Archive for the ‘theory’ Category

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.


Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Theory: Heroes and Imitation

imitation

Today on Facebook, I got into a discussion about “fan videos”. Someone pointed me to this film…

Superman Classic
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2WVlmNqMMs

At first glance, this film appears well animated, professional, polished… everything someone might expect of a good animated film… except one thing. Take a look at this film now and see if you can figure out what that is…

Superman in The Mechanical Monsters
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34e7fL9xgmI

Separated by 70 years, these two films are very similar on the surface. But underneath, they are completely different. The Fleischers were breaking new ground with their film, adapting a comic book that reflected the mood and style of the time. They were experimenting with new techniques and expanding what their medium was capable of doing. Superman Classic imitates without really adding anything new.

WHY IS THAT A BAD THING?

It’s bad because the film maker who made the fan film obviously has considerable skill and talent. He should be making his own films that reflect his own point of view and time and place. Instead, he spent months and months of his life *recreating something that already existed*. We might be impressed with the sheer amount of work involved, but when it comes down to it, it’s as pointless as singing “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”.

“Hard work and long hours aren’t what make for great cartoons. Ideas are.” -John Kricfalusi

When you imitate, the absolute best that you can achieve is to be “almost as good” as the thing you are imitating. How can a copy ever be better? But if you go back to the fundamentals and create your own thing, you have the chance to perhaps surpass what has been done before. Best of all, instead of rehashing something that was relevant half a century ago, you are creating something relevant to the here and now.

NOSTALGIA IS THE ENEMY OF CREATIVITY

It’s good to have heroes, it’s good to study great drawings by copying them to figure out what makes them tick, and it’s good to admire films from the past. Inspiration is important. But there is a proper application of inspiration.

“It’s only natural to pattern yourself after someone. If I wanted to be a painter, I might think about trying to be like Van Gogh, or if I was an actor, act like Laurence Olivier. If I was an architect, there’s Frank Gehry. But you can’t just copy somebody. If you like someone’s work, the important thing is to be exposed to everything that person has been exposed to. Some people say they want to be like Bob Dylan. But they shouldn’t do that by copying me. Anyone who wants to be a songwriter like me should listen to as much folk music as they can, study the form and structure of stuff that has been around for 100 years. I go back to Stephen Foster.” -Bob Dylan

Every day on the internet, I see people drawing endless imitations of Sonic the Hedgehog or anime or Tex Avery cartoons. In fact, there’s a whole website devoted to that called DeviantArt. It upsets me to see otherwise fine artists squander their talent on mindless imitation of a tiny, inbred handful of things. If they focused their energy in gaining a diverse and wide range of influences, and analyzing the thought process behind the creation of their favorite cartoons, they would stand a chance of surpassing their heroes. But instead, they are trapped in an endless loop of copying the thing they admire, wasting their energy tracing the outlines of its shadow.

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.