September 19th, 2019

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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”.

Peter and the Wolf

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.


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Posted by Stephen Worth @ 10:39 am

September 18th, 2019

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Theory: 3D Design Inspiration- Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

When an artist who animates with drawings looks to reference for stylization techniques, he might look to modern UPA style cartoons. These can often give him ideas for interesting shapes or ways of handling the line. But these sorts of flat designs aren’t much help to a puppet or CGI animator, because 3D characters need to be volumetric so they can inhabit three dimensional space. A flat UPA character won’t translate. So where does a CGI or puppet character designer look for ideas about stylization?

Well… one great source is American Indian Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls
Click to see in 3D!

Kachinas are very important spiritual symbols to the Hopi and Zuni tribes in North Eastern Arizona. They represent natural life forces that are able to provide protection, fertility or healing. There are hundreds of different Kachinas in the Hopi culture, each one with a specific personality and representational meaning. The Kachinas aren’t thought of as gods, but rather as a shadow society, with family relationships and lives of their own. There are Kachinas that embody the wind, the sun, stars, thunderstorms, birds, animals and even ideas, like motherhood or fertility. The most important Kachinas are referred to by the Hopi as Wuya.

Kachina Dolls

The Hopis and Zunis dress up as the Kachinas for planting and harvest festivals. They dance and sing in costume and give the children of the pueblo wooden dolls of the characters as gifts to protect them and teach them about the culture. (The Kachinas are looked upon by the children as a cultural equivalent of Santa Claus because of this custom.)

Kachina Dolls

The Navajo tribe didn’t have Kachinas in their culture, but the proximity of the Hopi and Navajo reservations created a sharing of ideas, and now many Navajos carve Kachina dolls too.

Here are some examples of the masks worn by the Kachina dancers…

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

The word “Kachina” can be used in several contexts… It can be used for the characters representing natural spirit powers, the costumed dancers at the festivals, the dolls given as gifts to the children, or to describe the crude souvenir dolls sold to tourists.

Kachina Dolls
Souvenir Kachinas sold along Route 66 in the 50s and 60s
Kachina Dolls

The simplest way to tell a souvenir Kachina doll from one given to the Hopi children is to look on the feet for a signature. Tourist Kachinas are almost always signed and have the name of the Kachina. Ones given by the Kachina to the Hopi children is never signed, because the children are told that the Kachinas themselves made it for them.

Kachina Dolls

Senator Barry Goldwater had the world’s most significant collection of antique Kachina Dolls, which he willed to the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. The collection illustrates the progression that Kachina design went through from the 1890s all the way through the 1950s. If you are ever in the area, it’s well worth a visit.

Kachina Dolls

As you look through this gallery of Kachina dolls, take note of the wild stylization and the variations on a single character. Each Hopi artist has his or her own style and approach to carving the dolls and the designs have changed radically over the past century. Earlier examples are more like outer space creatures, while more recent ones have more realistic human proportions.

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

Kachina Dolls

It’s easy to get stuck in a stylistic rut, designing characters that look just like other character designs. Instead, step outside of the box for inspiration and you’ll find that the possibilities in design for animation are limitless… and a lot of fun too!

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryTheory

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

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Posted by Stephen Worth @ 9:54 am

September 17th, 2019

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Illustration: Huckleberry Hound and Rocky & Bullwinkle Golden Books

Huck Hound Builds A House

We scanned Golden Books today… First up was Huckleberry Hound Builds A House. Published in 1959, this was one of the earliest Hanna Barbera books, and it’s one of the best. These H-B characters were beautifully designed and perfectly suited to the TV medium. This book was laid out by Harvey Eisenberg and painted by Al White.

Huck Hound Builds A House

Huck Hound Builds A House

Huck Hound Builds A House

Huck Hound Builds A House

Huck Hound Builds A House

Huck Hound Builds A House

Here is another TV cartoon related Golden Book by Ben De Nunez and Al White.

Rocky And His Friends is interesting because it depicts the characters in a very different way than they appeared in the TV series. White sees the characters as solid objects, not flat designs, and he renders them in a variety of different lighting situations. This book also has a nice balance of textures.

Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and Bullwinkle

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

Animated CartoonsAnimated Cartoons

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

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit spotlighting Illustration.

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Posted by admin @ 9:43 am