How Music Can Invoke a Special Mood in Animation

Michael Geisler hit the nail on the head when he said, “Sound effects play an important role in conveying action. Music helps express emotion.” The fact is that feeding the auditory senses is just as important as stimulating the visual senses, with music helping to convey the animator’s intention or to serve as a premonition of what audiences can expect in upcoming scenes. What aspects of sound have an effect on mood and how can you use music to connect with your audience in a more powerful fashion or attract the attention of a studio you have been hoping to work for?

Codes of Emotion in Music

When sending a portfolio to animation studios, your animations should incorporate music as a way of enhancing the emotions and sensations encountered or expressed by your characters or illustrations. Musical expression comprises a myriad of layers, argues Juslin Patrik, in an article published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. The core layer includes ‘discrete’ emotions like happiness, anger, fear, surprise, and sadness. Patrik writes, “At the ‘core’ level of basic emotions, vocal and musical expression are fairly similar. At the additional layers that involve more complex emotions, vocal and musical expression begin to diverge from one another.” That is, while it is true that an emotion like ‘sadness’ may branch out into melancholy, nostalgia, or regret, there is a basic ‘tone’ of emotion that artists can employ to express what characters are going through or feeling in a given frame.

The Emotional Connotations of Different Musical Instrument

The pace or mood of animations and motion pictures have been ‘controlled’ by pace or rhythm since the film industry’s earliest days but the choice of musical instrument is also key. In a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers found that “the timber of simple and isolated musical instrument sounds can convey emotion in a way similar to emotional speech prosody.” In other words, the brain is sensitive to the timbral vibrations of music and specific emotions can be triggered by switching instruments. Moreover, in the case of drums and other percussions, Laukka and Gabrielsson have found that by modifying tempo and sound level, different emotions (such as happiness, nervousness, anger, and fear) can be expressed. To test this out for yourself downloading percussion samples with different tempos and aligning them with animated scenes will show you the different psychological reactions that each sample elicits.

How Much Music is Required?

The brain can feel emotionally overloaded when music is present continually or almost continually. When you are applying for a job in animation, it is important to be impactful, without ‘overkilling’ the human resources team. In essence, to elicit strong emotions in your audience, selective usage of music is essential. Action scenes, emotional exchanges, and contemplative or nature-focused scenes are ideal ones that can benefit from music. However, in the same way that dialogue/scripts can benefit from minimalist or ‘less is more’ expression of emotions, so, too, can animations that use music scores or bits only when they have something of authentic value to add to the work.

If you love animation and music, then you know what an excellent marriage they can make. Prior to making your selection, research on the moods and emotions that different instruments and tempos produce, is key. So, too, is experimentation with different samples, so as to discover the myriad of emotional possibilities a scene can invoke.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.