Thursday, August 31, 2006

Bar Sheets and Metronomes

It's funny how things seem to come in clusters. Steve Worth posted the entire set of bar sheets for the early Merrie Melody cartoon Shuffle Off to Buffalo (generously provided by Mark Kausler). Mike Sporn kicked in some bar sheets on his blog from the books Techniques of Film Animation and Animation Art in the Commercial Film. Kevin Langley put up some MGM bar sheets for Tee for Two and Officer Pooch, two Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

Because the marriage of picture and sound was one of the main selling points of cartoons in the early '30's, directors had to deal with musical beats in order to make the films work. Anyone who wants to try and puzzle out the approach finally has enough examples available to work with.

Actions and cuts were all placed on the beat in order to make the cartoon flow. Even if the music was not chosen before the animation, the director would still determine the beat so that when music was composed it would fit.

I know at Warner Bros. they had exposure sheets printed up that were marked for 8, 10 and 12 frame beats.

Which brings me to my metronome. People generally know that animators use stopwatches to figure out timing, but I never found them particularly useful. I needed something with smaller increments. I defy anybody with a stop watch to figure out the difference between 12 and 14 frames.

With a metronome, it's easy. And while you're listening to the metronome click away, you can be moving your finger or pencil over the page to simulate the action and get a feel for how long something takes.

At 24 frames per second, here's the relationship between frames per beat and beats per minute:

24 beat = 60 beats per minute
22 beat = 65 bpm
20 beat = 72 bpm
18 beat = 80 bpm
16 beat = 90 bpm
14 beat = 103 bpm
12 beat = 120 bpm
10 beat = 144 bpm
8 beat = 180 bpm
6 beat = 240 bpm

The formula is 60 divided by (frames-per-beat divided by 24) equals beats per minute.

When I was directing, I left the sheets blank during dialogue, since the length was predetermined and I wanted to give the animators some freedom. But whenever we got into action, I timed out everything. If a character was walking or running, I established the beat based on the metronome. I would determine how long an anticipation would last and how long an action would take. It was the only way to set a pace for a series of shots. As I could not guarantee that I would give a whole sequence to one animator, I had to establish the timing so if several animators did a sequence the pace would be consistent overall.

I don't think that I could animate or direct without a metronome. It was great if I could establish a musical beat that a composer would follow, but even if music was going to be slapped on, I was controlling the pacing of the action before any animation got done. It saved me time and gave me a predictable result.

Directors and animators who worked on cartoons timed on bar sheets came to know how things would look before they saw anything on screen. With computers, there's a tendency to do a bunch of board panels or poses and start sliding them around on a timeline to determine pacing. I don't know if people who do that develop a sense of timing, as they have to see the result before they know if it works.

7 comments:

Kevin Langley said...

Thanks for posting on this subject Mark. The relationship between frames per beat and beats per minute is going to be a lot of help to me in learning to time to music.

With computers, there's a tendency to do a bunch of board panels or poses and start sliding them around on a timeline to determine pacing. I don't know if people who do that develop a sense of timing, as they have to see the result before they know if it works.

This is exactly what I wanted to get away from. In my ongoing struggle to learn to animate I tended to do exactly this, moving key poses around the timeline. The beat of the music was thrown out the window and pace and rhythm was just lost.

rdms said...

Heh heh ... timely post (no pun intended). I'm in the midst of directing an opener for our series and it centres around fast-paced music. I knew barsheets were the way to go & it has helped so much. Thanks for the links to those other barsheet examples. Wonderful stuff!

And I will emphasize to all animators ... get a stopwatch and metronome! They should be part of your standard toolkit.

Tom Sito said...

Thanks for the topic Mark. I recall Shamus Culhane telling me when cartoons went to sound they used to print the musical notes right on the side of the exposure sheet. He was given a quick promotion to animator because he could read music. He never ceased to thank his mother for forcing him to take violin lessons.

Pete Emslie said...

Back about 20 years ago I had my sights set upon pursuing animation as a career. Perhaps fortunately for me, I ended up slightly sidetracked, instead following the path of being a print cartoonist. (Likely due to my huge interest in MAD Magazine guys like Jack Davis, Paul Coker Jr. and Mort Drucker at the time, as well as my lifelong love of Walt Kelly's "Pogo").

Admittedly, when I read stuff like this my eyes just glaze over trying to figure it all out. Though I believe the intuitive side of animation would have appealed to me, (ie: getting the performance up there on the screen,) I always had major reservations about the mathematical side of the craft. Working out the logistics of where a character has to be in a certain number of frames, figuring out the timing of a character's walk cycle with a stopwatch, etc. - all of these numerical problems seemed very daunting to a complete "right-brainer" like myself. I reckon I probably made the correct career choice after all!

Pete Emslie said...

Back about 20 years ago I had my sights set upon pursuing animation as a career.

Correction: Make that 25 years ago. I think I just proved my point!

Brett W. Thompson said...

Fascinating. I found this post from Kevin's blog and now I'm definitely going to visit your blog again! :)

:: smo :: said...

Thank you! this is exactly what i was looking for.

most of the posts on other sites have really helpful bar sheets but they almost make it appear as someone goes through the entire sheet music trying to figure out the timing and where measures start. it makes so much more sense to use a pre determined speed with a set number of frames between beats.

I kept doing the math of beats per minute and trying to figure it out by frames and wasn't sure how it was all handled, since all i'd ever been shown in the past were bar sheets next to waveforms. "you don't need an exposure sheet use this," what? ohh college...now it finally makes sense, and i feel like i can confidently plot these things out on an exposure sheet! this has been invaluable! thanks!