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Topic: Demystify scoring cinematics/trailers for me...please

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  1. #1

    Demystify scoring cinematics/trailers for me...please

    Something I've always wondered, from a technical standpoint, is how does one score to cinematics/trailers? Being a game composer, usually we are just given images and descriptions of a particular level, and we can score it freeform. But obviously video games do have cinematic scenes, so I was wondering, from a technical standpoint (in my sequencer), how the heck do I make sure the music changes EXACTLY to reflect what's going on in the scene? For example, let's say your music is cranking along, and some event occurs in the cinematic (an explosion, the breaking of the sun through the clouds, whatever), and you need a specific musical event to happen there.. such as a climax with a cymbal roll, or whatever. However, your music won't be able to line up with that event because it's mid-measure or something..(just an example). Do you drag your entire piece back just a fraction of a measure, or half a measure? What if you can't, because it already happens to line up with previous events in the cinematic?

    Someone demystify this for me.. because right now it seems like magic, how people do this. Thanks!
    Sam Hulick
    Composer
    http://www.samhulick.com/

  2. #2

    Re: Demystify scoring cinematics/trailers for me...please

    I take timing notes down and put markers in my sequencer on the timebar. You could also have the video running in your sequencer in a video window which is synced with your timebar... I don't do it though because it consumes resources that could be going to gigapulse

  3. #3

    Re: Demystify scoring cinematics/trailers for me...please

    What sequencer are you using? Cubase SX has a cool feature called timewarp that works with both midi and audio data. You can place markers based on your video track and then stretch or compress your midi or audio data to that hit point...so if you composed a piece, say with a climatic cymbal crash, you could use this feature to adjust the tempo of your midi dynamically so the crash occurs at a specific point in the film.
    Edward W. Trevino
    Dandlewood Productions
    www.dandlewood.com

  4. #4

    Re: Demystify scoring cinematics/trailers for me...please

    I use Sonar 4. Are there any kind of relevant features I should know about?
    Sam Hulick
    Composer
    http://www.samhulick.com/

  5. #5

    Re: Demystify scoring cinematics/trailers for me...please

    I'm pretty sure we've talked about "Fit to Improvisation" in the past Sam. It's the feature in SONAR that will realign your tempo curve to fit quarter notes you play on a dummy MIDI track, making it your 'conduct to picture' track.
    You know what I blame this on the downfall of? Society.

  6. #6

    Re: Demystify scoring cinematics/trailers for me...please

    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Lima
    I'm pretty sure we've talked about "Fit to Improvisation" in the past Sam. It's the feature in SONAR that will realign your tempo curve to fit quarter notes you play on a dummy MIDI track, making it your 'conduct to picture' track.
    Ah yes.. I remember that feature. Hmm.. never thought of using it in this type of scenario. I'll have to muck with it soon.. thanks for the tip!
    Sam Hulick
    Composer
    http://www.samhulick.com/

  7. #7

    Re: Demystify scoring cinematics/trailers for me...please

    I wouldn't fool around too much with tempo warping features for this. It's far better just to write the music to the scene.


    There's a couple of ways to do it. First as was mentioned is to take timing notes. That's using sympt timecode as a reference then having the sequencer convert that to bars and beats. If you have hits that are really odd like say you have 4 hits on a cue and they all occur on really odd places musically, you can adjust the tempo either overall or use a tempo map until they line up or explore the hitpoint thingy that I have still yet to master. In the old days there use to be a click book that would give you tempos and where the hits lie but I never use it anymore as sequencers do better.

    The thing to keep in mind is to score to picture. In other words if the picture has certain hits then write to and around those hits. I have in the past written music independent of picture but depending on the scene and film it may not be the best way to go about it.

    It's quite a lengthy subject that all boils down to being flexible and skilled enough to write music to picture and still have it sound like music though sometimes making it sound like music can be tough.

    Ars

  8. #8

    Re: Demystify scoring cinematics/trailers for me...please

    Quote Originally Posted by MDesigner
    Something I've always wondered, from a technical standpoint, is how does one score to cinematics/trailers? Being a game composer, usually we are just given images and descriptions of a particular level, and we can score it freeform. But obviously video games do have cinematic scenes, so I was wondering, from a technical standpoint (in my sequencer), how the heck do I make sure the music changes EXACTLY to reflect what's going on in the scene?

    Someone demystify this for me.. because right now it seems like magic, how people do this. Thanks!

    in a general sense, this is all part of the specific technique of composing music to picture Sam. Identifying and hitting specific parts of the picture while maintaining a cohesive quality to the music is what makes scoring to picture a special skill set.

    For example, let's say your music is cranking along, and some event occurs in the cinematic (an explosion, the breaking of the sun through the clouds, whatever), and you need a specific musical event to happen there.. such as a climax with a cymbal roll, or whatever. However, your music won't be able to line up with that event because it's mid-measure or something..(just an example). Do you drag your entire piece back just a fraction of a measure, or half a measure? What if you can't, because it already happens to line up with previous events in the cinematic?
    one solution would be be to insert a measure of a different meter before your hitpoint to have it arrive on a strong beat. another would be to setup an accent on an offbeat at the hitpoint. it's all part of getting a feel for scoring to picture.

    some edits seem to have a natural rhythm to them that makes hitting stuff really easy, while others seem to be all over the place and you have to make some difficult choices about what you want to hit w/o making the music too choppy.

    the best way to get good at it is to practice a lot and study what others have done. slaving the picture to your sequencer, and setting markers where you want your hitpoints is a good way to get started. then you can see where you need to make meter changes or tempo adjustments to have things line up as needed. a nice thing is that the picture can often be forgiving of changes in the music that might seem jarring if the picture weren't there to move things along.

    John Williams (imho) is the master of having his music effortlessly underscore the details in the picture and storyline, without seeming like he is going out of his way to do so. whether you like his style of music or not, i think you have to give the guy props on that.

    cheers mate,
    john
    John DeBorde

    Composer of Music for Film, TV and Interactive Media

  9. #9

    Re: Demystify scoring cinematics/trailers for me...please

    I've done tons of these as well as scoring action scenes and here are few things I've learned:

    1. Don't be afraid to put accents on the "and" of a beat. This can actually even be preferable at times, especially if the explosion or crash or whatever is a surprise. I've sometimes even put accents on 1/16 notes. I'll go so far as to say that if there are a whole bunch of crashes and they all occur on the downbeats of beat ones, your score may sound a little sterile.

    2. Don't be afraid to toss in occasional setup bars of 2/4 or 3/4 into your 4/4 song so you can get melodies or riffs to play where you want them. It doesn't throw things off like you'd expect, although you do need to set them up with fills or whatever so they're smooth.

    Check out some post scored commercials and you'll be amazed at how often extra beats had to be added or subtracted that you hadn't noticed before. Back when I scored Barbie commercials, there would be a sung vocal, then the girls on camera would say something like "Ooh, she's so pretty!" which would invariably take some odd number of beats before I'd have to bring the singing back. But put the song together with bars of 3/4 thrown in there amongst the 4/4 bars and amazingly, it didn't feel weird at all.

    3. You don't have to hit the frame exactly. Accents can be off 2 or 3 frames and they're fine, especially with explosions, which run long anyway. It's better to be a couple frames late on a hit rather than make excessive changes in tempo. Tempo changes of a couple BPM are OK, but you don't want to go much more than that.

    4. Musical accents can be on the frame or a little late, but should never be early. I think this is because in real life, our brain is used to the idea that sound travels more slowly than light. So for sound to come slightly after something we see is not unusual.

    - Mike Greene

  10. #10

    Re: Demystify scoring cinematics/trailers for me...please

    A few months ago I was asked to score a montage of special effects shots from the folks at theforce.net (basically a Star Wars groupies site). It was just about the most random thing ever, without any real cinematic rhythm, any storyline, or really any connection at all between the clips except that most of them were in some way Star Wars related. It was extremely difficult to synchronize the music, but in the end it worked out well; you can download the music itself from my site, it's the first orchestral demo there (not so sure where you can find the video, but IM me if you're interested).


    My advice is to pick your battles beforehand. You can import the video file right into Sonar, put in markers to show what's happening at what time and where you want your sync points to be (link them to SMPTE and not measures/beats so that it stays at the same time even if you change tempo/timesig), and use those as compositional checkpoints. Fit to improvisation will work too, but frankly you don't need it - composers have been writing film music for dozens of years without the ability to do tiny changes in tempo to synchronize.

    In most scenes, you can drop the final quarter note to help synchronize a hit and get away with that; in action scenes, you can even drop the 8th. And then on top of that, you can write music with good amounts of syncopation so that there's so many accents, you're bound to hit something at the same time as the film does . But basically I'm just saying that it's easier and perhaps more aesthetically pleasing to alter the rhythms and hypermeter of your music, rather than to try and squeeze/stretch its tempos to force it to fit; rushing and dragging is more noticeable (especially rushing, IMO). And unless you're scoring a cartoon, you don't have to be absolutely precise with every single hit - sound reaches people's minds later than video does, and so you have a few frames of leeway after the visuals.

    I fuzzed around with tempos for my first film years ago, and it took forever to do, and (in retrospect) sounds ridiculous. I also tried to sync up to too many things onscreen, which makes action scenes look like music videos and dialogue/emotional scenes look like cartoons. It's better to just be conservative with it, especially considering your musical style (I'm familiar with your music, Sam ).


    [[edit: I mixed up the before/after visuals sync buffer; you have more space *after*]]
    Wilbert Roget, II
    Composer
    Rogetmusic.com

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