Archive for the ‘timing’ Category

Thursday, May 11th, 2023

Animation: Musical Timing Rediscovered

Shuffle Off To Buffalo

One of the biggest differences between the way animation were made in the golden era and today is the way they were timed. Before the TV era, cartoons 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
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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)


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.

Stephen Worth
Animation Resources

Animated CartoonsAnimated Cartoons

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

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Friday, August 16th, 2019

RefPack029: How Does Experimental Animation Apply To Character Animation?

Reference Pack

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Every other month, members of Animation Resources are given access to an exclusive Members Only Reference Pack. These downloadable files are high resolution e-books on a variety of educational subjects and rare cartoons from the collection of Animation Resources in DVD quality. Our current Reference Pack has just been released. If you are a member, click through the link to access the MEMBERS ONLY DOWNLOAD PAGE. If you aren’t a member yet, please JOIN ANIMATION RESOURCES. It’s well worth it.

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Len Lye

Five Films By Len Lye
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Tusalava (1929) / Kaleidoscoper (1935) / Rainbow Dance (1936) / Doing The Lambeth Walk (1939) / Musical Poster No. 1 (1940)

Len Lye was a revolutionary figure, not only in the history of animation, but of fine art as well. His work explored motion through experimental film and kinetic sculpture. It is well worth taking a few moments to read the Len Lye Wikipedia Page if you aren’t familiar with him. But there are some personal points I need to make about these films to get across their context to you.

Len Lye

Whenever we post experimental films on Animation Resources, inevitably I am asked how any of this relates to what character animators do. Artists will say that abstract animation is interesting, but they don’t see how it applies to their own work. Nothing can be further from the truth. Animation is more than just creating characters and telling stories. Comics and illustration have characters and stories, but the thing that makes animation unique is the element of time. Len Lye strips away all of the narrative and figurative elements and focuses entirely on rhythm and the visual representation of music. Few other animated films are as concentrated when it comes to this kind of unity of sound and image. Lye was essentially distilling animation down to the one thing that makes the medium totally unique.

The technique is drop dead simple and direct… Lye painted directly on blank rolls of film with colored dyes and created layers of movement in an optical printer. But that is just the surface. It goes much deeper than that. The planning required to achieve this complete synthesis of sound and motion required incredible concentration. Think about it a moment… Lye was breaking down the soundtrack into its individual voices and rhythms and representing all that on exposure sheets frame by frame. How did he do that? What did Lye’s notes and plans look like before he began work? I really don’t know, but the level of detail and the abstract thinking involved is staggering.

Len Lye

Too often, animators slug their exposure sheets according to the length of the dialogue and how long it takes to perform an action, with no thought given to pacing or rhythm. Len Lye is operating on a much more sophisticated level. He represents complex syncopated Latin and jazz rhythms visually with abstract shapes that move. The technique of painting little doodles of shapes on film gives it a deceptively simple appearance, but the planning going on under the hood must have required fourth dimensional thinking. Imagine if instead of the action in an animated film happening at a normal pace dictated by the speed the voice actor performs the dialogue, the animator creates a rhythmic pattern for the action that merges the character’s performance with the beats and accents in the music… Are you beginning to understand the importance of these films now?

Len Lye

In the past, animation was planned out to a musical beat. The music established the pace of the footsteps and the rhythm of the action. The way this was achieved was by analyzing the voices in the music and breaking down the rhythms frame by frame. When Len Lye’s and Norman McLaren’s films first were shown, traditional animators sat up and took notice. They were greatly impressed by how these seemingly simple little films effortlessly accomplished amazingly complex things that the Hollywood animators struggled to do in their character animation. When I was first becoming interested in animation in the early 1980s, there was a Len Lye retrospective where many of his films were screened for the first time. I attended the screening and was amazed to look around the audience… it was a virtual who’s who of animators from Disney, Warner Bros, MGM and every other major animation studio. These great animators thought there was something to learn from these films. You should too.

REFPACK029: 5 Films By Len Lye
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Len LyeLen LyeLen Lye

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