Animation: Musical Timing Rediscovered

Shuffle Off To Buffalo

A few weeks ago, John K posted an article by Milt Gray about timing. If you haven’t read it yet, by all means, click on that link before you go any further in this post. Milt explains how cartoons before the TV era were timed to a musical beat, and how musical timing has become a lost art.

Rudy Ising and Hugh HarmanRudy Ising and Hugh HarmanWell, almost lost… I happened to be speaking to Mark Kausler about the article, and he mentioned that he had a complete set of bar sheets, given to him by Rudy Ising, for an early Merrie Melodies cartoon- "Shuffle Off To Buffalo". He graciously offered to let us digitize it and share it with you. This document is the "smoking gun" that animators interested in timing theories of the past have been looking for. It’s a highly detailed plan for the timing of a typical cartoon from the early days of sound. This isn’t a particularly good cartoon, but it gives us a clear look at the process. That makes it invaluable.

I’ve gathered together all the reference you need to analyze these bar sheets… I’ve supplied you with frame grabs from each scene to act as a storyboard, and I’ve posted a 24 fps movie file of "Shuffle Off To Buffalo". My own knowledge of animation timing theory is extremely limited, so I would appreciate it if the professional animators who are reading this blog would share their expertise through the comments link below, or by posting analysis to their own blogs. Nick Cross and Michael Sporn are the first to weigh in with their comments. I’ll add links to other blogs discussing this topic as I am made aware of them.

Musical timing is one of the principle aspects of early cartoons that set them apart from modern animation. The perfect rhythm of cartoons is what makes them so appealing and magical. Rhythmic timing doesn’t cost any more, in fact, careful planning saves money. “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” was planned down to the frame by two men- a director and a musician- before a single animation drawing had been done. The results are "magical perfection". Modern animation timing requires constant testing and revising by teams of artists and technicians to look "natural". Who wants cartoons that look natural? How many manhours could be saved with this technique? Let’s share info and try to recapture the "lost art" of Musical Timing!


Shuffle Off To Buffalo Bar Sheets

These 20 pages comprise the complete "detail sheets" (aka "bar sheets") for the 1933 Merrie Melodies cartoon, "Shuffle Off To Buffalo". This document was prepared by the director, Rudy Ising in collaboration with the musical director, Frank Marsales.

Shuffle Off To Buffalo Page 01
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Page 02
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Shuffle Off To Buffalo Page 04
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Shuffle Off To Buffalo Page 06
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Page 07
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Shuffle Off To Buffalo Page 11
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Page 12
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Shuffle Off To Buffalo Page 15
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Page 16
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Page 17
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Page 18
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Page 19
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Page 20


Feel free to print out these images to use as a visual reference when you’re studying the bar sheets. Every scene in the picture is depicted here, along with its scene number.

Shuffle Off To Buffalo Storyboard
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Storyboard
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Storyboard
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Storyboard
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Storyboard
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Storyboard
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Storyboard
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Storyboard
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Storyboard
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Storyboard
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Storyboard
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Storyboard
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Storyboard


Shuffle Off To Buffalo Movie

I have encoded this Quicktime movie at 24 frames per second, so you can count frames and compare to the bar sheets. If the movie fails to load quickly, check back a little later.

Shuffle Off To Buffalo (WB/1933)
(Quicktime 7 / 30.6 megs)


Animator, Nick Cross discusses the importance of musical timing

Director, Michael Sporn provides examples of other formats of bar sheets and a discussion regarding how timing theory morphed over time

Kevin Langley discusses how he is applying musical timing principles to his own work, and offers scans of bar sheets by Bill Hanna and Scott Bradley

Mark Mayerson explains how to use a metronome to time animation

Hans Perk posts lecture notes by Disney composer, Albert Hay Malotte and bar sheets by Dave Hand for Trader Mickey. More on bar sheets at afilmla.

Timing Director, Milt Gray talks about the differences between the way cartoons are timed today, and the way they were timed in the golden age

Stephen Worth
Animation Resources

Animated CartoonsAnimated Cartoons

This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Animation.

6 Responses to “Animation: Musical Timing Rediscovered”

  1. Justin says:

    Thanks for this post!
    Yesterday the NFB posted a 15 minute clip from Luigi Allemano’s Making Music for Animation Masterclass:

  2. Hans Perk says:

    Please note that the original links in this posting from 2006 no longer point correctly to my blog, as I had to move it around a few years ago, and Blogger irritatingly added numbers to the links.
    The posting on Al Malotte is here, and Trader Mickey here.

    A lot of water passed under the bridge since August 2006. Since then, of particular interest for study was seeing the original barsheets of four classic Disney shorts applied to their video and audio, which can be found here.

  3. I’ve been looking at this and I have some questions.
    I am just starting to learn Sibelius (a notation software) so I keyed in the notes for the first couple of scenes and played it out at 120 bpm. It turned out to be half the speed it should be. Then I thought, well there are 4 quarter notes a measure, and one measure is equal to a second, so (4 X 60=240) I set the bpm at 240 and it played at the right tempo.

    I always read that a 12x beat is 120 bpm. Does that mean that the half beat and the beat equal half the measure. So each measure is

    I’m mostly wondering because I want to make my own score eventually for a short cartoon. Would I put the tempo to 240 bpm so that each measure is a second long, or would I drop it to 120 bpm so that each measure is 2 seconds long (for when I want to have a normal tempo 12x beat). After studying these sheets, it seems to be more simple to break each measure down into 24 frames.

    • I figured it out. After scrounging around on Hans Perk blog, I found a lot of really useful info. The posting about Al Molette describes what is going on beautifully. So each measure represents 24 frames and each measure contains 2-12, or (2) 12x beats. But that is only for a 2-12 beat. Then if you want a 2-14 beat, the measure equals 28 frames, or a 2-8 measure would equal 16 frames. Pretty sure I got it all down. That is why these don’t directly translate into an x-sheet. You have to be aware that as the tempo changes the amount of frames the measure represents will change as well.

  4. Janek says:

    This article, and linked Milt Gray article is this what I looking for couple of years ago. I wrote article about timing techniques, but there is so much knowledge that I before don’t know. Thank you.

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