Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Theory: Bill Evans on the Creative Process and Self-Teaching

Bill Evans

It isn’t often that a drop-dead genius sits down to speak directly to students. It’s even rarer for these special events to be recorded for television. My musical pal, Skip Heller tipped me off to a real treasure… a TV program from 1966 titled, "The Universal Mind of Bill Evans".

I’m a big believer in interdisciplinary study. An artist is an artist, and an animator can learn an awful lot from musicians, actors, dancers and performers in all of the other fields of creative endeavor. Here, we have the opportunity to learn from one of the giants of Jazz, pianist Bill Evans.

Evans was normally a quiet sort of person, and didn’t speak a lot about his work. But he had studied to be a teacher, and his brother who was also a teacher convinced him to sit down and address the fundamental principles of his work. As I first listened to this interview, I was amazed to hear many of the same theories I had heard from the great artists I have had the opportunity to work with in animation. I’ve broken the video into four YouTube movies, and I will make note of the most important quotes below each segment.

Part 01: Direct YouTube Link

I believe that all people are in possession of what might be called a “universal mind”. Any true music speaks with this universal mind to the universal mind in all people. The understanding that results will vary only insofar as people have or have not been conditioned to the various styles of music in which the universal mind speaks. Consequently, often some effort and exposure is necessary in order to understand some of the music coming from a different period or a different culture than to which the listener has become conditioned.

Bill Evans argues that style, for better or for worse, eventually comes of itself- out of that mysterious interior well of creative inspiration that nourishes everyone to one degree or another. It’s much more important, Evans feels, to master fundamentals both in theory- so you understand what you’re doing, and in active practice- developing one’s musical muscles… not just technical dexterity, but the brain connection. Developing that facility to the point where the subconscious mind can take over the basic mechanical task of playing thus freeing the conscious to concentrate on the spontaneous creative element that distinguishes the best Jazz- and the best in all human activity.

Jazz is the only form of art that America has created and given to the world… but I think it’s more of a revival in a different form than what went on in classical music before. In the 17th century there was a great deal of improvisation in Classical music, and because of the fact that there were no electrical recording techniques to permanize or to “catch” music and to record it, the music was written so that it could be permanized that way. Slowly but surely the writing of the music and the interpreters of the music gave way to more and more interpretation and more and more cerebral composition and less and less improvisation. So finally, improvisation became a lost art in Classical music and we have only the composer and the interpreter.

I feel that Jazz is not so much a style as it is a process of making music. It’s the process of making one minute’s music in one minute’s time. Whereas when you compose, you can make one minute’s music and take three months… We tend to think of Jazz as a stylistic medium, but we must remember that in an absolute sense, Jazz is more of a certain creative process of spontaneity than a style… Any good teacher of serious classical composition will always tell a student that the composition should sound as if it’s improvised. It should have a spontaneous quality, so actually, the art of music is the art of speaking with this spontaneous quality.

The person who succeeds in anything has the realistic viewpoint at the beginning in knowing that the problem is large and that he has to take it a step at a time and he has to enjoy this step by step learning procedure.

Part 02: Direct YouTube Link

It’s better to do something simple that is real. It’s something you can build on. because you know what you’re doing. Whereas, if you try to approximate something very advanced and don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t build on it.

No matter how far I might diverge or find freedom in this format, it only is free insofar that it has reference to the strictness of the original form. That’s what gives it its strength.

Part 03: Direct YouTube Link

The whole process of learning the facility of being able to play Jazz was to take these problems from the outer level in- one by one and to stay with it at a very intense conscious concentration level until that process becomes secondary and subconscious… Then you can begin concentrating on that next problem which will allow you to do a little bit more.

I don’t consider myself as talented as many people, but in some way that was an advantage. I didn’t have a great facility immediately. I had to be more analytical. It forced me to build something.

Most people just don’t realize the immensity of the problem and either, because they can’t conquer it immediately, think they don’t have the ability; or they’re so impatient to conquer it that they never do see it through.

I remember coming to New York to make or break in Jazz and saying to myself, “How do I attack this practical problem of becoming a Jazz musician- making a living and so on… Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that all I must do is takke care of the music- even if I do it in a closet. And if I really do that, somebody is going to come to the closet and open the door and say, “Hey, we’re looking for you!”

When you begin to teach Jazz, the most dangerous thing is you begin to teach style… If you’re going to try to teach Jazz, you must teach principles that are separate from style. You have to abstract the principles of musi which have nothing to do with style. This is exceptionally difficult.

Part 04: Direct YouTube Link

Pretty amazing, isn’t it?!

Lest you think that Bill Evans’ ideas only apply to music, scan over those quotes up above and try to apply them to animation…

Animation in its purest form follows the rhythms of music and speaks to the same universal mind. Think of the funniest walk cycle you have ever seen and try to put it into words. You can’t. It doesn’t matter what language you speak. Great poses and pure movement speaks to our humanity- the part of us that operates below the verbal level.

The difference between acting for animation and acting on the stage is the difference between composition and real time improvisation. Yet the goal is the same… a feeling of spontaneity.

Deviation and exaggeration is best when it reflects the strictness of the form of the idea. Angles on characters for no reason other than to put angles on them, arbitrary exaggeration and deliberately wonky perspective don’t have the same strength as exaggeration based on the original form you’re depicting.

Style is something that comes from within after the abstract fundamentals are mastered and absorbed. If you try to learn to draw by learning a style- be it anime or Spumco or Disney- you are building upon a foundation that won’t support your artistic growth.

Learning to draw and animate is a huge undertaking and the way to do it is to break down, analyze and practice the principles one by one- from simple to more complex- just like the way the Preston Blair Course is organized. As you master the principles, they become second nature and you can move on to learning new principles.

It can be daunting to imagine how one is going to create a career in animation, but ultimately, one just has to serve the artform- even if there is no audience for your work yet. Eventually, if you serve the artform well, the audience will come.

Musicians are talking about this post.

If you enjoyed this program and would like to own it on DVD, you can order it from Amazon. It’s a bonus on this video of Bill Evans in Helsinki…

If you would like to hear more of Bill Evans’ amazing music, I recommend this DVD…
Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryTheory

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit entitled Theory.

Friday, November 7th, 2014

Theory: Leopold Stokowski- Artist of the Past, Artist of the Future

Leopold Stokowski

GLENN GOULD ON STOKOWSKI

Glenn Gould was one of the foremost pianists of the 20th century. Best known for his interpretations of Bach, Gould hosted a series of radio programs for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. This article comes from a program by Gould on Leopold Stokowski.

Glenn Gould

When I was a teenager back in the 40s, Leopold Stokowski shared for some years the podium of the New York Philharmonic. His co-director was the late Dimitri Mitropoulis and together they contributed to that memorable Sunday afternoon series on CBS radio, which was one of the few redeeming features of American broadcasting in the years after World War II. Running opposite the Stokowski/Metropoulis programs on CBS was NBC’s entry in the symphonic sweepstakes, a series featuring the orchestra which bore the network’s name, which was created for and conducted by Arturo Toscanini.

Arturo ToscaniniArturo ToscaniniThe attitude of the young people of my generation toward these weekend music specials was rather interesting. It was generally bandied about by my conservatory friends that you were either a Stokowski fan or a Toscanini devotee. There was apparently no middle ground, except perhaps that which was occasionally occupied by Bruno Walter. According to the academic banter of that time, Toscanini embodied most progressive musical virtues. His performances were direct, straightforward and emotionally objective. Whichever notes, dynamic marks or tempo indications appeared before him in the score were, to the best of his and the NBC Orchestra’s ability, what you heard. For Toscanini, the composer’s notational suggestions were gospel.


YouTube: Toscanini conducts the overture to
La Forza del Destino (Verdi) 1944

Not so with Stokowski. He was and is, for want of a better word, an ecstatic. Stokowski is involved with the notes, the tempo marks, the dynamic indications in the score to the same extent that a filmmaker is involved with the original book or source which supplies the impetus- the idea of his film. So, Stokowski’s performances either stand or fall depending on the degree he can infuse them with a sense of his own commitment to the project. And happily for those who became addicted to his way of making music, there’s rarely been a more committed, more imaginative, more resourceful artist than Leopold Stokowski.


Leopold Stokowski conducts the second movement from
Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony (Carnegie Hall/1947) at YouTube

There was however another reason for the disrepute into which Mr. Stokowski’s interperative techniques had fallen in those years, besides that penchant for a neo-literalist performing style which the young people of my generation espoused. He was not only a popularizer- a man who thought nothing of transforming the keyboard works of Bach into massive orchestral statements. But more than that, he was a film personality. In the mid-1930s, he’d relinquished his post as the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, in which he single-handedly transformed the standards of orchestral playing in North America, in order to join Deanna Durbin and Donald Duck on the silver screen in Hollywood.


Stokowski from “Big Broadcast of 1937″ at YouTube

“I go to a higher calling.” he was reported to have said to the press conference which was called to announce his departure, and if one can filter out the inevitable quotient of defensiveness which one may assume to infiltrate a remark of that kind, it was a remarkably revealing comment.

Leopold Stokowski

Technology for Stokowski was a higher calling. He was indeed the first great musician to realize that the future of music would inexorably wound up with technological progress, and that communications media were in fact the best friend that music ever had. Many of his recordings… and all of which I know from personal experience where he maintains a firm hand in relation to the processes of production… were years ahead sonically.

But the real benefit of his interest in technology, I think, was that it enabled Stokowski to resist the inhibitions induced by those pre-technological attitudes toward music-making which created the stratified roles of performer, listener and composer; and which held that those roles would ever remain separate and distinct. For Stokowski, I think, those distinctions are themselves are the single greatest danger that the artist must face. And I suspect that the enormous appeal of his music-making over the last sixty years or so is precisely his realization of that fact, and his willingness to act upon the assumptions that follow from it.


Bach’s “Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor” at YouTube

Stokowski is 88 now, at least he was when I interviewed him for this program. Nothing in his manner, his outlook or the vitality of his music-making suggests the incipient nonagenarian, but it’s perhaps useful to recall that Stokowski was born while Wagner was still alive, and when Brahms died, Stokowski himself was already a teenager.

In theory, his outlook and his art should represent the aesthetic attitudes of a bygone era, or eras. But in fact, because of his extraordinary warmth and humility, his remarkable receptivity to new ideas, and above all because in his lifetime we’ve already seen nothing but triumph. But the essential humanity of those technological ideas which have informed all of his work as a musician, Leopold Stokowski is very much a man of the future.

-Glenn Gould

Playlist of the entire Stokowski radio program at YouTube



CONDUCTING MUSIC AND DIRECTING ANIMATION

So, what is the connection to animation, you might ask… Well the obvious link is the fact that Walt Disney and Leopold Stokowski collaborated on Fantasia.

Leopold Stokowski and Walt Disney

But it goes deeper than that. Stokowski shared certain creative instincts with some prominent animators. For instance, In the space of a little more than a decade, Stokowski built the Philadelphia Orchestra up from scratch until it was the preeminent orchestra in the United States. He employed the latest technology to bring the highest possible production value to his recordings. After he had reached the peak of popularity, he turned his attention to bring his music-making to a whole new media. He embraced motion pictures, radio broadcasts and television programs as a means to present his music in an entirely new way to the broadest audience possible.

Walt Disney

Walt Disney pressed his artistic staff to improve and develop new techniques for the art of animation, making huge strides between “Steamboat Willie” and “Snow White”. He employed Technicolor, the multiplane camera and live action/animation compositing to advance the tools available to his artists, which set his films apart from his competition on a technical level. After he had conquered the medium of the cartoon short with Mickey Mouse, he turned his attention to creating the first hand drawn animated feature. And when that was established, he turned to live action films, television and theme parks to take his ideas to new mediums. He succeeded in reaching the entire world with his creations.

Arturo Toscanini

In the article above, Glenn Gould touches on the differences between Arturo Toscanini and Stokowski. Toscanini was a disciplined conductor who demanded and got complete control. He unified a group of over 80 musicians into a single mind, expressing the will of Toscanini. This resulted in performances of incredible directness and power. Toscanini’s aesthetic choices were consistent and were handed down as the law through the regimented beat of his baton.

Leopold Stokowski

In contrast, Stokowski was more of a magician, evoking a unique performance out of each and every musician in his orchestra. Instead of deciding on a plan of attack in advance and executing it with precision, Stokowski allowed for the inspiration of the moment to guide him. He was constantly experimenting and evolving as an artist. His carefully modulated hand gestures directed the ebb and flow of the performance without rigidly controlling it. Even without a rigid hand controlling the proceedings, he could take an orchestra with which he had never worked before and quickly lead them to that distinctive “Stokowski Sound”.

Chuck Jones

Chuck Jones was a director of animated cartoons who planned out his films in great detail at the layout stage and required his animators to hew close to his drawings in their scenes. He precisely controlled every aspect of the timing of his films, and as he developed his characters, he created a canonical set of rules for the story structures and the way the characters acted within them. His Roadrunner and Pepe Le Pew cartoons were more like variations on a single theme than individual cartoons because they were constantly refining and focusing the specific ideas of Chuck Jones.

Bob Clampett

Bob Clampett approached the direction of his films quite differently. Instead of insisting that the artists draw precisely the way he did in the layouts, he encouraged them to go beyond his drawings and work within their own style to express themselves in the most creative way possible. Robert McKimson was encouraged to create scenes of great solidity and strength, while Rod Scribner was directed to explore the fourth dimensional aspects of cartoony exaggeration. This freedom didn’t result in a dilution of Clampett’s control over the film. On the contrary, he used his artists’ strengths and weaknesses to put across his own unique vision and sense of humor. There were no rules in Clampett cartoons. In one, Bugs Bunny would be the victor, in another, he would be foiled at every turn. Each film was developed as its own creative experiment, and the variety of moods, stories and atmosphere in his films is kaleidoscopic.

Both Toscanini and Stokowski were great conductors. In fact, they may have been the two greatest artists ever to work in their artform. But they were as different as they could possibly be. The same might be said of Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryTheory

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit entitled Theory.



FEATURED EXHIBIT

Music ExhibitMusic ExhibitAdventures In Music

Music shares an indescribable magic with animation. It’s hard to describe in words exactly why certain walk cycles or pantomime gags are so wonderful. Music is a source of non-verbal delight as well. The rhythms and pacing of cartoons often mirror the construction of popular music with a statement of theme followed by variations, culminating in a restatement of the theme and a big finish. If you think about it, the best cartoons are inseparable from music. Adventures in Music explores the wide world of music with an eye to revealing the relationships between music and creativity.


Friday, October 24th, 2014

Theory: Eric Larson On Music And The Animated Picture

Andreas Deja and Eric Larson

Andreas Deja and Eric Larson

An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China crast the bay!

There may be no way of drawing a comparison, emotionally or in magnitude, between a spectacle of nature as painted in Mr. Kipling’s lines and Mickey Mouse’s performance in glorious black and white, as he bounced through Steamboat Willie, the first animated cartoon with sound. But, one thing is certain- Mickey and his music have had the greater impact world wide.

The sunrise, inspiring as it is, is for now- Mickey and his music is for days and days into time.

Steamboat Willie, the third Mickey Mouse short to be made, was the first to be exhibited. The opening was on November 18, 1928, at the “Colony” theater in New York City.

The day Mickey started bouncing to the sound of music, the entertainment curtain opened wider and wider and the animated picture took on a new and exciting dimension. The shorts pictures to follow were musically constructed to the beat- all carefully planned out in entirety by the director and his musician, cozily housed in their “music room”, before animation was even begun. Characters walked to a beat- ran to a beat- re-acted on the beat- punched one another to the beat- it was beat, beat, beat, and as people in the theater watched and listened, the unconsciously tapped their feet in sync. In the cartoon, sight and sound had joined forces and new horizons beckoned.

Fantasia Movie Poster

Fantasia, far ahead of its time and, to this day, still way out front, could well be considered the greatest marriage of the animated picture and music. In it, the creative relationship of one to the other is unsurpassed, offering the audience a memorable experience in the fanciful and the dramatic.

Gradually we began to look to music to further enhance our pictures, rather than to “control” them. We pulled away from the beat domination. With Snow White the animated picture became an exciting competitor to the live action film. Linear drawn characters, moving in the imaginative world of Walt Disney animation, pushed to the front, right as Stromboli would say, “In de pooblic’s eye”, and with those drawings came a new and expressive use of music in our films, giving support and punctuation to moods, locales and action. Music became a vital part of our story, adding new emotional pleasures and meaning to our pictures.

And then came those wonderful moments when musical instruments interpreted the personalities and the characters “did speak through music”.

In Peter and the Wolf the bassoon, you remember, was the personality and voice of the “Grandfather”. The oboe, melancholy in its sound, was Sascha’s friend the “Duck”, The flute, with its pitch and note capabilities, was the nervous, explosive little “Sascha”. Each of the other characters, too, found his identity in an instrument and melody.

In Peter and the Wolf, so closely were the intruments and music related to the characters’ personalities and actions that all musical notes in the score, where relevant to the scene, were copied onto the exposure sheets in proper place, often in a diagonal way that would suggest the “up-scale” or “down-scale” movement of the musical phrase, giving a positive “dialogue” inflection and interpretation.

This demanded that the animator “read” the musical phrases noted on his exposure sheet as he would “read” dialogue phrases, looking and listening for accents and moods which would inspire the attitudes and timing in his characters’ actions. We seldom give thought to music “talking”, but it does and it can be as expressive in any given mood or action as dialogue can be. Music, like dialogue, has flow and accents which must be “caught” in our animated action. Let’s think back on Dance of the Hours, on the Rite of Spring, on the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the rest of Fantasia and remind ourselves of just how important and how delightful musical sync can be.

Of course, songs and dance music written for a picture, must be pre-scored. But the mood music, always a very important part of our entertainment, is written after the picture has been well developed, and in most cases, after “rough animation” is done and okayed. For the musician, it becomes a challenging work. He often has to catch, musically, emotional outbursts and actions our characters might display. The musician frequently has to make a frame by frame study of an action in order to give it the desired musical support. For instance: A character is in a running action, trips and has difficulty getting back into stride. This presents the muscian with the problem of working out a musical pattern that will give accent to the “trip” and musically “illustrate” the effort the runner makes, through frantic off-balance steps, to get back into stride. It might be called “a little stumbling music”, and in writing it, the musician would be checking and studying the animated action frame by frame.

Bambi on Ice

A wonderful exercise in writing to the animated action was experienced by the musician in the business of Thumper getting Bambi onto the ice and the confusion and maneuvering that followwed, ending up with the two of them in the music.

In duscussing the musician’s role, Buddy Baker answered the question this way…

A note every frame? Well, we don’t go that far but we do get into two frame notes, and that’s pretty fast. That’s about as fast as an orchestra can play. We have to make an analysis of the story and animation, break it down in every way possible, select the mood of the music that is necessary, get the rough andimation and start laying out our music to match.

One thing Buddy didn’t mention in his discussion was the need to work and re-work music to get the desired result- just as we work and re-work story and animation. It always takes the team effort to get a final result on the screen.

Our pictures demand music with mood and vitality. Once written, we rely on good arranging and full orchestration to achieve a maximum effect. But, music is emotion, isn’t it? It reflects spirit and mind; so there are those times and situations when the strength and joy of our music finds its outlet in a simple form, which by comparison to that of dramatic scope and splendor, would be like a one finger exercise on the piano.

Music can interpret any visual happening. The sweep and grandeur of the countryside transcends reality when sounds of music are part of the picture. And the fury of a thunderstorm over the canyon, or that which was Maleficent’s, reaches a visual crescendo when supported by interpretive music. The humor and charm so often seen in the personality and movements of a bird, an animal or a human is two fold when supported by complementary music. As noted, in Peter and the Wolf the choice of the instrument, as well as the musical theme was important to the development of a given character on the screen. It was a strong identification of that character’s personality. It was as much a part of him as were his physical make-up and actions.

Araucuan Bird Model Sheet

It was so with the Araucuan Bird, a South American native that we used in several pictures. He had a very simple and exciting musical theme- very repetitious! It was “go-go-go!” and that was the Araucuan- loose, free and unpredictable! In contrast, the tortoise in Tortoise and the Hare had a theme that instantly said, “Slow- persistent- determined”. In each of these themes, like many others, the animator found a “spirit” to use in their animation.

This is true in all we do, we try to be on target. The crisp action and charm of a bird, a small animal or a child, as suggested a moment ago, could hardly find interpretation in the hands of a tuba. This then, is the musician’s problem- to write music befitting the character, his moods and his actions, and then to find the most descriptive instrument to play it on.

As animators, we should be ever aware of music and its value to us. We remember sitting in a group studying the pantomimist’s acting routine. It was very simple- opening and closing a door- happily walking across the room- sitting down in a chair- being pricked by a pin, looking at it and tossing it away and then sitting down again, relieved. Without music, the routine was entertaining, clear in thought and acton- nothing wanting, but…

The action was repeated to music, the music being a very simple tune played on a piano. The pantomimed action got a boost as interpretive musical phrases gave emphasis to actions such as the opening and closing of the door- the happy move across the room- the reaction to the pin prick- the viewing of the pin and tossing it away- then happily sitting down. Music just made a goood act better!

Oliver Wallace

Oliver Wallace and Walt Disney

Music, has always given an added quality to our “sound effects” by “rounding” them out, taking off the sharp edges and “sweetening” them to give added dimension and resonance. Often, the music carries the whole “sound effect” beautifully. It was always a treat to hear Ollie Wallace, one of our musicians of a few years back tell of his early days at the old movie theater organ, blasting out, spontaneously, mood music for the silent film flickering up on the screen above him. If the picture needed chase music- Ollie provided it. If it needed a love theme- Ollie gave it the old Hearts and Flowers. If it needed the fury of a cowboy and Indian fight with gunfire- Ollie let ‘em have it, Bang! Bang! and when the villain was sneaking up behind the heroine- Ollie sneakeed in some sneak music, and the audience yelled “Look behind you!” Through the whole silent movie no frame or act got by without Ollie’s musical support.

Perhaps today, Ollie’s show would be considered crude, but it surely is a graphic illustration of the value and need of music in our entertainment.

Think about it: Sight and Sound… so complementary, one to the other!

Eric Larson
October 20th, 1981

TheoryTheory

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit entitled Theory.



FEATURED EXHIBIT

Music ExhibitMusic ExhibitAdventures In Music

Music shares an indescribable magic with animation. It’s hard to describe in words exactly why certain walk cycles or pantomime gags are so wonderful. Music is a source of non-verbal delight as well. The rhythms and pacing of cartoons often mirror the construction of popular music with a statement of theme followed by variations, culminating in a restatement of the theme and a big finish. If you think about it, the best cartoons are inseparable from music. Adventures in Music explores the wide world of music with an eye to revealing the relationships between music and creativity.