Steve Worth at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive has posted something really cool:
What the hell are those? I've seen rough examples and I've heard them mentioned many times but these are the first actual examples, and from them we modern day so-called animators could learn a thing or two.
After all, music and animation go hand-in-hand. Both are heavily reliant on timing to make them successful. This was undisputed during the early days of sound syncronization with film, when animation was still in its infancy.
Modern animation is mostly devoid of this sensibily now. Somewhere in the time between 1928 and 2006 this has fallen into disfavour. Why has this happened? It is difficult to pin-point (and since I’m not a historian or scholar I won’t try to speculate). However, I blame the over-abundance of dialogue in modern animation. When you have characters yakking at eachother non-stop from beginning to end it’s pretty much impossible to think musically. Also, pretty much without exception, animated films are scored after the animation is complete. Careful syncronization between actions and music is known in a derogatory way as "mickey-mousing".
These days, with the sweeping changes in technology that are completely re-inventing the production of animation, the art of timing animation to music is being lost. In my most recent film, I pre-scored the whole thing before I began animation. Since I can neither play nor read music, I carefully read the whole thing and notated each beat on my x-sheets.
So...how did the great animators of the past time their cartoons when you couldn’t simply scrub the track in Final Cut Pro?
Before sound-for the most part- animation was timed in a hap-hazard and experimental way. Many of these early efforts resulted in slow and mushy, uncertain movements as animators tried to figure out how many frames it would take to do a particular movement.
When sound syncronization was invented, the new dilemma was how exactly to match the animation to the music. This seems like a simple idea now, but if animators were anything like they are now, it’s safe to assume most of them weren’t very technically minded folk. However, it was eventually figured out that since music is notated on bar sheets it would make the most sense to pre-time the entire cartoon this way as well. In fact, at most studios, the composer and the director would work in the same room, timing the cartoon out together.
These bar sheets are from the Harmon-Ising cartoon “Shuffle Off to Buffalo (1933). They are amazing to look at. No one uses bar sheets to time animation anymore. If anything, timing is done using an exposure sheet which work just as well, since beats and actions can easily be notated on them. In fact, in the early days, both bar sheets and exposure sheets were used. Once the director had timed the cartoon on the bar sheets, the assistant director would transcribe all of the information onto the exposure sheet for the animator. But when you look at an original bar sheet, it seems so pure; there is no doubt about the connection between music and animation.
What's amazing about looking at these is that not every action is timed to the beat. In fact, some of the actions don't even break down evenly. A few movements are timed at 3 frames...that's pretty specific. Another thing that's cool is that some of the movements don't even follow the music...although the actions themselves still feel musical and have rhythm.
This is very sophisticated stuff indeed.
I'll be studying this a lot before I start any more animation, that's for sure.