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Scoring Biz: Now and in the Mesozoic era - Part Deux: Spotting and Music Prep.

When I was began working in situations that required my music be in synch with the visuals many things were different -among them : 1. There were no computers with Quicktime built into the DP ( or whatever sequencing program was to come ) 2. Scoring to projected film was pretty much restricted to LA , NYC, and one place in Chicago. 3. Due to the budgets we were working with, there was no provision for "music editor" ..that would be your gig ( prior to writing the score ). Other than pre-recording the music to timings and letting the film editor fly it in, here's a rough outline of how we did it: Along with doing your own "spotting" ( in conjunction with the director or client ), you had to learn to do your own breakdowns and conversions from feet and frames to minutes and seconds with one of those old circular slide rules ( I forget what they were called now ) . You managed to get quite facile at dealing with mixed common fractions because with the 24 FPS film rate, you'd find yourself dealing with sixths, thirds, eights, sixteenths of a second interchangeably. Eventually, when calculators came along and you could use the decimal equivalents it sped things up a lot. After all this was done, you got to write your own spotting notes with timings! The good feature of having to do all this prep work yourself was by the time you'd completed the scut work, you'd seen the film plenty of times and probably had formulated some musical approaches to try out. I always made it a practice to keep a sketch pad handy in case I had some ideas to jot down during the drudgery :) Since projection was not available out in the boonies ( and videotape had not yet progressed to the point of striping both the video and audio master with SMPTE code ) we were forced to rely almost totally on a click track during recording and mixing down to a Nagra recorder for transfer tot film. We all became quite creative at using multiple click tracks on two tracks of the multi track recorder to achieve tempo changes ( and the musicians similarly became very adept at making these shifts on the fly while recording ) You can imagine how happy we were when computers were developed to the point that programs like Auricle came along and gave us the luxury of being able to use electronic punches and streamers on VTR when we wanted more fluid musical settings! Anyway, thats how we used to score stuff in the Mesozoic period .. I invite comments from all you younger guys who already have the tech tools to work in sync from the get go . I'd be interested in how this has influenced the way you write music today. I'll get into the Mesozoic style music prep next time:

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Comment by phil Kelly on June 13, 2007 at 2:05pm
A lot of that's due to the changes in the animation process itself
( going from the labor intensive hand drawn cels to the computerized methods of today )

hence the deadly "green screen" scenes of today where the animator describes to you over the phone what "WILL" be there later!

The upside of this is the timings are a little looser and the computer guy willadjust to whatever you write timimgwise
( within reason , that is ..)
Comment by Adrian Ellis on June 13, 2007 at 12:48pm

That's something you don't see anymore - the composer working with an animator!
Comment by phil Kelly on June 12, 2007 at 2:07pm

Regarding animation tracks, when possible (in the Mesozoic ) , we would prerecord the music to "bar charts" prepared by the animator.
These were really elaborate storyboards that had a space below the panels for the animator to write in timing notes for the sequence pictured

( i.e. "mouse climbs six steps -10F per step -pauses @ top of step 24 F -nods head L and R 12 F each -the does big doubletake back to L ( BIG hit
12/18F -hold for 36F w/ myserty chord until hammer drops - BIG
crunch note )

..and below this area might be a musical staff to sketch in something matching these timings.

Sometimes we'd record the music with multiple clicks, other times when quite involved, we'd cut separate snippets ( sometimes a bar at a time ) and post assemble the complete track on A and B rolls.

Often, post scoring was indicated by a time crunch that required the animator to be working simultaneously with the composer.
In this case, we'd usually do timings to rude "pencil tests" which ,though not colored in on cels yet, would be frame accurate actionwise.

This is similar to working to todays "green screen" scenes to be filled in with computer animation later -and the director has to convey verbally what will eventually be in the picture when completed.
Comment by Adrian Ellis on June 12, 2007 at 9:31am
Thanks for sharing, Phil - very enlightening. It's great to get a personal account.

What I would love to have witnessed was a Carl Stalling recording session. Just *thinking* about how technically difficult that would have been for everyone makes me feel slightly nauseous.

Your brain definitely reconfigures, the longer you use technology. Always working to click, I have developed a robotic sense of timing (it's good and bad). Using samples, I am used to never hearing a wrong note, or a flat/sharp note, or an ugly trumpet blat or squeak when I write 3 oct. above middle C. Not dealing with fleshy musicians removes a certain feeling of responsibility, and in another way, humility. I find I have to actively retain those, by ensuring that I remember I don't know it all, even while I can play god in front of my computer orchestra.

On the other hand, I imagine that writing electronically removes a lot of friction that causes undue stress. You can try more things out, you don't feel silly for making musical mistakes or manifesting your ridiculous ideas.

I'm sure that if/when I get the chance to work with a larger ensemble, it will be an experience unlike anything I currently have in my limited experience. Watching someone conduct full score, with a full orchestra, while watching the streamers fly by gives me chills.

I'll bet, too, that the technical stuff you describe, Phil, was something that really thinned out the ranks of noobs who wanted to be film composers - scared off by all those abominable fractions. Nowadays, it's really easy to get into the entry level of the game, as you all know.

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