Friday, June 27, 2008

More "Bad Luck Blackie" Analysis- beat timing

I was studying this clip from Tex Avery's Bad Luck Blackie some more and I noticed that the musical violin beats match the cat coming out of the hole onto the 'X', then looking left, then straight ahead and then the dog releasing the rope to start the violin cascade. They all seemed perfectly timed. So I used a digital metronome to tap out the beats for the cat's head turns. From that I found that the head turns were on (roughly) a 9 beat. (a new beat of timing for the action & music occurs every 9 frames. This comes out to 160 beats per minute musically). Anyhow I guessed that this 9 beat was consistent throughout the clip, so I set out to see if my guess was correct. Oddly enough it was. Here is the result...

right click and Save to download as Quicktime

I replaced the music with the 9 beat click track and added a flashing indicator to show where the beats are. It's hard to catch the beats exactly when you play it, but if you download the Quicktime movie and frame step through it you'll find that most of the actions for the character occur on the beat frame, or within 1 frame of it. And you'll notice that if you step forward every 9th frame has a new beat. Often you'll notice that a pose drawing (as opposed to an inbetween) for the dog hits right on the beat frame. This timing is so pervasive that it comes right down to the shot cuts as well. You'll notice that the cut from the two shot of the dog & cat to the falling safe happens right on a beat frame.

The director settled on the timing (and passed it along to the animator) before the music was composed and the motion was created to allow the composer the opportunity to match it perfectly without breaking stride in the musical beat. This connection between the motion and the music within a structure is a primary characteristic of classical golden age cartoons. This too seems to be a disappearing skill. Animators today generally don't think musically (unless we have pre-recorded music that we are animating to). Timing-wise we animators usually do whatever we want and leave the composer with a mish-mash of actions that lack a strong timing structure. While the shorts being done today are good, they lack this underlying structure for the most part. I think it'd be really neat to see this employed more- if only to know that the skill of musical timing to animation is alive and well.

Seriously cool stuff, man.


Rafi animates said...

Wow Keith, excellent analysis. I really enjoyed reading this post.

On the subject of rhythmic structure in animation and music working together, it's so true that the best examples are found in the golden era shorts.

I tried my hand at it with a short I did a little while back:

I took a piece of music by Ray Brown and re-edited it through my animation process.

I did my first few music edits in the animatic stage, figuring out how the acting and pacing worked with the score. The aim was to edit and structure the musical phrases in such a way that would narrate the story, and at the same time taking my shot editing and story pacing cues from the music.

Going back and forth between editing the music and editing the length of shots was really helpful and a lot of fun. By the time I was done with the layout stage and began blocking, I had pretty much worked out the soundtrack and shots .

Edits were either made right on the beat or just off-beat, depending on what felt right. I learned a lot in the process, especially about workflow and also a lot about timing in acting and movement. I had the music as a guide in maya when I was blocking my shots.

Gary said...

Yes, music tempo used to be the foundation on which all the animation was planned out at Disney, Warners, everywhere.

It was a musical era.

And it wasn't just tempo. Watch something like Bambi and notice that there are no sound effects as such. It's all musical instrumentation. Rain drops don't make a water sound, they make a clarinet sound in the key of C which is the key of the song that follows: Little April Shower. And so on.

Watch something like Dumbo and notice during the Pink Elephants on Parade sequence that the music time signature is 4/4 during the marching part but changes to 3/4 waltz time at the moment the dancing elephant pair make their appearance.

Everything was musical.

Do that stuff today and they'll call you "retro".

Tim said...

In your last Tex post, I replied how I used to watch 16mm prints frame by frame to study Tex's timing.
What I found was that just about everything was timed out to a 16 frame beat. (1 foot of film). Since those films were regimented per foot, Tex found it simplest to do all his cutting and gag rhythm based on this timing. And it helped him keep track of how much film he was using (and how he was keeping up with quotas)

Andy said...

When animating Ratobat, I created the animation first and then spent ages looking for some suitable music. The exact timing of the animation was then fine tuned to match the music. For my next film The Flea Circus, I am working with a composer but we have not yet worked out how it's all going to fit together.

Breadwig said...

Great and facinating post on timing and music etc. Really nifty. I just dumped a bunch of unrefined doodles to my website. Now I feel bad.

Bryon Caldwell said...

Ya, this is great stuff! You don't really see this level of timing quality in cartoons much anymore. It's to bad because it adds such a great layer of texture to the motion in connection with the music.

I think Pixar's new short 'Presto' has some sweet animation to music timing. It was neat to see them pulling out the Warner esque style on so many levels!