How Much Detail is Enough?
- The most common advice I offer to your classmates for rewriting their Visual Analysis posts is to add more detail.
- The most common advice I offer after that is to concentrate on the Rhetoric half of the Visual/Rhetoric assignment.
- Posts should provide enough detail so that the reader not only visualizes the basics of the setting and the action but can also understand how the details impose interpretations on the viewers.
- Posts should include what you, the author, believe to be the interpretation the editor of the video wants to impose on us.
Help me find some videos, please?
Here you can scroll through hundreds of Ad Council videos. Be careful. You want one that runs 30 seconds!
The Visual and the Analysis are Inseparable
As you describe the visuals in depth, use your rhetorical skills to encourage an interpretation in the minds of your readers. They are putty in your hands since they depend on you for both your report on the images—their speed and sequence, the mood they cast—and your analysis of what the images mean.
Spend a short paragraph after the time-stamped material to draw any overall conclusions you can after considering the impact of the entire 30-second spot. You may discuss its particular effectiveness or its shortcomings as visual argument.
You may also (following your visual analysis) report on any dialog or soundtrack elements that influence your reactions to the argument when you combine the audio with the video.
When the video begins, we see three former presidents on screen standing outdoors in cold weather. They’re all facing forward, bareheaded, and dressed in suits, ties, and black overcoats, with their hands in their pockets. The two Democrats, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, are positioned left and right on the screen; George W Bush is in the center, standing a few feet behind the others. Oddly, they all have their hands in their pockets, perhaps because of the cold.
The outdoor setting is very dramatic and theatrical. There is no roof to the structure, which resembles an open-air theatre or church under a bright blue sky full of white clouds. White stone benches without backs are set in rows like church pews. At the front of the church/theater is a raised altar/stage backed by a cove topped with a half-dome. Stone pillars reminiscent of the Capitol and the White House extend both left and right from the altar, and between the pillars are hung American flags, so the backdrop sends messages of government, theater, and faith.
Both Bush and Obama are wearing what we assume are American flag lapel pins. Clinton probably is too, but his black scarf obscures it if he is. Outdoor gatherings of former presidents are rare and historic. They don’t happen by accident, so this was probably shot during the January presidential inauguration, which all three are known to have attended. If that’s true, then it’s no accident they’re standing at least 6 feet apart and were filmed outdoors; they’re practicing responsible social distancing.
Presidents of the two major parties indicate bi-partisanship. Whatever they have to tell us transcends differences between Republicans and Democrats. Still, there has to be some political content to the message. 3 presidents!
The image is compelling and demands at least temporary attention. It’s artfully staged, so it’s well-planned and choreographed. Whatever your affiliation, you’ll give this video at least a few seconds of your time.
Obama is half-smiling and seems comfortable looking into the camera. Clinton is not exactly making eye contact with us and looks, if anything, tired. We’re watching without sound, but we can tell from his lips and his swaying on his feet that Bush is making some remarks directly to us.
(Oddly, someone walks by in the background between Clinton and Bush, stealing focus from the primary scene, so apparently the director was not given absolute authority to clear the space. She may also have wished for another “take” that would not include the passerby, but it’s not easy to keep three presidents on the set for long.)
He probably should have stood more still during his opening remarks. When Bush sways, he looks a little goofy and undermines what, we imagine, will be a serious message.
Example 1 (Feedback to Student Draft)
Try to watch just the first two seconds of the following video and then the commentary below.
Student Analysis: Dog lying on some sort of table. Looks injured. In the background is a faded bloody bandage over one of the legs. It could be animal abuse or some type of accident.
Professor Reaction: The dull sheen of the table indicates it is steel or perhaps another industrial surface.
It is clean, suggesting the dog is indoors.
The light overhead and the soft shadow the dog casts on the tabletop indicate further that the scene is an interior, as does the “fixture-type” lighting in the background.
The bloody bandage is not surgical gauze; rather, it looks like a knotted dish towel with a frayed edge, so most likely it was applied in a home by a homeowner, not by a veterinarian.
This suggests that the dog has not yet received medical attention.
Perhaps a recent wound or surgery has opened and the dog’s owner tried to stem the flow?
Or maybe the dog received a new injury at or near home and an owner used a temporary bandage to help it until professional help could be found?
Professor Reaction continued: The camera slowly moves in on the dog’s face and eyes, which blink and then open wide.
Whatever else may be going on in the video, we are being asked to carefully consider and attend to this suffering animal.
Almost as if we were bringing our own faces closer to his, we move in to comfort him.
His eyes roll up a bit to indicate that he is aware of our closeness, signalling further that he is conscious and alert enough to take note of his surroundings.
He is a character in a drama, not a prop.
This one you know from class:
Professor’s Model Analysis
0:01. The ad starts very abruptly in the middle of a scene. What’s more, in the first second, the camera is zooming quickly back so that we have to adjust immediately to a barrage of information. The suggestion the filmmakers are making is that the footage was captured by an amateur camera operator, either for home video or maybe a low-budget documentary. Either way, we are given the impression that the footage is “real,” not staged by a director with hired actors.
The image quality too is low. It’s color photography, but the color is so washed-out we get the further impression of a low-budget production. It’s almost black-and-white.
We are behind the counter of a diner. We can tell this from the “marble” countertop before us and the ketchup bottles and napkin holders on the shelf below it. Attached to the countertop is a familiar menu-holder empty of menus. Even closer to the camera (which suggests the footage was taken from the kitchen, through the service window) is a red-top bottle of Angustora bitters. Another can be seen on the counter where customers could access it, alongside the ketchup bottle and the sugar server. The only common use for bitters is as a cocktail flavor. The implication is that this is a diner where drinks are served; therefore, we have at least the implication that some diners might be drinking.
Facing us at the counter are two young boys (one black, one white) dressed in similar sport jerseys. They are probably teammates. Next to the white boy is a crew-cut man in his 30s with longish sideburns. If he were heavier, he would resemble Kevin James from “King of Queens.” The implication is that he is a robust, perhaps a bit rough-edged, working-class guy here with his team, perhaps their coach, maybe father to one of the kids. He wears a lanyard around his neck; perhaps a whistle hangs from it, and a warmup jacket: coachwear.
On the counter between him and the white boy is a fielder’s glove. They are a baseball team. The kid is not a catcher.
Behind the three at the counter, a man and a woman occupy opposite sides of a booth. They are engaged in conversation. The man resembles Joe Pesci from “Goodfellas,” advancing the impression that we’re in a working-class diner. The bowling pin behind him, part of the decor of the place, further confirms this. The lone framed artwork decorating the space is a black-and-white photo of an urban street scene. Coffee cups are stacked upside-down in the service area behind the woman, whose hand motion before her face indicates she is the one doing the talking.
They have been served. The man is pointing at something large on the white boy’s plate. In fact, he points at it repeatedly and says something about it to the boy. Most likely he is picking up the tab. Maybe he doesn’t want that big dish wasted.
From a filmmaker’s point of view, the composition of the figures is very important. The characters are arranged in a line. Black boy at counter, Man in Booth facing woman in booth, White Boy at counter, Woman in Booth facing man in booth, Coach gesturing with his hand toward White Boy’s plate. His active hand gesture draws our attention. When he stops moving, the woman starts moving her hand in the very same space, keeping our attention on that spot, but shifting our focus to the conversation she’s having with the Man in the Booth. In one second, we have information about two different conversations. Both are clearly important.
End of the first second.
Student Analysis, 0:00
An African American family stands right outside of their home facing away from it. You can assume this argument is correct because there is a middle-aged bald man, a woman, and two young children, boy and girl. The mom and dad are holding a lot of things in their arms, which leads one to believe they just left the house they own. Both the mother and father have colorful collared shirts with no stains or wrinkles, and the woman’s hair is done nicely, it doesn’t look ratty. This gives one the impression that they are not poor. Maybe they are not rich either but they definitely have some money. The mom is holding the boy in her left arm, a bag in her left hand, some sort of satchel wrapped around her torso, and a coffee in her right hand. The dad carries a stroller on one arm and a computer carrier on the other, in his hands he has a drink and several toys/stuffed animals, presumably for the two children. It seems as though the parents have a lot to juggle. This is not only physically, but rhetorically the director wants us to know they are busy people with a lot going on in their lives.
Professor Notes: 0:01
What confuses me about the opening is that dad appears focused on something in the distant sky, or on the roof of the house across the street, and that mom does a neighborhood scan as she spins away from the front door. What the hell are they looking at, or for? You say it’s obvious they own this house, but I get the contrary impression that they rang the doorbell and got no answer and are now perplexed about what happens next. Maybe they’re hoping some neighbor will say, “They’re away for the weekend. Didn’t they tell you?” If the video provides no explanation for this strangeness, I’ll consider that a strange failure.
Second Student (First Draft and Rewrite)
Student Analysis, First Draft, 0:00
The viewers are shown a family leaving from the front door of their house. The mother of the family is carrying a toddler in one hand and with an orange cup in the other hand. The father is carrying a variety of children’s toys, a stroller, a presumed diaper bag, and a cup. Behind the father and hiding in between the two parents, is another child who is looking down and is out of the focal view. The mother is turning towards the viewer as the camera lens is slowly zooming out. The video quality is professional and clear and is filmed at a slightly lower angle. The mother has a frantic expression with her mouth open, while the father has a calmer expression. The overabundance of materials gives the scene a sense of the chaos in the family. It appears this family is rushing out of the house to go somewhere.
Professor Notes, 0:00
You have not told us anything about the house, and not much about the parents or children. You haven’t indicated why we believe this group to be a family. It may be uncomfortable to point out the ethnicity of your cast, but every viewer will react to their skin tone, even the variations in skin tone. We don’t yet know much about this presumed family, but their dynamic and their situation might very well be influenced by their economic status, their age, their race(s). Are they dressed for a certain type of weather? Can we see the sky? Are the parents so completely pre-occupied with the stuff they’re carrying that they don’t make eye contact with each other, with the children, with anything else? What are they looking at? What does the house look like? Where is it located? Viewers will begin to make judgements about the family from details such as these. What makes you certain they’re coming out of their own house? Granted, it’s the most likely situation, but what if they hauled all this stuff and all these kids to a relative’s house who turned out not to be home? Might they just as easily be departing disappointed from someone else’s home? If we saw them close the door, we’d know more.
Student Analysis, Rewritten, 0:00
The viewers are shown what appears to be an African American family who is presumably leaving from the front door of their house. They are stepping away from their front door, however, we do not see it close. It makes it unclear whether it is their house, but it seems to be in a regular suburban neighborhood. The door is white with patterned windows and a brick wall surrounding the exterior of the house. The family seems to be a middle-class family, based on their house and casual clothing consisting of t-shirts, jeans, and standard work attire for the parents. They are dressed for moderate to warm weather. There are four people present, a mother, a father, and two children. The parents appear to be middle-aged. The mother of the family is carrying a toddler in one hand and with an orange cup in the other hand. The father is carrying a variety of children’s toys, a stroller, a presumed diaper bag, and a cup. Behind the father and hiding in between the two parents, is another child who is looking down and is out of the focal view. The mother is carrying her son, while the daughter is standing behind the father. The mother is turning towards the viewer as the camera lens is slowly zooming out. The video quality is professional and clear and is filmed at a slightly lower angle. The mother has a frantic expression with her mouth open, while the father has a calmer expression. Both parents are looking past the camera into the distance. We do not know what they are looking at, however, we can assume it can be something in front of their house or in the sky. The overabundance of materials gives the scene a sense of the chaos in the family. It appears this family is rushing out of the house to go somewhere. The parents are completely preoccupied with the stuff they’re carrying that they don’t make eye contact with each other.
Student Analysis 0:00-0:01
The scene opens with a front shot of 3 people in a car, with one person in the back seat, one in the passenger and one in the driver seat. The person in the driver’s seat is painting her nails on top of the wheel, the person in the passenger seat is curling her hair with heatless curlers, and the person in the backseat is putting lotion on his face. The dashboard has nail polish bottles, towels and curlers on it creating a messy and cluttered environment.
The video begins with a scene of 3 people in a car from the Point-of-View of someone sitting on the hood. The camera moves along with the car, so it gets no closer to us in the first second, but we can tell it’s in motion from the reflections on the windshield and the views of moving trees and highway details through the rear and side windows. This is a common view from hundreds of movies and TV shows. We know from all those experiences that the “driver” is never “driving” in these scenes. The car is being pulled along a highway, and the “driver” isn’t steering even if she is turning the wheel.
In this case that distinction really matters because the woman in the driver’s seat is paying ZERO attention to the road ahead. In fact, no one in the car is paying any attention to the direction of travel. The driver is painting her nails, looking directly at her right hand as she applies pink polish with her left hand from an open polish bottle on the dashboard in front of the steering wheel. In fact, her hand is resting on the wheel, so that if she moves it to facilitate the polishing, she might accidentally steer the car into danger.
The other two occupants of the car are both similarly engaged in self-care and primping activities. A woman in the passenger’s seat is setting her hair in rollers, and a man in the back seat, a blue turban around his head, is apparently applying lotion to his cheek. Whatever the point of their individual activities, not one of them is attending to the road. In the first second we see the driver looking closely at her nails, the passenger apparently using the side-view mirror to help guide her hair into the rollers, and the back-seat passenger, head turned and eyes closed, deliberately looking at nothing at all. The point of the scene, delivered in the first second, is that these actors are all behaving in ways that would not be dangerous somewhere else but which are extremely hazardous while traveling in a moving car on a highway.
The dashboard is cluttered with hair rollers and at least half a dozen nail polishes and other cosmetic items, plus a litter of brushes and sponge applicators, as if the scene were a makeover site instead of a moving car. These characters are dangerously out of place and as a result they’re in immediate danger of a catastrophe.
Student Analysis, Revised Draft
The scene opens with a front shot of 3 people in a car, with one person in the back seat, one in the passenger and one in the driver seat. The woman in the driver’s seat is painting her nails on top of the wheel, the woman in the passenger seat is curling her hair with heatless curlers, and the man in the backseat is putting lotion on his face. The dashboard has nail polish bottles, towels and curlers on it creating a messy and cluttered environment, something not suitable for driving. No person is paying attention to the road, the most important to note being the driver, who is focused on painting her nails. The activities taking place are in no way something safe to be doing while driving in a fast moving car.