aka: Editorial Synesthesia
Due to the fact that most entertainment is experienced exclusively through vision and sound, anything that a fictional character perceives by other means (such as smell) cannot be conveyed directly; when it's important for the audience to sense it, the artist must find a way to visually portray whatever it is the character is sensing.
This is especially common in printed media such as comics, which (unlike television and video games) must rely on their visuals exclusively.
Named after Synaesthesia/Synesthesia, a condition where sensory areas in a person's mind overlap/interconnect, so they may see sound, taste letters and so on. (see the book The Man Who Tasted Shapes
by Richard Cytowic 
See also Rule of Perception
open/close all folders
Visual smell/Taste (possible sister trope to Audible Sharpness)
- Stink lines are ubiquitous in any visual medium, and are invariably green, yellow, or somewhere in-between.
Anime & Manga
- The character 'Honey' in Ouran High School Host Club always has floating flowers around him.
- One arc in Mononoke depicted smell with colors, whereas almost everything else was Deliberately Monochrome.
- In Saint Seiya, the background switches to a wireframe and a background color scheme themed to the character firing up his aura. Hyoga for instance gets a white/blue-ish background when using his cold-based powers, and as he senses the presence of a fellow cold powers user, to give the audience the visual cue that he is somewhat familiar with it, the background changes to this. Also counts in some ways as Aura Vision, but it's mainly there to give the audience an insight on the surnatural perceptions that the Saints possess.
- In the "Dancer" commercial for Kellogg's Pop-Tarts, the pastries in the toaster give off a visible vapor. Ten percent of the vapor is strawberries, representing the ten percent fruit in the filling.
- In Disney's Fantasia, every scene is a representation of the images that the music invokes in the artists' minds. The segment that is the purest example of Editorial Synaesthesia is the one of "The Soundtrack", as abstract forms flowing into each other. Other segments are full stories that the music evoked for the artists.
- In Ratatouille, there are scenes where taste is represented by abstract shapes dancing to jazz.
- Anton's little 'memory' of his childhood when he eats ratatouille counts as well. It doesn't display the taste itself, but it certainly shows the feeling the taste evoked.
- In the film version of Anonymous Rex scents carried by particular dinosaurs are often displayed by the main character talking about the scent as well as vivid visual depictions of the scent items. For example, one dinosaur smells of peaches and cream and, as the main character talks about it, images of brightly lit peach slices falling into cream appear on the screen.
- Averted by Polyester, in which audience members were given "Smell-O-Rama" scratch and sniff cards.
- Stephen King's novel Eyes of the Dragon has a passage written from a dog's point of view, in which scents are described as lines of various colors.
- Walter Moers does the same thing for Wolpertings in Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures.
- As does Terry Pratchett, for werewolves, in some Discworld books.
- Also used when Granny Weatherwax experiences the sensations of animals she's Borrowed.
- In Children Of God by Mary Doria Russell, an alien who has a far better sense of smell than a human is tracking a missing friend. She "sees" his scent as points of light along the trail ("like firespore"—presumably a bioluminescent fungus.)
Live Action TV
- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Bloodhound-O-Vision - the visible world was shown in black and white smells were colourful spots on it. Actually, dogs don't see in black and white but compared to us they have a reduced number of colours they can see, dogs have colour vision equivalent to red-green colour blindness in humans (deuteranopia). See discussion for further info.
- In Rose Is Rose, garlic breath is represented by skulls surrounding the person with it, while flowers, rainbows, and smiling suns represents peppermint breath.
- In Footrot Flats, when Jess is in heat she exudes little hearts.
- If a video game will allow you to drink outside of a cut scene, it will often portray drunkenness by either continuously skewing your view, or by changing the configuration of your movement slightly, so by going forwards normally you end up tilting your character slightly to the left or right. Mass Effect 2 does this. See also Interface Screw.
- Played with brilliant simplicity in the old, slightly crazy 2D platformer Mission Elevator, which offered many ways to "spend money" (lose points from your score!) in between running around shooting baddies (or flipping light switches, letting off fire extinguishers, bothering nuns...). Besides prostitutes (!) and dice tables, you could buy drinks from the many bars littering the spy-ridden hotel's floors. Cheap milk or soda did nothing. One beer, also. Subsequent beers completely reversed your controls for a short while. A double whiskey did you for much of the rest of the level. Given how you knew it would happen, the game-pause offered by the drink-buying process, and the easy way of working around the problem in the late 80s by simply turning your joystick 180 degrees, the semi-random point at which you sobered up some time later was FAR more troublesome than the initial reverse, typically ending with your pixelly avatar suddenly getting bored of ducking bullets and leaping right into them instead. That's some bad whiskey right there.
- In Far Cry: Instincts smell is shown as a coloured aura and trail.
- In Discworld Noir, while playing as a werewolf you can indeed see scents as patches of coloured mist. They can be 'collected' like items and you have to match the patterns to ones you've encountered before to track where characters have been.
- The xenomorph from Alien VS Predator series of games sees smell as a coloured aura around other players, even through walls.
- In Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Explorers, Skuntank and Koffing's stink is portrayed visually as a purple cloud.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, while Wolf Link's senses are activated he can "see" smells as clouds and spirits as their true forms.
- Sveta's Track Psynergy in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn allows her to find scent trails, which appear as a streak of white vapor close to the ground. This is used all of twice in the game.
- The Sims 2 uses green particle effects to visually show smelly things, like rotten food, stinky clothes, and odorous sims.
- Inversion: There have been a handful of attempts at creating "Smell-O-Vision", but none of them have sold very well. Probably for the best. Imagine a typical episode of Dirty Jobs with one of those. On second thought, don't.
- Toyed With at Walt Disney World not only with the ride SOARIN' but through out the parks there are scents pumped in to make the world seem more real.
Anime and Manga
- In Texhnolyze excessive pain from mutilation is depicted with the entire picture going purple monochrome, and all the sounds except the gasps of pain getting muted. In a scene where a man is shot in the genitals its taken even further with rapidly expanding disortion of both the visual and audio tracks.
- In Pokémon bright flashes of light are used to indicate pain, especially from electricity or blunt force trauma.
- Happens in the first episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, when Sachiel breaks Unit 01's (and, by extension, Shinji's) arm. The sensation of pain is rendered with a still outline of Shinji panning against a bright-red, almost psychedelic background.
- Commercials for painkillers and other pharmaceuticals typically illustrate pain as an animated red circle that fades out towards the edges. The growing and shrinking circle is reminiscent of the throbbing nature of some kinds of pain.
- In Mad Max, when one of the bikers headbutts a guy they splice in a single frame of pure white. Maybe conveys "impact" more than "pain," but it's rad as hell in any case.
- Done slightly differently in Transformers: The Movie, where Sludge (the Brontosaurus) is smacked down so hard at one point, his eyes get momentarily left behind before telescoping back into place. Ouch.
- What modern console game DOESN'T have the controller vibrate when your character takes damage?
- Physical pain in FPS's is often represented with an "ow" sound and usually red-bars in the direction you were hit from (in older FPS's, the whole screen flashes red instead). This is to give players knowledge of where the damage is coming from, which they would have in real life but not in a game.
- Similarly, asphyxiating underwater is almost universally represented by the screen flashing blue and your view jerking slightly.
- Many if not most recent generation first/third person games introduce various synaesthesia when your character is close to death. Popular tropes used to represent near death include your visuals turning black and white or bleaching of color, the sound of your heart in your ears, visuals fading red or black at the edges of your screen, and either more dramatic music playing or the game music fading entirely. Some games use the vibration function to communicate near-death status to the player.
- Fallout 3 takes this further with your ears ringing and vision blurring if you head is crippled and a your heart beat getting louder as you get closer to death.
- The James Bond games do this. Some of them even use the "blood runs down the screen" effect used in the "gunbarrel" sequence.
- Followers in Populous: The Beginning have white circles appear above there heads and an electronic tweeting sound when they were badly injured.
- In BioShock your heart stopping for a moment in response to the 'code yellow' trigger phrase is shown as blue mesh across your vision, similar to seeing the blood vessels in your eyes. Your character also stumbles in pain.
- Receiving a powerful shock or hit, or experiencing earth shaking explosions (etc) will cause the player "camera" to violently shake in many titles... even 2D ones... and often even an overlaid control GUI will rattle around in sync just to rub in how much you - or the game world - have/has been shook by the force of that blast/impact. See also Screen Shake.
- Done skillfully in the BL Visual Novel DRAMAtical Murder, wherein Aoba's headaches can almost be felt by the audience due to the abrupt assault of red cracks on a darkening scene, in conjunction with an eerie, pulsing ambiance.
- A similar visual effect is used in the visual novel Katawa Shoujo to represent Hisao's heart trauma.
- Used in the Heaven's Feel route of Fate/stay night in the form of static appearing in the background to show Shiro's decreasing ability to keep Archer's arm from shattering his mind and a blood CG being used to show injuries caused by the mental and physical strain. Averted in the other two routes, as all injuries have a sound effect due to being in battle.
- See Circling Birdies.
- Also, parodied in an episode of Rocko's Modern Life, when Rocko has an attack of appendicitis. The doctor points out the pain stars on Rocko's chart and says that all they have to do is replace them with wavy lines of relief.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, pain is indicated by a faint pinging noise, similar to that of the tweeting of Circling Birdies, and accompanied by quickly flashing stars that fly from lines connected to the injury.
Heat, noise and hazards
Stand Up Comedy
- A lot of signs and guides use this to illustrate such things as Noise, Electricity, Radiation and Pain. This is a frequent source of humour, as the caption above demonstrates.
- The most famous example is the illustrations on bathroom hand dryers. Also known as Press Button, Receive Bacon.◊
- Justified in the case of the example image itself, as it is using the "lightning strike" representation of arcing electricity - which is exactly what would visibly occur should you be struck, only bright blue-white rather than black, in most situations where such signs are necessary.
- Also justified when wavy lines are used to depict heat. Cool air and hot air have different refractive indices, so the light passing through heat is distorted and we see a wavy image.
General sensation (e.g. touch)
- Wind is sometimes represented as moving white lines.
- The "tingly sensation" Spider-Man gets when his Spider-Sense buzzes is usally depicted as a series of lines around his head.
- Vibrations, like noise, may be depicted with expanding circles or arcs around it, usually rendered more jittery the more grating or powerful it is. To show vibration or impact powerful enough to shake everything, there's sometimes the Faux Film technique of shaking the entire panel, depicting everything in it as a double-image along the vector of the shake.
- Though it barely flirts with the idea of character-POV or game-style 3rd person view (odd, considering the name and the story's central concepts, and missing a massive opportunity to go all Miyazaki on us during the dragon-ride sections), and otherwise plays an entirely straight camera view, Avatar has a nice moment when (paraplegic) Jake first jacks into his Na'vi body and goes for an unscheduled run... curling his toes through the alien soil on coming to a halt as pretty much the only properly telegraphed Sense Freak moment in a movie that should have been full of them (the taste of fruit poisonous to humans? adapting to having a tail? cutting room floor). Feel-o-vision and Simstim may be a long way off, but damn if that piece of 3D motion picture didn't have you momentarily imagining the dirt beneath your feet and the simple joy of being able to walk and feel pressure, temperature and texture again.
- You can also see the foodgasm on his face when he bites into that fruit... appropriate for someone who's been eating artificially processed food his whole life.
Statler: Man, that music smells terrible!
Waldorf: And those costumes taste ridiculous!
Statler: And don't get me started on how ugly the scenery feels!