Hellboy composer, Christopher Drake, let me preview more music last night via the Mac's iDisk. The score was for a sequence early in Sword of Storms where the legend of the demons, Thunder and Lightning, is told through Japanese woodblock prints or at least our approximation of same. To give the sequence more life, Phil Weinstein had animated models made of the characters using the same print look so that the sequence wouldn't be just the panning of still pictures. The sequence ended up with a great look.
The challenge for Chris was that I wanted the sequence to have the a traditional Japanese sound but be friendly to Western ears. The writer, Matt Wayne, had researched Kabuki theatre and called for the characters to cross their eyes and hold their poses for three fast drumbeats. That expression is used in the mei pose in kabuki. Although I loved the idea of being culturally accurate, I felt the crossed eyes would appear silly instead of threatening so we skipped that visual. Because this sequence is animated in cross dissolves and limited animation, holding for the drumbeats looked like a mistake. If the sequence was fully animated we could have played the contrast of the held pose and the rush into the attack.
Now that I'm out of the craziness of production, I can consider the paths not chosen. I can't do anything about it in Sword of Storms but alternatives are worth thinking about for use in similar sequences in the future. I doubt it will be a series Japanese prints but the recap of a legend could be done in a bas relief, a storybook, paintings on a vase, German woodcuts, etc., all ways that will present similar problems while trying to convey the mood of the folklore.
But back to the music -- Chris did a great job on the score, surprising me with his treatment of some of the action. I gave very few notes. What notes can a non-musician give a composer? Story notes.
For instance, there was a sequence where a character was about to open a box. There's nothing evil looking about the box but the audience needs to get the sense that there's something very important about this mundane action. Chris established a sort of low rhythm in the score which created a great musical bed for the higher pitched, traditional instruments to play against. As the character starts to open the box, Chris started an atonal build but then fell back into his established rhythm. To my ears, the return to that low rhythm felt like a release of tension. The earlier atonal build was so effective, I asked that he sustain it until the box is opened. Now there may be a musical reason he can't do that but Chris got the my point that I wanted the tension to hang on, building, building until the box is opened and--
There was another moment where someone is revealed, a surprise to the villains, not the audience. I first thought we needed more of a "sting." I apologized that the narration sort of slid over the moment making it hard for Chris to put a button on the reveal. Chris played the piece over the phone to make sure we were talking about the same moment. Without the picture, I heard the reveal that I thought was missing. Ironically, it was a fanfare that I had thought was the problem with the moment. Instead, it seemed to be a matter of contrast, the preceding moment didn't quite set up the reveal, it muddied the waters by being sort of a preliminary reveal. Chris would've solved the problem even if he hadn't played it for me over the phone. The point is, I talk story, mood, set up, payoff, character type -- all story elements. Chris translates that into music.
I may describe a change I want by humming or referring to a song or another score. I never mean for the composer to take me literally. Those are just clumsy ways of describing the moment I want. People have wondered if there will be a soundtrack released for these movies. It hasn't been talked yet but anything can happen if enough people express and interest. As the premiere gets closer, I'll see if we can debut some musical pieces on the website. --Tad