Visual Aspects of Sci Fi-Fantasy

What are some of the basic elements that make Sci Fi different from Fantasy? And how are the two genres similar? In the first of a two part series, we will discuss the visual elements which comprise the identities of each style.

The look of the Fantasy genre came first from mythology and fairy tales, which in turn came from the universal symbols or archetypes found in dreams (from Man and His Symbols, by Carl G. Jung, pp. 95-156). Archeological evidence such as sculpture, bas-relief and other artifacts from around the world show certain common visual traits. One is long, flowing clothing which drape and hang on the wearer, emphasizing verticality and adding a heroic, larger than life quality. Handmade items from natural materials like stone, wood, metal and bone are also commonly seen. Designs ranged from simple to ornate as in shown in Roman compared to Eastern costumes. Design also tended to be symmetrical, often influenced by shapes and forms found in nature, such as plants, animals and skulls.


As for the visual basis of Sci Fi, the style is always a hyper-exaggerated version of the technology of the current day. Characterized by curved, clean lines, glowing lights and colors like, black, gray and chrome,  Sci Fi has the ‘shock of the new’, with the influence of nature only hinted at if at all. Designs are more often asymmetrical, with form following function.

Like many of the character designs in Star Wars, the cyborg General Grievous is a good synthesis of both Sci Fi and Fantasy style. His bone colored robotic body resembles the magically animated skeleton of a four armed, clawed monster, and armed with humming light sabers of slain Jedi, he presents as an impressive Sci Fi villain. His floor length gray cape resembles that of mythological characters like Aries and Dracula, providing contrast to his complex body design with the simplicity of drapery.


Another stunning example of the merger of Sci Fi and Fantasy visual styles is the Marvel character named Death, from the X-Factor Apocalypse storyline and also the recent X-men film. Formerly known as Angel from X-Factor, he was stripped of his mutant born organic wings in a previous battle. Death’s Celestial Technology wings are made of ‘living steel’, featuring razor sharp blades instead of feathers which work as polearms in close combat and as large throwing knives at range. Looking at once futuristic and mystical, the film version of The Horseman of Death’s gunmetal colored scale armor enhances this quality. Death’s creators succeed at making a visually compelling character by mixing the ancient mythology of angels in the sci fi context of the Marvel Universe.


The next post in this two part series will be about the origin of the story aspects of Sci Fi and Fantasy, with other examples of content that succeeds in blending the two.


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