Music

Work was still being done on the last segments of Fantasia when the Bambi crew moved into full production. and Walt was kept hopping from one projection room to the next to keep up with the reels as they progressed. One day he was called into a meeting on the forest fire sequence in Bambi just as he finished viewing the work reels on Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. The Bambi picture reel was only half completed, but the intent was clear and the musician, lid Plumb, was eager to present his ideas on the score he was writing. Halfway through his presentation, Walt stopped him and asked the projectionist if the Fantasia reels were still up in the booth. They were, so he asked to hear the storm music from the Pastoral Symphony run in sync with the Bambi reel. We were stunned by the power of the music and the excitement it gave to the drawings.

When it was over. Walt turned and said. "There, Ed. that's what I want. Something big! See the difference.'"

Ed's look was part shock, part disbelief, and part pleading. "But. Walt—that's Beethoven!"

Walt responded, "Yeah. . . ?" and waited to hear some reason why Ed could not write the same sort of thing. It was no more than what he asked of his whole staff day after day.

Music is undoubtedly the most important addition that will be made to the picture. It can do more to bring a production to life, to give it integrity, style, emphasis, meaning, and unity than any other single ingredient. With the surge of a full orchestra, there

will be bigness and majesty and soaring spirits; with a nervous, fluttering melody line on a single instrument, or pulsating drumbeats, there will be agitation, apprehension. suspicion. Music can build tension in commonplace scenes or ease it in ones that have become visually too frightening.

At times there is value in playing counter to what is being seen. Chaplin writes of his troubles in getting arrangers to realize that the music behind his tramp character should not attempt to be funny, but should strive for an emotional dimension. "I wanted the music to be a counterpoint of grace and charm, to express sentiment, without which, as Hazlitt says, a work of art is incomplete."1

Still other times require the music to express an attitude that cannot be shown strongly in moving draw-

ings. Feelings of isolation, rejection, an awareness of beauty, a sense of growing strength, of hope, of devotion—these are all inner emotions that arc difficult to show. Fortunately, this is the area of greatest strength for music, and the musician who feels the mood in your film can make it all intensely moving.

Since music is so closely associated with most of the major events in our lives—nursery songs, camp-fire songs, school songs, religious songs, dances, weddings, and, finally, funerals—it becomes the soul of our memory, forever coloring our impressions. Just the playing of a familiar theme brings back the emotions of past experience, and through associations we can be made to feel empathy even for peoples of distant cultures. This becomes a vital element in making fantasy worlds believable—not just as a place observed from the comfort of our theater seats, but a region we actually inhabit for the duration of the film.

Before the days of sound, it was the organists and piano players in theaters across the country who used the magic of music to transport audiences to other lands and other times. In a primitive and very direct way, these musicians communicated with the viewers, leading them from one emotion to another as the story in the film unfolded. From opera they took themes of passion and torment, descriptive passages and mood-setting phrases. In folk songs, popular songs, sentimental ballads, they found melodies with strong connotations that created an immense emotional response. Movie theater musicians had a special feeling for just the right music to fit any situation, the background to recall tunes from everywhere, and the ability to improvise constantly, adapting new ideas to old songs. Their music communicated: Danger . . . Romance . . . Loneliness. . . Cold . . . Joy . . . Longing . . . Bravery. . . .

Walt brought men in from all over the country to help develop a new use of music in a whole new kind of entertainment. They included Carl Stalling, who had once played for the Laugh-O-Grams back in Kansas City; Bert Lewis, also from Kansas City; Frank Churchill, who wrote the music for the famous flypaper sequence with Pluto, and "Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf," anil all the songs for Snow White: Leigh Marline, who was most famous for "When You Wish Upon a Star" but had done the music for such diverse subjects as The Grasshopper and the Ants and The Old Mill; and Ollie Wallace, who composed the score for Dumbo with Churchill and was best known for "Der Fuehrer's Face." These men were joined by Albert Malotte, who achieved more fame as the composer of "The Lord's Prayer," and the highly talented Paul Smith, fresh out of university and full of musical ideas. His adaptation of cartoon techniques in the scores for the True Life Adventures several years later added immeasurably to that series of live action films. Buddy Baker also contributed to both live action and cartoon, showing equal facility in symphonic suites or comic chases.

Each of these men had a great sense of melody and a unique ability to orchestrate very special feelings. Of them all. Frank Churchill probably had the greatest feel for the animated film, as his score for Snow White showed so well. The bubbling quality and friendly spirit of the section in which the animals lake the girl to the dwarfs' cottage was especially appealing, and we asked Ed Plumb what gave the music that extra something. Ed squinted his eyes, "Y'know, I've memorized every note in that orchestration and I still can't figure out what does it."

After Frank Churchill's death, his room was given to Ollie Wallace. Ollie was peppery, spirited, and always had a twinkle in his eye, so when he claimed that Frank's spirit was responsible for the great melo dies thai continued to come from that room we nodded our heads and smiled. But one day he was scowling and professed great annoyance. "That Churchill hasn't written a decent note in the last three days!"

In 1928, no one knew how the drawings of the cartoon and the notes of the music could be planned together. It was easy enough to improvise a score to a completed film, but to figure out ahead of time where the beats would occur on the drawings was beyond everyone. Walt insisted there must be a way the two could be worked together and be controlled and built upon and changed. What kind of graph or chart or score could be devised that would bring the music and picture together?2

The newly arrived Wilfred Jackson had the answer with his metronome. He reasoned that if the film ran at a constant speed of 24 frames a second, all one had to do was determine how much music went by in a second. Although his knowledge of musical structure was rudimentary, he did know bars and beats and staffs and signs, and since the tunes being used for these first films were rather rudimentary themselves it all worked

out quite nicely. A new language had been discovered.

It seems simple enough now. but Dave Hand reported that animators in New York were baffled and tried over and over for a year and a half before figuring out a way to establish where the accents would occur while making the drawings. Jackson's system was easily expanded to include variations in tempo and other time signatures, and as long as the song adhered to a strict beat it could be written out from beginning to end.

The director knew what part of the song would be 'heardduring any action he planned, and the musician knew what movements were being planned to go with the music. The animator knew that if he had his character slide from early in Measure 54 to the middle of Measure 55, there would be cither a slide whistle or an I instrumental glissando to back him up on the final sound track.

The musician and the director worked closely together in the same room, planning the entire picture | before any animator began a scene. Wilfred Jackson told of these sessions in an interview: "First the musi-| cian would suggest tunes for the various sections of the picture to get the mood or general type of action for each part. He would patiently play the same phrase over and over again while the animation director visualized and timed the action in his mind. Working back and forth, the musician would sometimes change elements in the score to enhance certain actions, or the director would modify some piece of business so that^ it worked better musically. When both were satisfied, the director would mark the action down on the 'dope sheet' |Bar Sheet| while his partner sketched out that part of the music score. Then they would move on to the next little piece of action."

This close cooperation became the standard procedure as other musicians were added to the staff. It was a long and tedious process for musicians more adept at improvising through inspiration, and they often wished they could withdraw from these daily meetings after laying out some basic footages and the number of bars in a verse or a chorus. Even after the director had worked over every last movement in the picture, stretching it or condensing it to fit the pattern of the beats, there was still the animator who had to be satisfied, and lie inevitably had more refinements and ideas that built on what already had been done. There were other times when the animator simply could not put over all the business demanded within the footage limitations imposed by the music, and then the musician would be asked to add just one more little beat to his music—-just one? Astounded at this lack of comprehension of the basic mathematical structure of music, the musician would insist on a full measure, or better yet. a phrase, but that only seemed to add more problems. The action could not be padded by that much. So the "3-12 measure" was invented.

To a measure containing two beats, an extra beat was added, creating a measure of three beats. When the first musician gave in to this compromise the tempo was in 12s. twelve frames to each beat, so it was called a 3-12 measure; but the term persisted regardless of tempo for years. It was like adding an extra step on one foot in a march; instead of "Left, right, left, right." it became, "Left, right, right, left, right." When an animator with a musical background asked how this was possible, he simply was told, "Oh, Churchill knows how to do it!"

Walt used to claim that Frank Churchill always slept through the story meetings and never listened to his first instructions, but Frank hardly can be blamed. He knew that no matter what ideas were tossed out. and no matter how enthusiastically they might be received, that would have little bearing on the music he eventually would write. By the time footage was added, phrases repeated, sections cut out. and every thing plastered together with an assortment of 3-12 measures, any original plan would be so butchered there would be little of it left. He figured, correctly, that he would do better to wait until the decisions had been made and the footages set. and then he could write a score with integrity and flow, regardless of what had happened to the so-called structure. He would sit at his piano penciling in his melodies and muttering, '"This note is for the director, and this is for the producer, while this little note down here is for the animator, and this is for the director's Aunt Tilda, and this is just for me!"

It was not an easy procedure for anyone, but that close collaboration was the very thing that produced the new art form. From the advent of sound to the late thirties, music and animation had been one. Wilfred Jackson expressed the general feeling: "I do not believe there was much thought given to the music as one thing and the animation as another. I believe we conceived of them as elements which we were trying to fuse into a whole new thing that would be more than simply movement plus sound." Jerome Kern recognized the artistry in this process and claimed that a distinct new musical form had been created. He termed it "the use of music as language" and credited Walt with making an outstanding contribution to the music of his time—possibly the only real contribution of the twentieth century!' The effect of absolutely everything being related to the musical beat became so well developed that, in the musical world. "Mickeymousing" became the name for music that accented or echoed every action on the screen. As a way of scoring, it was not limited to cartoons, but also was used with good effect in such pictures as King Kong, matching the huge ape's ascent of the Empire State Building with dramatic progression in the orchestration.

If this close integration of music and action had been a headache to the musicians, it was equally demanding for the animators, forcing them to become more crisp in their thinking and belter organized in their statements. I'hey always had been required to get across the story points in the least amount of time, but they had never faced the discipline of working to the rigid pattern of a beat. Where ordinarily ihey would have taken an extra eight or ten frames to complete an action, stage a pose, or register a look, the music made them search for the absolute essence of the idea—that and nothing more. No frills, no extras: get right to the point. It is doubtful if they ever would have achieved this concise distillation without the constant pressure that demanded they find a way. Looking back on it now. we can see that it was valuable and necessary training. Unlimited footage nearly always lulls the animator into a slipshod performance.

While the shorts featuring Mickey and action gags were giving the musicians such problems, the Silly Symphonies were pushing into a new relationship of music and animation. Here, the integrity of the music was more important, and the action had to do the adapting. When a theme from Rossini or Schubert was used, it had to be used intact or the whole effect was

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Pencil Drawing Beginners Guide

Pencil Drawing Beginners Guide

Easy Step-By-Step Lessons How Would You Like To Teach Yourself Some Of The Powerful Basic Techniques Of Pencil Drawing With Our Step-by-Step Tutorial. Learn the ABC of Pencil Drawing From the Experts.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment