Sunday, September 18, 2011

Musical Timing 2: From the Master's Thesis Project

Continued from Musical Timing 2: Influence on The Barley Way

Although I was happy with the musical timing in my film, I was still unsatisfied, I knew there was more to learn. This lead me to further study timing methods for my Master’s thesis project. Below are three examples from my project, analyzing two 1940s cartoons. Bob Clampett’s Buckaroo Bugs and Dave Fleischer’s Mechanical Monsters.

How the analysis was made:

I started by analyzing the tempo of the clips by tapping my hand to the beat and trying out various click tracks in Adobe Premiere.

After matching the clips with the right tempos, I made graphic note whenever the beats hit. Inspired by Hans Perk, I used Photoshop to make the red beat symbol circles. I cut and pasted them whenever a beat hit (as seen in the soundtrack layer of the screenshot above) and numbered each beat.

Numbering the beats is essential to writing the information on Bar Sheets.

Buckaroo Bugs clip no.1

There are many noteworthy elements about the first clip, the strict adherence of most actions to this tempo creates an upbeat uniformity, except with the deliberate intension of surprising gags and action which demand particular attention. The Horse's “eye poke” for example, is placed off the beat (OTB) for surprise. The use of percussion instruments and the punching-bag sound effects further mirror the visuals of the punching gag, which follows the eye poke. All through the clip, the build-up, or anticipation take more time than the executed actions themselves. For example, the horse runs in place leaning backwards in anticipation to shoot off screen for 4 beats (36 frames) to deliver great anticipation, and then shoots off the screen in just 2 frames, also off the beat, for greater surprise. The music of the entire scene is a build-up for the horses' run off the screen, the run off itself is accompanied by the sound effect of a gun shot, to further highlight the visuals.

I would like to thank Milton Grey for his time and contribution in the form of discussions via email.
It was through his detailed notes that I gained greater expertise at writing exposure sheets. Milt's explanation of how arcs are used in Exposure Sheet form also helped me understand how to write better bar sheets. I feel privileged to have had the input of an animator who started his career on Disney's The Jungle Book, interviewed Looney Tunes director Bob Clampett and composer Carl Stalling.

Milt taught me that most WB directors wrote their timing directly on X-sheets
“Clampett and most of the other Warner directors did all of their timing on the animation exposure sheets, being mindful of the beats for a musical tempo, and Carl Stalling would copy the basic information from the ex-sheets onto his bar sheets so that he could begin composing his music to fit the action. The exception was Friz Freleng, who did his timing directly on bar sheets, and then copied his notes from those onto the exposure sheets for the animators”. (Grey 2011)

My research and cartooning process are interrelated, Perhaps with resemblance to Friz Freleng, I prefer starting to work on a bar sheet as it provides a visual timeline. Following feedback from Milt, I became better at writing exposure sheets and can now time on them directly.

Going into this analysis I thought that the animators worked from recorded music tracks, but I realized that both the animation and music are done simultaneously, following instruction from a highly important document: the director's timing. I realized this through discussion with Milt when I asked him about the timing of animation to specific melody:

“I don't think that the other directors, including Friz, generally had any specific melodies in mind. There may have been some exceptions...But Clampett was different in that he was always thinking about the music -- the melodies -- as part of his timing, and on most or all of his cartoons he would take his storyboards into Carl Stalling's room and the two of them would discuss what music, and what melodies, would best suit each scene. There was a lot of give and take in those discussions. Probably Carl would do most of the writing on the bar sheets. So the length of a scene in a Clampett cartoon would more likely be determined by the amount of time necessary for a melody to play, and little actions would be invented to fit the music.” (Grey 2011)

So that, both the music and animation rely on the director's indication of how many bars or frames are assigned for an action to take place.

The backbone to which all their unique efforts were tied, was the timing. Chuck Jones explains in the documentary Tex Avery King of Cartoons:
“It had to be timed by the director on musical Bar Sheets and what we call Exposure Sheets allowing for every 24th of a second of the entire film, before it could go to animation or ink & paint... so we learned the craft which I think was very fortunate, because it taught us the basic rule of all communication, and certainly true of all art forms, that you must work within a discipline...The discipline of filmmaking is and must be timing.” (Needham 1988)

Buckaroo Bugs clip no.2

For this clip, as well as the next, I consulted with composer Zvi Avni who helped me further understand the musical elements and identify instruments, Although we share the same last name we are not related.

Here, as in the previous clip, there is also more time given to the anticipation of an action and less to its surprising execution. After dropping Red Hot Rider, Bugs swings in mid-air then runs in place for a total of 4 beats, and shoots out of the frame, off the beat, in only 2 frames.

The entire robbery by magnet scene, 17 beats in total, is an anticipation to Red Hot Rider's pants falling to reveal pink polka dot underpants, the slowest part of the latter action is the “slow-out” to the reveal, the reveal happens off the beat. Pulling someone's pants down may not be a highbrow gag, however the execution shows noteworthy sophistication and layering of various techniques:

1.The music: the use of percussion instruments, such as xylophone and glockenspiel give a metallic sound, mirroring the visuals of the robbery.

2.Inventive animation: such as the wobbling of the belt and the slowing-out of the pants before falling are signs of an intelligent animator using everything he's got to maximize the gag, lesser animators would have just used even inbetweens.

3.Special effects:
Even though there is plenty of anticipation to gags such as the detachment of the Sheriff star from Red Hot Rider's shirt, the animator maximized the potential of the gag by using special effects to further sell “the after effect” of the gag. Knowing that the eye needs a certain amount of frames to adjust to an action, the animator and ink-and-paint assistant used a dry-brush effect in the shape and color of the star close to where it was just a frame ago, it takes several more frames until the dry-brush effect completely dissipates. The dry brush effect is achieved by smearing the leftover paint of a brush on the cel, without wetting it in water to make the paint look smooth.

And all this is done to the musical timing framework, which gives each action calculated and thoughtful placement, resulting in a film with a more precise execution.

The top of the robbery crescendo is Bugs yelling 'Bang!', where these two beats of anticipation, one beat of execution and another beat of reaction illustrate how each element carries out the feeling of frivolous playfulness:

1.The music: the drum-roll accompanies and intensifies the anticipation before the yell, which seamlessly blends to:

2.The dialogue: Bugs yelling 'BANG!', accompanied by:

3.The camera: shaking in unpredictable ways to mirror the yelling action. And all this is done faithfully adhering to the beat.

It is very important to note that in this clip, different tempos reflect the mindsets and mannerisms of different characters. Bugs is on a 9 beat to reflect the slyness of his character and Red Hot Rider is on a 14 beat to reflect the slowness of his character. Although Red Hot Rider also follows the principle of more anticipation and less action, it takes him more time to recover from an action, such as in the slowing out to hold after he has raised his hat.

Nearly all the actions detailed above follow Charlie Chaplin's famous trademark:
1.Show them you're gonna do it 2. Do it 3.Show them that you've done it (Williams 2001).
Or in other words, there are three parts to an action: Anticipation, Action, Reaction. Noteworthy comedians, such as Bob Clampett and his animators, extract the maximum potential of each action part, being mindful of the personality of each individual character.

Mechanical Monsters Clip

The changing in the phone booth takes a total of 14 beats, this is the anticipation to the heroic reveal of Superman, which spans over a more modest 5 beats. This follows the same principle seen in Buckaroo Bugs: more time for anticipation, less time for reveal, not only in comedy, but in drama, this gives the statement more 'punch'. The anticipation is created by:

1. The Music: The sequence, or build-up to the fan-fare Superman theme adds tension and anticipation before the reveal.

2. The Camera: Trucks out in a moderate pace, telegraphing to the viewer that it is worthy to gain space for something bombastic to take place.

Zvi noted that When Superman is revealed, only the wind trills are heard to give a short “break” before Superman flies up to the sky, and the entire orchestra resumes playing. Zvi noted that the chords are on the beat throughout the entire piece. Changes in instruments and intensity mirror the visuals, which follow the same beats, both were pre-determined by the director Dave Fleischer, and composer Sammy Timberg. During beat 26 to beat 38, Superman flies upwards to gain greater sight range and look for the Mechanical Monster. Zvi noted that the melody goes chromatically upwards to increase the anticipation, the instruments used reflect the light and confident feel of the character. Beats 39 through 45 follow the Mechanical Monster, which is accompanied by very tense and loud chords, until on beat 46 Superman is revealed and his musical motif returns.

When done with technical precision and artistic vision, musical timing harmonizes all the elements of a film into greater cohesion, and maximizes the delivery of the entertainment experience to the audience. It is a logical and precise method to reach a sensational result. Animation timers can use musical beat timing to control the pacing of the entire film, just as storyboard artists and screenwriters can control story arcs, animation timers can control pacing arcs, deciding on the right pacing for the mood of each sequence and the execution of each action.

I hope people will be inspired to use this information in their own work, let's start a cartoon art movement!


1 comment:

Amir Avni said...

This post has also been published on where I collect posts on influence and research related to the film