After the end - Case study

"After the end" (2015, Colour / Dolby Digital) is a 3D animation directed by Sam Southward.


Outline

'For René Fustercluck, life was bad, the Apocalypse was awful and then Gordon arrived.’

The tagline of the animation sets very effectively the scene for the piece. The nature of the project was indeed quite clear from the beginning, something that helped greatly to keep the development process consistent. The animation is a comedy with strong dark elements, set in a post-apocalyptic world. The story is centred around three characters, with Renè, the supposedly last man on earth, being slightly predominant on the others.

There is obviously never a unique way of scoring a film. Comedies, especially in form of animations, are particularly open to experimentation, as you can achieve the desired outcome (i.e. snappy and consistent rhythm, chain of laughter) in lots of different ways. For instance, you can write the music in a straight way along with the dialogue’s line, or you can carve it around it (see these examples); you can be musically tuned to the mood of the scene, or play in the opposite direction. Given that you absolutely nail the objective of a sequence you are scoring, there seems to be the possibility of being more indulgent in what you write musically than other filmic genres. The use of pastiche music, for instance, was a concept that gained more and more relevancy as we progressed in the development. It is something that an audience can immediately relate to, making it an effective way to incept very quickly a setup or a concept that can then be used to generate a laugh or an underlined joke.


As always, the only way to nail the job is to establish as soon as possible a meaningful and clear conversation with the director and the crew. By understanding exactly what is at stake, as a music composer you can work to deliver the best possible result.

Luckily, the director had already very smart ideas about how the music could play in the game, and also an extensive knowledge of the music world. This made the conversation easier and helped a lot to tune and fine tune our beliefs in the animation.

Process

The underlying theme on which the humour of the animation is based, is that the main character never understands fully the extent of the actions of his opponent. The clash between them generates the core of the comedy and give way to a whole series of “micro-stories” within the main narrative.
These basic principles were cleared at script stage, along with the importance and roles of the character in the animation. Once this was set, it was a lot easier to work on a common basis, even though the animation was incessantly refined to nail the micro stories within it.

We agreed pretty soon that a good try would have been to frame the music on a character structure. So we decided to work a musical world for each one of the characters. Once established in the mind of the audience, these worlds would have then been used the push the comedic elements of every scene.
In addition to that, we decided that the music overarching idea would have to help establishing the dystopian post-apocalyptic setting. This concept was then adapted more in terms of certain elements of the instrumentation (timpani, low bass frequencies), as we decided to focus more on how the characters would filter this physical world from a musical standpoint.

In particular:

Renè is a historian buff, a poet, a cultured person, lover of art and beauty. He is totally self-absorbed, to the extent of being on the verge of becoming delusional. We came up with the idea that he would supposedly listen to classical, probably late romantic, over-the-top emotional music.

Gordon is the complete opposite, he does not care about anything, always keeps things at a superficial level, usually completely out of touch, showy and garishly dressed. He would listen to absurd, non sense music with probably random influences from the cheap-80s-synth scene, dubstep drills, all seasoned with acid-trip musical droplets here and there. He also has a sequence in the film when he plays a improbable keytar-synth; that was indeed a great opportunity to make himself play his own music.

Dolly is the third character of the story. Although non-human (it’s Gordon’s plastic doll), it plays a very important part in the story and therefore we opted to find a musical element that was persistent with its role.

As the doll becomes central when Renè gets interested in it, it was clear that everything about this character was filtered by his eyes. Therefore, we had to find something consistent with his musical world. We chose to give the doll an operatic soprano voice, something that would lure him into her without leaving his musical space.

Building a musical world for every character proved to be also a very effective way of managing the layers of reality when you tell the story. This trick was used numerous times, for example, when the narration goes from the outside world to the inside perspective of one character. As the soundtrack shifts in tone, you immediately know that you have left the “real world” space to get into the mind of one character.


Renè: Romantic over-the-top Wagner sound alike

Gordon: Post apocalyptic synth rock with a twist

Dolly: opera singing a la Madame Butterfly with shift of reality


Workflow

Once we identified the borders of the sound worlds, I wrote lots of quick mock-ups until we decided that what we had was enough material to play with the sequences. At this point the timings were not still 100% accurate, but it gave me great insights to get ready for the proper production stage.

Since it was going to be a great mix of classical, pastiche and off-eighties score, music libraries helped a lot in nailing part of the boundaries of what we did. It was clear, though, that some parts - mostly the classical ones - were in need of real recordings to let them come to life. So we decided to schedule a recording session with some live musicians and also a opera singer. Especially with the singer, I tried to keep the session as open as possible, so to have a larger range of thematic elements to pick up later.

In fact, this proved to be paramount at a later stage: to deliver a particular joke or to generate that emotional trigger in the audience, you have to be really fluid when micro-editing. Sometimes, it is really a matter of dropping 5 frames or shifting half a second of the music end everything falls down. Also, 3D animations are prone to the fact that sometimes you don’t see the whole sequence rendered until the very end of the edit, so you always have to re-balance the sonic elements with the visual ones.

In this stance, it was extremely important to keep the work updated more times during the day, so that we could lose less time and focus altogether to get the result that we wanted.

As today, After the end has been accepted in the official selection of more than 20 festival around the world, winning 2nd Place Award at Palm Springs International 2015, the Hitchcock Award at Dinard Festival 2015, and being screened at Annecy Animation 2015, Hollyshort 2015, Encouters 2015, Giff 2015, Ottawa Film Fest, and so on.

To check the complete list of awards and festival credits for this film, please check the the work for media page.
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Crew

Director: Sam Southward
Producer: Michelangelo Fano
Editor: Neil Lenthall
Screenwriter: Sam Southward, Samantha Collins
Cinematographer: Diana Olifirova
Music: Antonio Nardi
Principal Cast: Peter Caulfield, Tom Davis