Our conference speakers work in post-production for animated series. They are sound designers, composers, sound engineers or directors. What roles do music and sound design play in animation? How does one go about these projects? Each speaker will explain his practices and work in illuminating the link joining graphic and sound universes. This conference is co-organised by the AGrAF, an association representing and defending animation writers.
SACD – Société des auteurs compositeurs dramatiques
Post-production, sound design, composition, music, dubbing, voice creation, sound editing, sound bank, sound effects/foley, audio mix, sound engineer, Grabouillon
For Jean-Luc François, music plays a vital role in animation. He explains how he approaches his projects with composers. "For all the projects, I was on hand from the start of development, to talk about the music with the producer and the channel. First, there’s an audition to present certain musicians and composers to the director and two or three people from production and the TV station. The production next gives instructions to the composer, and then images and dialogues so that the composer can prepare a sound maquette."
He recently worked on Grabouillon, the CGI television series. "For Grabouillon we did sound design more by computer. However, instead of using the sound banks that everyone uses, we customised. Each character had its own specific noise when it walked or ran. At the beginning this was done by mouth so that the animators could match the sound with the images."
He also did the character voices and foley work on The Mysterious Cities of Gold, Season 2, embellished by Bruno Coulet’s music. Likewise, Jean-Luc François designed the sound for the 65 five-minute episodes of Canal J’s traditional 2D series Charley and Mimmo. He also worked on The Storytelling Show, a flash-based 2D series for M6 (52 x 6 min.) which has cast the voice of French actor Dany Boon.
Alexis Dernaucourt directs the Zynco Studio for post-production (sound editing, music, voice). He explains that it’s necessary to "attune" broadcaster, producer and scriptwriter. The dialogues, sound design and music all need to balance in the audio mix. "We must respect the prior work of the actors, composers and sound designers. The mixer enhances each particular element."
His studio often adapts foreign cartoons for France. He can create voices using a cast of actors, but before that the basic idea of the art director must be transcribed. When creating voices, each thumbnail must be explained, so this requires a longer test phase. Dubbing is quite different and slightly mechanical since the actor follows a screen-streamed text.
Dubbing includes a detection phase where each instant of opening and closing the mouth is tagged. To create voices, the thumbnails and marked beat are important. The set director generally has an in-depth discussion with the director; the voices will not be done without the latter. Indeed, even a single breath in the phrasing of a sentence can count and convey an emotion needed by the director. "For the dubbing sound edit, there are sometimes four or five actors present. We spend up to a half-day in the booth to create the voices. Next the director and sound designer discuss the sound design editing. It’s necessary to select the types of sounds and tones, and then the sound designer will produce new sounds. The sound editing is done in multiple layers. We lay in the noise atmospheres of a jungle or an urban environment, for example, and then we add on the sound of footsteps or the special effects. Because of tight budgets, we save all of our work in sound banks. We work with these sound banks and enrich them depending on the various projects," he explains.
Fabrice Aboulker works particularly on feature films. He explains that composing involves fine-tuned teamwork with the arrangers and mixers. He notes that the choice of music combined with the work of the sound designer is crucial. After that, a mixing phase ensures that each step is matched and followed through (dialogue, music and sound design). The mixer must make sure that each sound has been approved by the director.
"When a director comes to see you while preparing a film, he or she may proffer ideas which may often differ greatly from the end result. There’s a kind of trend today where directors don’t care for melodies but prefer gimmicks and atmospheres. There’s a tendency to transfer music from sound banks and for everyone to be doing the same thing. In terms of arrangements, technology offers incredible possibilities. The new challenge today is to produce a maquette," Fabrice Aboulker notes.
He considers that working on a series is akin to industrial or applied arts, to the extent that it requires reconciling the directives of several people, whereas in cinematography he is more the director’s guild journeyman. "Sometimes it’s necessary to remove a little of the sound atmosphere to add in the music. The play of dynamics in the mixing is a function of the director’s desiderata," he adds.
Sometimes the director doesn’t possess the technical terms. How do you dialogue in that case?
Fabrice Aboulker: "What’s most important is the relationship between music and image. You must listen to the music together and watch how the director reacts. In the studio we work on Logic Audio and Pro Tools to do the editing and presentations for the director. When the maquettes are close to reality it makes this work so much easier. The arranger improves the harmonies. The orchestrator ensures that the sheet music is playable by an orchestra. Finally, a conductor inspires and guides the musicians.
For Maya the Bee, there were 80 episodes. Each character had its own musical theme. When the ten first ones are done, the codes are settled, unless a new character should be added to the story."
Do you experiment beforehand?
Alexis Dernaucourt: "We begin with the intentions of a studio which comes in with a project. Often experimentation takes less than a week. On principle, the producers tend to think that every sound is in the computers’ sound libraries and all that has to be done is to dig up the right one. You must realise that for a 22-minute cartoon, it takes four or five people 8 full days of work to record and do the final mix. We don’t have enough time to fiddle with all possible corrections."
How do you feel about children’s and adults’ voices?
Jean-Luc Francois: "For Charley and Mimmo, we worked with real children, but it’s difficult to work with them correctly. There are caps on authorised work durations and there are deadlines for obtaining work permits. We often use young actresses to voice the little boy or girl characters."
Drafted by Alain Andrieux, ITZACOM, France
Translated by Sheila Adrian
The Annecy 2014 Conferences Summaries are produced with the support of:
In collaboration with AGrAF