Children's TV Composing for Animation

I’ve been composing some music for a kind of ‘modern day Looney Tunes’ recently. It’s been really fun project to work on. As well as being great fun, it’s probably been one of the most challenging jobs I’ve worked on too. The director Geof Wolfenden, wanted something akin to the classic Road Runner cartoons so this is where my research began.

The first watch of the animation without any frame of reference (i.e. silence) was quite a daunting one. Through research in the genre, I realised that in many cartoons of this ilk, almost every movement is accentuated by the music and critically the tempo is driven by the animation rather than the composer. I found it quite interesting that back in the day, animators working at studios such as Fliescher would be expected to have a basic knowledge of music in order to animate to a metronome. They would work out a tempo and then calculate the amount of frames required for each beat. As a result, composers such as Carl Stalling could then compose music to the tempo cues given whilst the animation was still in production… Saying all that… we didn’t really do it like this!

I got involved in the project after the animation had been created the notion above kind of went out of the window! After initial meetings / email conversations we decided on where music had to be, what emotion/feel was required and perhaps some reference tracks that I could call upon for inspiration.

I laid out quite a fairly complicated and elaborate tempo map (see below) in Logic making sure the tempo matched the movements and gravitated towards the right music cues as much as possible (e.g. making sure a crash or a fall lands on a beat).

Screen shot 2013-06-09 at 15.48.48

From there I began composing the score. The character, Flip, is a cute/happy go lucky kind of a guy whose sole purpose in life is to fly and to that end he tries in these 3 shorts to do just that, firstly by via a high dive, then with balloons and finally with a rather large cannon. The influence for the project is modern day Looney Tunes, so I tried to merge elements of 1950/60’s Carl Stalling style elements with more modern electronic sounds. The music required a juxtaposition of almost ridiculous epicness (e.g. Marvel film franchise, Superman) with down to earth retro cartoon slapstick (e.g. Roadrunner, Tom and Jerry)

It’s felt so different to my experience composing for advertising or tv/film. If music was important in those two areas, then it’s even more so in animation I would say… Try watching the Road Runner cartoon below without the music you’ll hopefully see where I’m coming from.

It’s probably been one of the most challenging projects I’ve worked on so far. But also one of the most rewarding. In this case the canvas could not have been more blank so it’s great to see and hear how the music has effected the comedy intention of the films. I hope you enjoy them!

Feel free to ask me any questions or leave comments below


  1. Hi James! thanks so much for this great blog post. I am following a course that teaches composing to commercials, animation film etc, (Music for the Media by ThinkSpace), everything that has to do with film. I love the musical style as used in the LoonyTunes cartoons by Carl Stalling and was wondering what the orchestral instrumentation setup was those days. Do you have any pointers for how to create this musical style? Did he use specific orchestration techniques, harmonies etc? Do you know if his scores are available somewhere for study?


    best wishes,

    1. Hi Andre… Thanks a lot glad you like the post. I’m not too sure if the scores are available to study however I imagine they will be somewhere on the internet! I did quite a lot of research and reading before undertaking this job. There’s quite a few good videos on YouTube and articles on the internet where they go into quite a lot of detail about his techniques (which are pretty amazing considering the technological restrictions at the time). Best of luck with it! James

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