Monday, May 04, 2009

Timing Story To Melody

I don't know any other director who could pack more action into a small space than Clampett did.
Here's a small part of an amazing little sequence from an amazing cartoon.
Clampett not only packs in a ton of action, he makes it all completely clear to the audience. You're not confused by it at all, even at the lightening pace.
How does he do it? It's partly the clarity of the great animators and partly Bob's great direction - which is musically structured.
There are assorted ways to time a cartoon:

1) Straight Ahead - one action at a time, with no thought to an underlying structure, not even to a tempo.

2) Timing to a tempo - Friz, Tex, Bill Hanna, Chuck all timed to musical tempos - without always knowing ahead of time, what the music would sound like. Friz and Bill timed their cartoons on musical bar sheets.

Having all your actions built around rhythmic tempos automatically makes the timing feel good. It is an automatic structure that you can build comedy, suspense and whatever moods you want around.

The musician though, is somewhat hampered with this system because although the beats can add up to a sensible tempo, you can't always fit pure melodies to the actions. This makes the musicians tend to write music that isn't melodic. Background music that is more like sound effects that mirror the actions in the cartoons. You can't hum it.

Scott Bradley's MGM cartoons really illustrate this method. Listen to a Tom and Jerry cartoon, then try to hum the music afterwards.

3) Timing and writing the story to pre-scored music- The Fleischers did this a lot and were great at it. All classic animation directors would do it when a certain cartoon or sequence was built around a song or classical music. Fantasia. Rabbit Of Seville. Magical Maestro, etc.

This system can severely limit the creative choices you have to write your story around, because you have to fit it to the song. This is probably the hardest way to time a cartoon and takes the most skill, but if the director is good at it, I find it it the most rewarding.

Carl Stalling did both types of rhythmic scoring -pre and post, depending on the directors and the cartoons he was working with - some melodic, some just echoing the visual actions - think of the Road Runner for an extreme example of the music echoing the actions.
Clampett seemed to favor this 3rd most difficult timing method, but then maybe it wasn't difficult to him. He must have been very comfortable with it since he used it so much.
He told me his method of timing a cartoon went something like this:
The speed, beauty and clarity in this bit of repainting the stripe on the road just kills me.

Once he had a storyboard for a cartoon, he would take it into Carl Stalling's room and act it out for him. Stalling would suggest melodies on the piano for each sequence and the 2 of them would work out the whole track on bar sheets. As Stalling wrote the score, Bob would write his cartoon actions on top of the score. After the whole cartoon was scored, he would transfer the timing from the bar sheets to exposure sheets to give to the animators.

Clampett liked songs and melodies rather than sound effects style music, so this method worked well for him. Stalling could pull from the huge Warner Bros. publishing library and sometimes they just wrote simple new songs for the cartoons.
The structure of Clampett's cartoons is more like music than it is like straight narrative.
His cartoons are highly emotional and they pull you along in the characters' crazy adventures.
This is a very short scene from a longer sequence, but you can see (and hear) how much action, emotion and fun he crams into his cartoons, partly by using strong melodies to time the action to.

If you watch this clip you can see the overall structure of the actions moving to the melody, but then also, certain key moments are punctuated with strong visual accents and musical stings that fit right into the song.

I'll put up another clip from the sequence next.


Rick Roberts said...

"Clampett not only packs in a ton of action, he makes it all completely clear to the audience"

I think most people can't even notice how much action goes by. I know I definetly had re-watch a Clampett cartoon more then once to enjoy alot of the drawings and animation.

Andrew Mortlock said...

in the last frame of bugs as the "toidle" he grins at the audience, you can barely see it!

Lluis said...

That was fun!
"Hey you guys here comes the turtle..." hehehe, everything is fully exagerated so we understand everything clearly,
and it's pretty crazy how they timed the cartoons and music together, I'm pretty sure not many would be able to do that today...!
great post!

RAKninja said...

Anytime you post about Loony Tunes I always get to wishing i had them onhand. What's more, timing is a somewhat important skill in the amateur video editing that's my hobby. Sadly, it's rather hit and miss, all of us being amateur. Your description of how it's done in cartoons (so often the source video that we edit) inspires me to try a new method (namely timing and writing the story with pre-made music) to sharpen this skill.

SoleilSmile said...

Who staged that "peering" scene? That is BRILLIANT!
I totally missed that in the cartoon, but it makes a hilarious still.

I wish cartoons were musically structured today. Animaniacs would do it for many of their episodes, but it seems that productios obstacles ( time, talent and communication) have destroyed the music in the "off episodes". Anything sent to Wang would be "off". Music must be hard to do. Someone should find Bill Hanna's x-sheets and share them with the world. Music is so important.

That's what I felt was missing in the Ripping Friends. The music didn't push the story like it did for the first season of Ren Stimpy. Did you run into difficulties that prevented you from Mickey Mousing the music and characters? Tell us the story sometime, ok?

Anonymous said...

Oh I love bugs bunny~

And the fact that they painted over the road with grey to try to do that old run into a flat surface trick made me giggle cuz I already knew bugs was either gonna run through the wall itself or run down the road >w<. I didn't get to watch this one yet out of the many bugs bunny episodes, but this gag with bugs would be hilarious :D.

And I can hear how the music follows along with the timing and how the sfx of the startled rabbit with the telescope was funny :).

Ahh geez, Mr. K, now you make me wanna go watch bugs bunny XD.

Thanks for sharing this~

Trevor Thompson said...

3) Timing and writing the story to pre-scored music-That's also how you did Ren and Stimpy, right? Since all the music is pre-recorded and well catalogued, I would imagine this is how it worked.

- trevor.

SimonB said...

Thanks John this is great info.
Was Clampett a musician as well?
Do you think it is important for a director to be able to play an instrument?
It seems like now days music is hardly a consideration.
Please sir, may I have some more.

Amir Avni said...

After reading your posts, Clampett still feels magical, but de-mystified in the sense that it is clear how his cartoons work.
That's the scientific method for ya :)

Caleb said...

Great info, thanks.

John A said...

Until Clampett perfected it, the Fleischers' was the only studio that could do gag on top of gag on top of gag and get away with it. Of course it helps to have a good solid story structure holding it all together,something most of the other studios were seriously lacking.

There is so much going on in this cartoon, funny premise, funny characters,great music,and pushing everything along up to the finish line is the lightning fast timing. Most studios couldn't even tell a story like this in under seven minutes. They sure as hell wouldn't fly through it with the confidence that Clampett's team exhibits. The other studios must have felt like they were being left in the dust when they saw what Warners was up to.

Sure,H and B had quick timing, but it was the same from cartoon to cartoon. Same pace for the begining ,same pace for every midsection of their cartoons,all leading up to the same finale. All formula. One thing you could say about Clampett, he may repeat some of his gags, but he would never repeat a formula. He was probably one of the most anti-formula cartoon directors ever.

Sven Hoek said...

That's a HUGE part of whats missing in cartoons these days. Musical timing and timing in general.

That's what made the older cartoons sparkle. And Ren and Stimpy as well. Putting funny punchlines on musical accents is magic.

John said...

Heh, this cartoon has one of the best endings ever...


MLP said...

In a 1969 interview, Clampett said of the early Merrie Melodies, "We'd have a great story going along, but then we'd have to stop and have the singing chorus." Probably gave him a lot of practice animating along to songs...

Rick Roberts said...

I loved when Bugs was approaching the finish line, hysterical when thought he was going to win. There are just too many things to love about Tortise Wins By a Hare.

Payo said...

Yeah - the dialog and action in this slays me.


"Ehhhhh. Now he tells us." (and don't they commit group suicide with one bullet?

And I LOVE the way the brown bunny says "Hey youse guys... here comes da toitle."

smbhax said...

Great, informative post. It's so easy to take what they did with the music back then for granted; it just *works*. It's funny seeing the brown Bugs look-a-like.

:: smo :: said...

i think in part too it's a testament to how deep the arranger understands the intention of the director, and their overall communication.

the scene in the clip at the bottom is all the same tempo, so it would make it easier for stalling to find a fitting melody and keep to the overall feel. But then too, since Clampett had a knowledge of music, he knew to put the rabbit with the telescope's reaction on an offbeat so it even catches the viewer off guard. i feel like now someone would approach the scene and say "oh that was just where the animator thought it would be a good time for a reaction" something like that, but since this is a clampett cartoon, i'm willing to bet that he had that all thought out. all it would take would be one note on the bar sheet translated on the x-sheet and handed to the animator to pop on the right frame, then cushion accordingly.


musical and visual dissonance working together to create tension.

if anyone out there runs a studio like this i'm currently looking for work...