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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Click Loops

In my quest to futher the case of musical timing in animation, I have previously mentioned click-loops. Here now are a few images and a quote to underline the historical importance of this material.

Please turn to page 88 of Bob Thomas' The Art of Animation (Simon & Shuster 1958), basically the book on the Making of Sleeping Beauty. If you haven't got one, you can still buy one. We read:

>>The animation composer has two indispensible companions in his office—his piano and his moviola.
   The moviola has long been used in the motion picture industry as a fast method of viewing film. It is a machine that stands waist-high and reproduces film action on a small screen. But the composer's moviola is different from other ones.
   At the end is a reel on which can be played a continuous loop of film. This is called a click-loop, and it provides the sound of whatever tempo the composer desires for the sequence.
   The click-loops are kept in a series of cubbyholes above the piano. They are numbered in eights, from 6, 6 18, 6¼, 6 38, etc. up to 30. [See my note below the photos. HP]
   What does all this mathematical mumbo-jumbo means [sic] to the animation composer?
   Simply this: musical beats must be measured by the film frame, so the animator will know when to draw the action that corresponds to the beat. The fastest tempo is six frames to the beat; the slowest thirty frames to the beat. Since there are twenty-four frames per second, slowest beat is one every one and one-quarter second.
   Higher mathematics comes in when the beat is varied. "It becomes too mechanical to use the same beat throughout the passage," Paul Smith remarks. "I like to vary it. I might start a chase with 9, then switch to the beat of 9 3/8."
   To begin his operation, the composer runs through the moviola a rough treatment of the action (or the finished version, in the case of post-scoring). With the aid of a stopwatch, he figures out what beat would be suitable for the composition.
   Perhaps it is a march that calls for a 12-beat. He tries the 12 click loop on the moviola. If that doesn't jibe, he tries the 12¼ or 12 3/8 and so on until he gets the proper beat. With that established, he starts to sketch out the music in more or less sketchy form.<<

As I have mentioned earlier, the whole timing-to-music started with Steamboat Willie and changed the face of animation - and of the Disney Studios. In the beginning, the director decided the tempi aided by the musical director (Bert Lewis, Frank Churchill, Leigh Harline, Paul Smith). They would choose whole beats, as these would be easy to copy from bar sheets to exposure sheets. The counting in eigths of frames apparently started around 1936. During Fantasia they also found that "wild beats" could be used: beats dictated by the music recording. I suggest, if you are interested in reading more about this--in my mind VERY important and interesting--topic, to read more in my older postings about barsheets etc.

Since Sleeping Beauty was the subject of Thomas' book, I can mention that (like for pretty much all of Disney's production) some of the music cues for it were recorded using a click track, another Disney invention. In the case of Sleeping Beauty the tracks were first recorded March 4th, 1957 at the studio in Burbank, Disney's very first true stereo recording. A year later, September 8th to 15th, 1958, it was completely re-recorded on four tracks with a 66 piece orchestra at the UFA studios in Babelsberg, outside Berlin, Germany.
Vocals were then re-recorded in Burbank, with a 22 voice choir using John Rarig's arrangements, replacing Walter Schumann's earlier 28 voice arrangements.

Composer and historian Alex Rennie adds: "Composer George Bruns did not always work to a click track as in the case of Sleeping Beauty where several of the cues were conducted to stopwatch (where Bruns used a clock with a sweep second hand to guide his tempo). In addition, composers at Disney, and elsewhere, often used "built" or "variable" click tracks -- tracks with tempos that sped up or slowed down to suit the needs of the animation. Paul Smith was a prime mover behind the development of this technique and Oliver Wallace in particular was famous for his use of built click tracks.

Two of the sequences for the film were initially recorded in the states: Flora, Fauna and Merriweather bake a cake/make a dress for Briar Rose and the Dragon Fight. (Both were rerecorded in Germany.)

The reason the score was ultimately recorded in Germany was because of a strike by the American Federation of Musicians that prohibited the possibility of recording in the states (not because of recording equipment that was uniquely available in Germany -- multi-channel recording was already taking place on a wide scale in the United States by the early 50s).
" [Thanks, Alex!]

Of course, nowadays moviolas belong in a museum and film as intermediate work-media has been replaced by computers.
Yet - the METHOD can still be used, and, as I mentioned before, it need not sound like a crutch. If used well, it gives your story a backbone, and can add to making your film exciting and entertaining!

The first two photos show Ollie Wallace "in an expansive mood" in front of his piano, from The Art of Animation. Note the moviola on the left, and a metronome on his table in the second image. The third photo shows George Bruns in front of his piano with Roy E. Disney, from an Annual Report in the 70s.
Above the pianos: the box of click-loops...
Ollie WallaceOllie WallaceGeorge Bruns & Roy Edward Disney
For the sticklers among you, yes, there is a cubbyhole missing! The boxes of loops above the pianos are 24 across, 8 high. I would suspect they would start at 6 top left, in eigths down - next one to the right would be 7, then 8 etc. Now - that would mean that the last one would be 29, and the last hole bottom right would hold 29 78. No room for a 30 beat! Is this why both Wallace and Bruns have a loose loop on the piano? Does anyone but me even care?

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Anonymous The Jerk says...

I find this subject very interesting, thanks for posting about it. I also recently used your Beatronome to help me attempt to determine the beat of some music i was trying to animate a short scene to. very handy little program!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 6:50:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Hans Perk says...

Thanks, TJ - I'm glad to find interest in this matter, and it is great to hear you could use my little program!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 8:03:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Michael Sporn says...

This lack of the complete musicality of animation has definitely hurt the medium. A couple of the best animators I worked with marked off a tempo to animation, even if none was given to them. (Music is usually recorded later.) It's been a habit of mine, as well, and has helped enormously - regardless of the fact that I've often been forced to be somewhat limited in my animation. By hitting those beats, the editor gets a piece that already has a rhythm. As long as (s)he follows that ryhthm, the film will gain in dimension.

Directing several films with Tissa David, we've planned the tempo, she animated to it, and the composer - brought in later - was told what to follow.

It's a vital tool that animators today don't even know about, never mind use.

Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 4:22:00 AM PDT  

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