Sunday, September 18, 2011

Musical Timing 1: Influence on The Barley Way

I've always been fascinated with musically timed cartoons. From the precise synchronization of all the elements of individual character actions, gags and special effects to the pacing and flow of the entire film. I have always found that 1940s cartoons are stylistically and methodically different than those produced today. As the expression goes, “They don't make them like they used to”.

When making a personal film from beginning to end, for the first time at Sheridan College, the problem of timing and pacing first occurred to me in a practical sense, I wanted to “make them like they used to” but didn't know how to go about doing so. When volunteering at the ASIFA Hollywood Animation Archive, Director Stephen Worth commented that the timing of many student films feels unplanned because of their methodology. Many students use editing software to time their films by their gut feeling, action-by-action, or in the case of a dialogue heavy film, they time according to the dialogue tracks. As a result of this methodology, the film feels unplanned. Steve then demonstrated how a 1960s Tony the Tiger commercial was timed by explaining the Bar Sheets and Exposure Sheets on which they were timed. Demonstrations such as these, as well as material and tips from Sheridan instructors such as Mark Mayerson who introduced the class to metronomes and recording methods, Bruno Degazio who introduced the class to bar sheets and designed the template, and the blog of Disney historian and animation director Hans Perk inspired me and gave me a direction to further explore the pieces of this puzzle. After exposing myself to such lessons for about 2 years the penny dropped, I reached a functional understanding of the basic principles of beat timing and I used it to time The Barley Way.

The Barley Way Seq1 (first 6 scenes)
The film is timed to the beat from beginning to end. Here is a breakdown of a few simple scenes via the animatic and bar sheets.

The storyboard drawings were timed according to the beats. Fortunatley, the melody accents also strictly adhere to the beat in this segment of Dvorak's "New World Symphony". This helped create the "Mickey Mousing" gag of the "Earth Like" text appearing and disappearing to the melody accents, when writing the bar sheet, I alternated the beats: Beat 1: appear, Beat 2: disappear.  Viewers such as Steven Bellettini realized that using Dvorak's "New World Symphony" as the soundtrack for the discovery of an earth-like planet is a Musical pun.

There's various levels of micro-gags in this film. Some people have noticed the "Mickey Mousing" gag, and some have noticed that Beanton's computer screen is manufactured by "Dull".

The manual
The day my penny dropped, I wrote this manual and shared it with two pals. Writing for other people forces you to clarify, since you need to successfully convey the idea to someone who hasn’t heard it before, so writing for others is always a good idea:

Hello friends!
My penny dropped, so I wanted to share my 2 cents with you.

It finally clicked in my mind: how to record click tracks, use them to time animatics, and following to write bar-sheets / x-sheets / timing charts.

Click tracks:

Go to Hans Perk's blog and use the metronome-to-beat calculator to figure out your tempo of choice:

Three most used beat tempos for reference:

8 beat= 180

10 beat= 144

12 beat= 120

Recording the click track:

You can easily record a click track by recording a web metronome.
On a Mac I turn up the volume and record a sound clip in Quicktime.
On a PC, Mark taught us to enable internal recording: go to Windows sound properties > master volume properties >; switch on "recording".
Use Windows sound recorder (accessories > media > sound recorder) to record a minute's worth of each beat. and voila! you have a click track.
Save each track by it's name (8beat, 10 beat etc..) so that it's ready to import to Adobe Premiere.

How to use it in animatics:

Determine the mood and speed of your scene / determine what situation/mood your character is in.

24 beat is depressed

16-14 beat is calm

12 beat is normal pace

10 beat is getting more excited

8 beat is keen or frantic

After determining the mood, import the proper click track to your timeline ( in Premiere ), and line up your storyboard drawings and character poses so that they happen on the beat.
For example: a walk on 12 beats means a step every beat, every 12 frames. (24 frames for both feet)
A character pointing to accent an idea can be 6 frames to anticipate and 6 frames to point etc...
"The Pointer" (  has some good examples, notice all of Mickey's extreme poses happen on the beat. you can tap your hands to the beat to get a feeling for it, you can also snap your fingers and try walking on a constant 12 beat)

It's way better to do this than to guesstimate your timing based on a sequence of stills (It would almost always be too slow, and doesn't give you a clue on how to write a bar-sheet or x-sheet).
Steve mentioned that an animatic should seem 20% faster than the desired final result. This makes a lot of sense, I remember reading Joe Adamson’s interview with Tex Avery in Tex Avery King of Cartoons, Tex refers to the colored cartoon as a “solid”. The cartoon is much easier/ faster to read when animated and colored. A sequence of stills takes longer to process than animated, colored drawings.

Working to a click track makes it possible to do musical timing before you have any music, you just need to get music that follows the same tempo as planned.
Music allows you to go even faster because of it's engaging / telegraphing nature, a musical beat functions as a heartbeat, the audience feels the beats and expects things to happen on them.
You can reach a shock / surprise when actions happen off the beat, because it plays with the audience's expectations.
Steve's example: "ta-da ta-da ta-dadada....pop! goes the weasel!" If your action happens on the "pop!" it is expected. If your action happens before the pop, it is unexpected.

When the animatic is done, you can move to registering the timing:

The order of writing is as follows: Bar sheets > X-sheets > Timing charts

How it works: A bar is a measure of 4 beats. The first beat is marked by the border-line of the bar, and we indicate the following 3 with drawn-in pencil lines. I chose to divide each bar to 2 beats so I can work in greater detail.

Based on your animatic, count your beats, and number them on your Bar sheet. On the Bar sheet, note/draw the action each beat describes. I placed thumbnails of my storyboard drawings below the beat that describes them in Photoshop, and wrote descriptions of the actions relating to beat numbers.

Working on 24 fps, transcribe the bar sheet information to an X sheet. If your scene is timed on a 9 beat, mark a beat on every 9th line of the X sheet. It's good to number each beat on the bar sheets and X sheets so that you know exactly where you are. You now know exactly how many frames are needed for each action to take place.

You are now ready to write the timing/inbetween charts
You have the number of frames, now you need to determine the spacing (even, slow in/out, favors, overshoots)

Ready? Set, Draw!

My further studies of musical timing are explained in "Musical Timing 2: From the Master's Thesis Project"


Amir Avni said...

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

R.A. MacNeil said...

Hey Amir,

Interesting post. This has always been something I've been curious about. Also interesting to know on Freleng timed his pictures this way. I'd always assumed all the directors did.

Thanks for doing all this sleuthing and putting it up online for all to see.


Amir Avni said...

You're very welcome Ryan, I'm glad you enjoyed the read!
Now those who were curious about this methodology can apply it!

Joshua Marchant (Scrawnycartoons) said...

For my final year animation school project I have to produce a short too, it's two years away but all this information is a goldmine!

and just to repeat myself; all this studious work payed off and then some

Amir Avni said...

Hi Joshua! I'm really glad you are thinking of applying this info to your own film! Thanks for the appreciation and encouragement!

paul said...

What are favors in animation, Amir?
I was just askin'
Does it mean the held drawing with the moving parts?

Amir Avni said...

Hi Paul!

Favors are inbetween drawings that are spaced close to a certain key drawings.

Imagine a bouncing ball, lets say we have 3 drawings: A and B are keys and C is an inbetween. A is the ball in mid air, B is the ball hitting the ground.
An "even" inbetween would be drawn halfway between A and B.

If I want the ball to spend more time in the air ("hang time") I will draw the inbetween much closer to A (the ball in mid air), that is called favoring, because I favor one key over the other, I also favor it over even spacing.

Hope this helps! :D