E2.5: Sound and Image animatic: Summertime

Visual Music

“All of a sudden it hit me – if there was such a thing as composing music, there could be such a thing as composing motion. After all, there are melodic figures, why can’t there be figures of motion?”

Len Lye, edited by Roger Horrocks and Wystan Curnow, Figures of Motion (1984)
Auckland University Press, Oxford University Press.

Abstract animation, also known as “Visual Music” and “Absolute Film” was a
twentieth century development pioneered by the animators Mary Ellen Bute,
Hans Richter and Oskar Fischinger. These artists developed methods and devices
to translate visual imagery into and alongside sound. See:

There can be said to be three key ‘movement strategies’:

  • evolution
  • deconstruction
  • patterned movement.

As no story arc is present and the structure is more like music than literature, the mind is able to wander and the viewer enters a different type of experience.

Research 2.3 Visual Music


Find a short piece of music and use drawings, photographs or other means to create an animatic for a proposed abstract animated piece.

Listen to the music and think about what kinds of images, mark-making, materials, patterns or colour might work well with it. Try drawing or photographing while listening to the music. Be playful and experimental in your approach. Consider whether you want to find complementary visual forms or contrasting ones, and how the pacing of the music might suggest movement, layering, or visual interactions. Try out different variations to see what works best. For example, bu using found images to go with your sound as well as ones you have created.

Use this material to develop a short animatic and scratch track. Upload your experiments, the final piece, and your reflections on your creative process on your learning log.



The main track I used for this animation was Vivaldi Four Seasons: Summer from the first You Tube video on the left. My interest is in the contrast between the very langorous feel of the first movement, with its birds and flickers of light on water through trees, with the very energetic and dynamic music of the storm.

Vivaldi Four Seasons. Summer. The visuals consist of an apparently rather random sequencing of animated still images of well-known paintings of sea, seaside, flowers, sunsets and nude women. Mostly dry sandy browns, reds, dark browns and some pastel blues, greens and greys. Although many are evocative in themselves of feelings of summer, the compilation bears little relation to the music. And detract rather than complement what is quite beautiful piano. I am glad I watched these visuals after starting on my own animation using just the extracted sound.
A much more langorous version on the violin. Visuals are just of the violinist and orchestra.
Piano only version of the most energetic part of the piece. It has interesting visuals above the keyboard showing the visual representation of the notes – much like Normal McLaren’s work.

My vision of summer was also influenced by the jazz blues of ‘Summertime’

My Summer Paintings and Prints

The Seasons have been common projects in earlier OCA drawing, painting, printmaking and illustration courses. I had particularly enjoyed working with watercolour and water-based inks, watching the pigment flow lazily and sensuously down the surface in patterns of light and shadow with river reflections and dragonflies between weeping trails of willow branches. Summer, swarms, dragonflies, butterflies, particle effects, kaleidoscope. From my prints and paintings.

Visual Music animations

Sitting by an open patio door with breeze in the garden at the end of July on the hottest day of the year so far I re-explored and played with different feelings of summer suggested by the Vivaldi music.

Focusing on building up patterns, I used this assignment to explore TVPaint mark-making with wet brushes and smudge brushes, using autopaint effect on layers building them up as I listened to the music several times. Then I experimented with different layer blend modes to combine the layers into different interpretations

In terms of timing the animation still needs quite a bit of sorting out. Autopaint was interesting, but needs a lot of practice. Also because of lag in playback, it is quite difficult to get everything synchronised. So this is still a work in progress. I could extend my experimentation beyond moving build-up patterns to more varied evolution and deconstruction.

But I really enjoyed the process as one I would like to practice more. I am particularly interested in the potential of blend modes and layer effects in TVPaint and the potential for discovering accidental colour effects that are very different from my original concept, but equally valid responses to summer that broaden my creative and emotional response.

My first green, black and yellow version was rather similar to my paintings.
The second version was blue – more like the jazz versions.
This last version surprised me – I replaced some of the colours and overlaid them in difference blend to give this much hotter, more vibrant and energetic version. Like a hot jazzy New York night with lights and music – far from the green willows of Cambridge.

E2.2-2.3: Death of a Cabbage revisited: animatic and sound track

Animations can be silent. Early cinema and animation were silent, or intended for live sound/music accompaniment. Video artists like Stan Brakhage have focused on producing animations without sound.

However most animation uses sound in different ways to accompany, enhance or contrast/question the visuals. See:

There are different workflows for doing this depending on the envisaged role of sound in the animation and the types of sound used.

For this exercise I chose Death of a Cabbage that I had worked on for Assignment 1. My re-working in Adobe Premiere is a pastiche, heavily influenced by watching Street of Crocodiles and Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies by the Quay Brothers.

E2.2 Animatic
and Scratchtrack

One workflow approach, particularly if the animation is visually driven, is to defer audio decisions until after the visuals have been more or less developed, only finding sound or music for the piece towards the end. This can lead to ‘happy accidents’ and unexpected synchronicities or contrasting juxtapositions that can create new unintended but interesting meanings for the piece.

A more common approach used by industry animators is to start with a ‘scratch track’. This is an initial, rough soundtrack laid out along with the initial storyboard or diagram. This gives the animator an idea of duration and helps them plan for the main structure of the piece.

Animators generally start with developing these rough ideas as a rough ‘sketch in progress’ bringing together:

  • an initial storyboard, drawings or diagrams viewed sequentially in the timeline of the editing program. Each particular sequence is represented by a still image or drawing that holds the space on the timeline for the duration that the final sequence will fit into.
  • a scratch audio track playing beneath them.

Starting with a rough animatic helps plan the animation process in advance. It enables fast and loose brainstorming and communication, experimenting with different versions because they are easy to edit and move around. Animators often update their animatic several times, gradually adding animated clips and sequences so that they can get an overview of the animation as a whole.

Use a video or animation that you have already produced so far to make an animatic (note this is a complete reversal of the normal process where an animatic would predate the construction of a final film or animation).The general rule, as with storyboarding is that there should be a new placeholder image in your timeline (sketch, photograph or text) each time there is a change in shot or significant camera move or change in action in the shot.

Some examples of animatics

There are countless examples of animatics online from industry film and animation. But animatics can also be much less conventional and more inventive, particularly when used by independent animators for experimental work.

Juan Alcaide, Short film Animatic example (2012)
Katy133, Star Trek Animatic Storyboard Example (2012)

Death of a Cabbage revisited

For this exercise I chose Death of a Cabbage that I had worked on for Assignment 1. My re-working in Adobe Premiere is heavily influenced by watching Street of Crocodiles and Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies by the Quay Brothers.

Death of a Cabbage cannot pretend to attain their degree of fluidity of animation and puppetry, but attempts a pastiche of their style. I used parchment and pristina fonts for the title, and put a ASCCDL filter over the whole animation. I also added a mask layer to the whole animation to omit the distracting mug stands and intrusion of my hand with the scissors. Before reworking and narrative for the animatic.

Death of a Cabbage: Assignment 1 original version
Death of a Cabbage new black and white version.

As I was working in Adobe Premiere as the best software to edit the animation itself, and Premiere (unlike TVPaint) does not have an animatic export function, I worked with the media browser bin window to layout, review and edit my clips.

I then exported still images of each clip into the gallery to the right for annotation that could help in adding sound.

This was a fairly simple animatic to do because I had already divided the original Stop Motion jpgs into clips – I normally work with some sort of storyboard, and had done so also with the other animations in Assignment 1.

But continuing to work with the clips to edit them in the media window rather than with the timeline as a whole helped me to really pare things down and omit repetitions and iron out some of the jumps. I used Optical Flow setting to smooth out some of the animation, but it is still a bit jerky because I needed to add more frames in the original Stop Motion.

But as a pastiche I am quite pleased with it. Next task is to add some sound effects and some overly sad music to increase the satirical approach. That should also detract from some of the jerkiness.

But in general TV Paint is a better software to produce professional animatics as part of an animation workflow. Or I could simply sketch the storyboard.

E2.3 Found sound
and serendipity

The same basic principles of working with sound and moving image apply to animation with some exceptions. It is common that sounds for actions in animation are often shorter in duration than in ‘real life’ and there is often greater freedom and use of sound effects, where there need be no relation between the object creating sound and the picture. The combination of sound and image can greatly emphasize particular aspects of your animation, particularly the haptic (tactile, synthetic) nature of the materials used. The way you approach decisions regarding the synchronisation of sound is a particularly important consideration in animation.

Listen to open source field recordings (not music) from British Library ArchiveLuftrum Free recordingsFree Music Archive or other sound archive.

Choose tracks to play over the animations that you made in part 1 of this course. Be playful in how you apply sounds to your animation and experiment with different possibilities. Export the most interesting versions of these animations with found sound to your learning log.

Following on from the previous research task (Debate on the use and misuse of sound in animation), reflect on how your use of found sounds might have changed your initial approach to making these animations.

Death of a Cabbage with sound effects: Clock, crackles as background, with puppy/guineapig sounds for the baby, horse breath and digeridoo for suspense and snatching snake. I still need to look for scissor sounds.

There were many possibilities here. I used Luftrum sounds, but also have sound effects from Adobe Audition. I wanted to create a sense of time passing, threat and foreboding – using constant background clock, crackles and horse breath (not sure about the bird song that came with the horsebreath. Contrasting with the vulnerability of the cabbage and baby using puppy and guinea pig sounds.

And a lot still needs to be sorted out – sound transitions, some scissor sounds and something better for the ‘snake’ snatch. But I need to go back again to the video to sort out the timing of the visuals. With the draft sounds. Then revisit the sounds again.