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Logic: Working To Picture

Logic Tips & Techniques
By Ingo Vauk

You can see how empty objects (coloured in red) are used to flag up important events in the timeline. The padlock icon at the start of each flag object shows that it has been locked to SMPTE timecode.You can see how empty objects (coloured in red) are used to flag up important events in the timeline. The padlock icon at the start of each flag object shows that it has been locked to SMPTE timecode.

We show you how best to set up Logic for working to picture.

If you wish to quickly reposition the flag position, then you can use the Unlock and Lock SMPTE Position Key Commands.If you wish to quickly reposition the flag position, then you can use the Unlock and Lock SMPTE Position Key Commands.As has been touched on before in these pages, Logic is not only a powerful music-production system, but also has a host of features specifically designed for creating music to visuals. The technical key word in film (or for that matter any other music to picture) work is synchronisation, and in that timecode plays the main part. It is used to lock the musical cues to the picture by giving every point in time a unique reference that stays consistent. In a way it gives the musician the opportunity to 'hook into' the film's perforation and be 'pulled along' by the projector's transport mechanism.

Back in SOS August 2002, John Walden showed how you can get music and video working together in Logic, and I'll be building on that in this month's column by dealing with the relationship between musical parameters such as tempo and time signature after the lock to picture has been achieved.

Working To Picture

The main difference as far as timing is concerned between 'pure' music and film-related work is that film work requires the musical cues to hit certain key frames for dramatic reasons, and that the pacing of the music must support the director's vision. In order to do this, Logic has a host of tempo features that allow us to adjust tempo and time signature in relation to timecode.

In general it is a good idea to approach any project as well prepared as possible: detailed discussions with the director and editor of the film are always useful to establish exact hit points and areas where the musical pace should change in order to achieve the desired effect. If possible, try to obtain an EDL (edit decision list) from the editor, because it will provide you with exact timecode references for the edits, which can save quite a lot of time later on in the project.

It also pays to plan early on how the project is best managed within Logic, by asking yourself the following questions.

  • How long is the film?
  • Will it require multiple cues?
  • Will these fit into the same Song?
  • Is it practical to have them in the same Song?

One general restriction that needs to be taken into account straight away is that Logic limits the length of a Song to 8550 quarter notes, or about 2138 bars in four/four time. This is obviously more than enough for your average pop production (even an extended remix), but it can create problems when you are trying to score for a full-length feature film. Depending on the average tempo of the score, this number of bars could very easily prove to be too small. Also, Songs this long become a nightmare to manage in the likely case that portions of the film undergo repeated re-editing during the writing of the score.

You can easily convert between bars/beats and SMPTE time locations in the Event Float window — just click on the film symbol at the left-hand side of the window.You can easily convert between bars/beats and SMPTE time locations in the Event Float window — just click on the film symbol at the left-hand side of the window.This headache is aggravated by the fact that the score is almost certain to have multiple tempo changes, often within one musical cue alone. So every insertion/extraction of time will result in tempo data having to be moved and readjusted, which can very quickly take over the whole process and severely eat into a schedule that is more than likely going to be tight to start with.

On the other hand, it is nice to be able to just view the film in it's entirety in order to show it to the director, or for the producer to be able to present to TV companies and so forth. I've found that the best way around this problem is to have one Logic Song per musical cue, with its own independent tempo and tempo changes, which can then be mixed down or recorded track by track (depending on the requirement of the final mix procedure of the project) within that Song. The resulting files can then be inserted into one long Logic Song, with an arbitrary tempo to match the project's length, using the original timecode reference of the cue and thus retaining perfect sync. This way timecode references become a lot easier to manage, because any change in the cut of the film will only result in an overall adjustment of the start times for all following cues.

Logic Tips

  • If you want Logic to pass all MIDI controller messages directly to software instrument plug-ins, set the Software Instruments Use setting (in the Old Songs submenu of the Song Settings menu) to MIDI Controllers As Standard MIDI Controls. Then the software instrument determines how those messages are mapped to its parameters. The alternative setting, MIDI Controllers 65-127 (Version 4.x Behaviour), re-maps the MIDI controllers from 65 to 127 to the software instrument parameters in the order they appear in Logic 's Controls view of the plug-in. This limits the number of parameters you can control and also defeats the MIDI Learn function built into many modern software instruments. Len Sasso
  • When you apply the Merge operation to audio regions (which must be on the same Arrange-window track), Logic will create a new audio file if the regions are not already adjacent segments of the same audio file. The Merge operation takes into account volume, pan, and fade settings and changes, but does not include plug-in effects. Len Sasso
  • If you've set up both a Buss Audio object and an Aux Audio object for the same buss, the Buss object comes first in the signal path, and all its processing (including volume and pan) will apply to the Aux object's input. That's handy if you're using two Aux objects to process audio from the same buss, because the Buss object will act as a master volume. On the other hand, if there is no Buss object, the Aux object takes its input directly from the buss, which is what you want when you're using Aux objects as buss returns. Len Sasso

Flagging The Visual Cues

It is generally good practice to mark visual cue points by inserting some kind of 'flag' (an audio region or MIDI trigger) at the relevant timecode positions, before tackling any tempo settings. Although not subtle, a triangle sound generally does the trick! By locking these flags to their timecode positions (using the Lock/Unlock SMPTE Position Key Command) it becomes possible to play around with the tempo without losing sight of where these points should be.

It is also worth mentioning here that, depending on the information density of the images, the brain needs different amounts of time to register and process what is happening on screen. Close-ups take longer to be processed than long shots, colour can potentially be more distracting than black and white, and even the size of the projection screen influences this processing time. Therefore audio synchronisation does not always feel right even when the timecode numbers add up and hit precisely. Placing events off the theoretically exact position (Logic' s resolution is obviously much finer than the timecode frames) sometimes gives a subjectively tighter result. Let your intuition guide you.

One method of experimenting with different tempos around a set of these flags is by setting up a sensible metronome (the beloved Klopfgeist does the job) and just running that with the picture and the audio markers in order to get a feeling for how these events fall in relation to tempo, and consequently bar/beat positions. What all this means in practical terms should be illustrated by the following examples. I am going to deal first with so called 'hard synchronisation', where certain frames or ambient sounds want to be synchronised to the score, and then with 'soft synchronisation' scenarios where the overall flow of a cue is relying on a 'conducted' feel with the tempos fluctuating.

Let's say that the brief for a cue is as follows. The music starts at timecode position ww:ww:ww:ww with an ambient intro, which builds into a big crescendo to hit a rhythmical part at timecode position xx:xx:xx:xx. This rhythm has to hit an important visual edit at timecode position yy:yy:yy:yy and then end on a downbeat at timecode position zz:zz:zz:zz. In this scenario the flags would be inserted at all four of these timecode positions. The easiest way of doing this is to select Event Float from the main Options menu. This allows you to toggle between the bars/beats display of an object and the timecode display by clicking on the little film symbol at the left-hand side.

Insert an object with a downbeat trigger on any bar of the Song and then move it to the desired position by typing the timecode reference directly into the Event Float window. More than likely it will not land exactly on a beat, but if it feels like it is in the right position in relation to the visuals then use the Lock SMPTE Position Key Command to fix its timecode position.

Setting Up Start Points

If you need a count-in before your first flag object, drag the start time indicator in the Time Ruler to the left.If you need a count-in before your first flag object, drag the start time indicator in the Time Ruler to the left.Now you can begin to think about the tempo and timecode edits you want to make. It is useful to have some pre-roll on anything you do, so you need to decide whether you want to have the music starting at bar one (in which case the Song could begin at bar '-1'), or if you want to give yourself a couple of bars of count-in before the music starting in bar three. This is more of an aesthetic decision. My own preference is to start the music at bar one, and Logic 's capacity to extend the Song into the negative bar numbers (by dragging the left-hand edge of the Time Ruler to the left) allows for this. One exception is that you don't want the timecode to run over the 24-hour mark, so you don't want the downbeat of the film to be at timecode position 00:00:00:00. This is because hardware synchronisers will run into all sorts of trouble trying to locate machines at SMPTE positions that are (to them) more than 23 hours away. In reality these problems are so well established that you will more than likely have a film that starts somewhere around the 01:00:00:00 mark. It is, however, worth mentioning this to the person in charge of providing you with the video material.

The next step is to set the start point to the relevant timecode address. Open the Synchronisation window from the Song Settings submenu of the main Options menu. Alternatively, click and hold on the clock symbol in the Transport window and then select Synchronisation from the pop-up menu. In the General page, enter ww:ww:ww:ww (the timecode location of your first flag) into the Plays At SMPTE field. When you play the video now, the bar counter should run past the beginning of the bar at the point you want the music to start.

For the next couple of steps you must make a few musical decisions first:

  • Roughly what tempo do you want the music to have?
  • What time signature do you want to use?
  • How long (in bars and beats) will the music be?

Once these parameters are established you are ready to set up Logic for hard sync, and I will deal with a number of methods to achieve this in next month's column, as well as exploring working with fluctuating tempos and music that is, while locked to picture, not slavishly following the visual edits.

Published March 2004