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Pacing the Score

[Excerpt from Alain Mayrand’s blog.]

I just completed a dialogue scene which had a difficult mix of moods to navigate; emotional discussion/sharing of wisdom interspersed with some slap-stick humour. It was tough, but I pulled it off.

Another thing I wanted to write about here was pacing. It something i am very conscious of and that makes a good score a great score, in my opinion, and something John Williams is a master of.

Right now I am still working on the the opening act of the film so I am writing in a specific way to support that:

  1. Avoiding being too big with the music. The big moments are at the end so the music needs to wait for that – to a certain degree.
  2. No magical textures in the orchestra. The magic is in the second act, so right now I am using more urban sounds: rock, Chinese traditional, city feel like Gershwin meets Shanghai… sort of.
  3. Being more melodic as I lay down the main themes. That’s what John Williams does in Harry Potter, he presents the themes often in the first act. This helps give an opening feel to the story-telling and also makes the theme stick in the memory more. After that, I will incorporate them in other cues, but more as leitmotives that are sprinkled over a different melodic structure.

I am avoiding the magical textures because I do not have an foreshadowing opportunities. It’s sort of like Back to the Future; the orchestra only rolls out along with the DeLorean, when the film changes tone completely. Before that plot point there is no orchestra at all.

In my film, the first act presents the protagonist and we do not expect that he will be taken on this journey into another world. (Well, I guess you do because I am providing spoilers here… ah well.)

Actually, I am lying here… I do foreshadow! The main theme that occurs over an areal shot of  19th Century London is something I designed to come back as a hero theme in the end.

I haven’t’ seen the end, though, so I hope it works out! I am sure it will be fine.


Developing Thematic Architecture

{This blog post comes from my website blog where I am keeping of diary of my work on an animated feature film. You can view this blog here.}

Alright! I have been waiting for this day since I signed on to this project! Time to write some orchestral underscore!

This project will have advantages and challenges that are specific to working in animation: namely that I will have a very generous schedule to work with, but that I will be writing without seeing all of the film first.

On some animation projects you get to see an animated story board, or even story board, but so far I have only seen the character designs, some stills (like the one above) and read the script four times.

So I have to turn to the script for the architecture of the score right now. This is fine, because Neil and Chris’ script is very, very solid.


By architecture I mean; what characters, things and events will have themes, where will the themes appear, how will these themes develop and be used, and how will they relate to each other and to the story. That sort of thing!

The themes have to fit the characters as well, so I must understand the characters, their motivations and their function within the story.

And that is exactly what I did today, which gave me a nice detailed list, which looks like this.

  1. 16 distinct musical sections
  2. 10 character themes
  3. 11 other themes

With this list I will not overlook anything!

And now time to start writing! Well, almost… first I am going to soak up some music.

Writing awesome, memorable themes is an important goal! and something I continually wish to improve at.

To that end I will be listening to and analyzing some melodic models from classical music, songs, and film music by the likes of John Williams, Mancini and those guys who really knew how to do it.

Other orchestral music I will listen to this week to build the sound world of the film will come from the usual suspects: Ravel, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Grieg, Liszt, Bartok, Dukas, Lutoslowasky, and of course, John Williams.

On the playlist is also Chinese traditional music, since it is a big part of the story. (Although the director does not want a big, Chinese sound to the film. Just a hint of it in certain parts.)

I do this kind of work for every project, but in this case, this groundwork means that I will have my musical materials ready so I can hit the ground running when I start getting scenes to score, which will be any day now!


PS: I will announce the info about the film in a few days!

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