi adventure with more characters and changes in scenery (Block 6).
With all this in mind, we can now examine the details of every individual image. The exposition in the first panel entails the trio, with a dark-haired boy named Rudy, a short girl named Ruth, and the bespectacled Rupert excited about the café’s menu (Block 222). Since they visit Rudy’s mother Paloma and he is featured in the majority of the panels, we can assume Rudy is the leader. Ruth, who appears to be the voice of reason in the group, is the least expressive. Rupert is akin to comic relief and therefore has the most exaggerated expressions.
We experience intensity in the next panel where the three inexplicably begin floating (Block 224), and by the third, we are introduced to the characters’ twofold conflict: figuring out whether gravity really is sporadically malfunctioning – their external conflict – or they are just imagining it – their internal conflict (Block 222). They visit Paloma to inquire about any similar incidents in the area and confirm their suspicions in the subsequent panel. As might be expected, she is in disbelief, but we also notice Rupert is missing from the shot and might be questioning his whereabouts.
Intensity spikes again in the fifth panel when Rupert is uncontrollably about to collide with Paloma and Rudy rushes in to save her (Block 222). By this point in the narrative, the conflict persists, and so the scene is contrasted with the previous one (Block 234) to show the growing suspense since the events now seem to lean toward reality rather than imagination (Block 242).
In an attempt to ease her anxiety, Ruth presumably assures Paloma that the group will get to the root of the problem in the sixth panel. Her resolve is interrupted by an incident that leaves Rudy utterly shocked in the seventh panel. What happens is unknown here, but because we only see Rudy’s reaction we may be lead to believe that these are his perceptions of the events unfolding and reliability becomes debatable. In graphical terms, this space is ambiguous (Block 241).
Intensity nearly reaches the extreme in the eighth panel when Rudy and his friends float all the way up to a Mars-like planet and spot an alien spaceship, which might be suspected to have a connection with gravity’s failure on Earth. The internal conflict appears resolved as we are convinced of the gravity of the situation, so to speak (Block 241). At the climax in the penultimate panel, we witness aliens smiling sinisterly on their thrones; this is when we are meant to find out whether they will act or the trio will successfully confront them, thereby putting an end to the external conflict (Block 242).
Finally, we experience affinity in the resolution (Block 242). We realize that the characters are perfectly safe in Rudy’s car, and judging from the determined, yet playful look on his face he could either be – in a teasing manner – telling his friends about a dream he had he wishes could come true or sharing a story idea with them. Ruth is clearly unimpressed; she is either contemplating Rudy’s insanity or simply feels the story is lacking in originality. Rupert, meanwhile, looks eager to hear more.
Based on these details, we can conclude that a graph indicating ambiguous and recognizable space most accurately describes this story’s structure as the surreal sequences appear at different moments and grow in both intensity and extremity until the climax (Block 241).
Because of limitations, there are moments in the story that may be unclear to the audience had it not been for this analysis, such as the gang's travel to, and encounter in space and Rudy's reveal at the end. Creating less humanoid aliens and in a higher quantity relative to the protagonists might have cleared up the former, and a panel where Rudy wakes up - if I were to go with the dream interpretation - would have made sense of the latter. In retrospect, I could have removed a filler panel to make room for it, such as the one where our trio decides to visit Paloma.
Gravity Fails! may have benefitted from other visual elements besides colour and space, including lines, shapes, tone, contrast, crowdedness versus open spaces, and proximities as they change throughout the story arc. For example, I should have explained how the prominence of vertical lines in the first three panels, the prominence of squares and lines in the next three, and the absence of straight lines in the final three panels impact the narrative.
Overall, I am happy that my first attempt at visual storytelling is mostly functional and wish to tinker with visuals again in other formats as I develop future stories.
Block, Bruce A. “Story and visual structure.” The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media. Focal Press/Elsevier, 2008, pp. 222-42.
Block, Bruce A. “The visual components.” The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media. Focal Press/Elsevier, 2008, pp. 3-6.