Deconstructing the Music

If you’re like me, you pay a lot of attention to the soundtrack when you’re watching a movie. Or, in some cases, you might count down the days until the release of a soundtrack as well as the movie it’s from. Not that I’ve done that before. Ahem. Anyway, instead of doing an animation or editing an interview, my focus was the soundtrack. It was a much bigger challenge than I had anticipated, but it turned out really well.

For the script portion of the film, we decided on pulling music that was popular during the time that was being covered. Difficulty A: I didn’t want to use certain overly used pieces. No “Ashokan Farewell” for the Civil War section, no “The Stars and Stripes Forever” during the 1890s or anywhere else. Difficulty B: try to stay with copyright free music. Hmmmm…

Let’s take a quick look at popular music in the US from 1860 to the present and how that impacted the soundtrack. Music has always been influenced by historical events. This was no exception during the Civil War, when a lot of popular tunes such as “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Dixie” were sung by marching soldiers. I ended up choosing a Beethoven piece that had nothing to do with war, but had a pensive feeling that fit well with the content. This piece was performed by the Flatirons Community Orchestra. (Thanks guys! Great job!)

When the 1890s and the Spanish-American War rolled around, ragtime was incredibly popular. Scott Joplin and John Philip Sousa were two well-known composers of the time. I turned to local composer Paul Swanson (thank you!) for a piece that sounded somewhat like Joplin’s style and he came up with a great little tune that wasn’t overly happy, considering we’re talking about war. Little side note: Paul also composed our Wonder Woman theme.

Around the time that World War I was raging in Europe, a new musical style was gaining popularity: jazz, or jass, as it was originally written. The Original Dixieland Jass (later Jazz) Band burst onto the music scene in 1917 (the same year the US entered WWI) and remained the most popular band through the early 1920s. I dug around and came across one of their early recordings, which had to be added to the soundtrack.

After the US entered World War II, Aaron Copland penned “Fanfare for the Common Man” in 1942 for those serving in the war. It is one of the most widely-recognized pieces written by an American composer. Copland revisited the theme in his third symphony, which is played by the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra. (Thank you, conductor Victor Yampolsky, for letting me use your recording!)

As we moved towards the more modern era, there was a break in the popular music with FRCC instructor Kevin Garry’s guitar performance, a piano piece performed by Brandon’s sister, Brenna Berman, and some Dvorak performed by the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. (Thank you all!) These pieces just seemed to fit well. We move back on the musical history track with an original protest piece by Seth Goldhammer for the Vietnam section as well as an original composition for the 1990s section by our fellow classmate Ethan (yeah!). This one has a more electronic sound to it, as that style started to grow in popularity around then.

The remainder of the music was gathered from mainly modern sources, with the exception of Edward Elgar’s “Nimrod” and Gustav Holst’s “Military Band Suite No. 1,” played by the Flatirons Community Orchestra wind ensemble. It was a lot of fun getting so much local talent involved with the soundtrack. I’m really happy that these individuals and groups are part of something that will be preserved in the Library of Congress.

The Animators

I grew up on animated Disney movies. Absolutely loved them. Whenever they showed the little behind the scenes clips and flipped through a few pages, I was always amazed by how much work went into hand drawn animation. Then came Toy Story and the beginning of computer cartoon animation. What’s been churned out by computer has been pretty incredible as well.  Once I got into the MGD department, I had the opportunity (ok, it was required for my degree) to take a couple of Flash animation classes. There, I discovered that I have very little patience for animating. It’s just not my thing. My appreciation for the work that goes into animation has certainly increased though.

Explore by Ben

Explore by Ben

This semester, a bunch of my classmates happen to love creating 2D and/or 3D animations. The example at left is a screen shot from something that my classmate, Ben, created on his own time. He’s been doing a great job overseeing the animated work that’s going into the documentary and he’s also contributed a decent chunk of it.

When I was talking with each person about what they were planning on doing for their script assignments, animation ideas were pretty popular. These were explained, then roughed out on a storyboard before my classmates started on their digital work. Over the last few weeks, rough and final animations have materialized and it’s been amazing seeing what they’ve created.

P-38s flying

P-38s flying

Some have a hand drawn feel, while others look completely digital, which they are. Mind you, that doesn’t make them any less impressive! All of the animators have put an incredible amount of thought and detail into their work as they try to match the timing of the narration with their animations. I can’t wait to see all of them when they’re done!

Green Screen Scenes

I’m going to let you in on a little of what we’re planning for this documentary. Wonder Woman will be making an appearance. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. 😉

Brandon the Bad Guy gets caught in Wonder Woman's lasso of truth.

Brandon the Bad Guy gets caught in Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth.

Actually, Wonder Woman was a pretty important heroine for girls in the 1940s and beyond. You’ll find out more when you come see the film. Anyway, with the character being copyrighted, we were trying to figure out a way to bring her into our documentary. Enter Jenn, one of our interviewees who told us about her admiration of Wonder Woman. She’s been working on a new Wonder Woman costume off and on for months, so we asked if she’d like to drop by the studio for a photo shoot that we can incorporate into the film.  Jenn loved the idea and happily agreed to help us out.

We got the green screen and a fan set up for her arrival. There were shots of her taken both inside the studio and outside. She got to fulfill the ultimate dream that many kids (and probably a fair number of adults) have:  being her favorite superhero for a day. We got her to strike various poses that showed off her bracelets, a sword, and the infamous lasso of truth. Brandon was a good sport and let Wonder Woman tie him up with the lasso. Yes, there’s video too.

Once all the standing shots were done, it was time to start setting up for the other part of her shoot: flying Wonder Woman’s invisible plane. She loved it. All of us watching or participating in the shoot had a lot of fun. Thanks for coming by, Jenn!

Rough Cut

Last week, if you had walked into the studio at the beginning of the day, you would have been wondering if you were in the right place. We are now approximately halfway through the semester and last week was a welcomed break from all our hard work. Everyone watched or participated in some improv comedy before settling down to watch the rough cut. The pre-show entertainment before the featured presentation, if you will. It’s difficult to describe exactly what happened during the different skits, but, suffice it to say, we have some very funny people in this class. I loved every minute of it.

On to the rough cut. Overall, it was very satisfying to see how far we’ve come since those early interviews. Everything is progressing nicely. The animations are looking nice, there is music that fits the topics, we have a decent amount of b-roll, as well as some great one-liners and other moments from our interviewees. It was a great way for us to figure out what we still need or start thinking of ways to make certain aspects of the film better. We’re on the right track through.

I’m very happy with how much progress has been made over the last seven weeks. For the most part, everyone had been working on their own animations or other tasks. There hasn’t been much time to interact with everyone in a large group situation, but small groups have sprung up as individuals look for help or feedback on their projects. We got lucky in the sense that we have a good team that works really well together.

This week, it’s back to work, as we have less than a month before we need to deliver the final product to Ed Perlmutter’s office.