How Music Can Complete Animation

This week we were introduced to the Royal College of Music students who will work on the music for our animations.

While preparing a pitch for them, I realized I always took the music for granted, never really realizing the effect it has on the animation.

An animation or movie without music can feel very empty. Tom and Jerry was based on the sole principle that animation is amplified by music. So are the early Mickey Mouse shorts and later on the Disney feature length movies.

Music can even introduce a character, define it. Such as the Hobbit melody in Lord of the Rings for instance. Everytime the Hobbit would come on screen, these notes would start playing, in a such a manner that every time someone hears this song, he/she immediately links it to these characters, expects them to appear.

It can accompany a situation, like it does in How to Train Your Dragon. One scene called “First Date”, follows a clumsy dragon trying to attract its mate. In this instance the music changes with the situation. In the beginning it is clumsy, and finally when the dragon gets confident, it gets happy.

Music can also set a mood. We know a scene will be scary when we hear slow, spooky notes.

I started thinking about my animation in terms of music and notes, trying to describe to the RCM students what I was looking for.

Finally, a few of them were eager to work on this project. Each added an element to the table. We agreed the best option was the “Mickey Mousing” technique which syncs the accompanying music to the actions on screen. This allows the music to participate in the action and value it even more.

Visual Effects vs Craftmanship

In the last decade or so, I have noticed an immense growth in the use of visual effects in cinema and television. This is something that affects animation directly. I have always been a fiery defender of 2D over 3D use in animation. It is quite ironic considering my grad film is almost entirely 3D, a process I wanted to try out. Nevertheless, I believe this growing use of visual effects and computer software has now considerably lowered the level of craftmanship. In a world where everyone uses a computer, no one knows how to hold a pencil, even less draw with it.

I do believe the reason for this change was money, but also the possibilities to form more people, people who could not draw, to animate.

This led to one uniform style, feeding us what the mass wants to see and what the mass can do, over true talent and hard work. Well, 3D is hard work, but it is more like coding than art. Will people never know about the exhilarating pain of drawing 24 pictures per second? Of having hundreds and hundreds of layers of colour trials?

I was reminded of this truth when watching two very different movies in a short periood of time. The first was “Aquaman” by James Wan, a director known for his horror movies, while the second was “Nutcracker and the Four Realms” by Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston.

I have always been a fan of the superhero type movie, also was I very disappointed when watching the movie. The problem, in my opinion, is the overuse of visual effects. The lack of authenticity from the world created as well as in the actor’s game. Everything was done using visual effects, even the hair, giving a sense of wrong throughout the whole movie.

In “Nutcracker and the Four Realms” however, the production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas wanted to build as many sets as possible to avoid the use of green screen for the actors and the audience to “feel the reality and almost a tactile experience.” “You can feel the difference between virtual sets and real sets.”

The Land of Sweets for instance was made with real candy while the Land of Flowers used real flowers. The production designer called to many different talented craftsmen for this movie, just like Lord of the Rings had done.

The use of 3D was limited to what could not be built like the Mouse King. Nevertheless, the rest was real, even the 30 foot marionette housing Mother Ginger. In the end, this produces a much more real, visually beautiful experience.

Visual effects had been lately used as a monetary solution rather than a craft, thus spoiling its effects.