by Baird Media

In its young life, Ruby & Roach has already clocked up a raft of awards, including Best Animation and Children’s Film. As parents hope for their children, it is balanced and well-rounded. Perhaps a good wine is a better analogy. Animated films, sans dialogue, present the creative team with conundrums that are largely absent from conventional films:  there are no words or voices to convey mood, feelings or emotions, let alone personality. This is particularly so in the case of stop motion animation, and where the characters have few, if any moving parts.  

Mart-Marie Snyman composed the music for Abyss South Africa’s Ruby & Roach

The development of the music for Ruby & Roach started late in the process with Mart-Mari Snyman working on a semi-complete and entirely silent, animated film. The role of the composer, and thus the score, is to interpret the viewer’s emotions and allow the music to create just the right atmosphere. But, of course, as they say in those dreadful ads, that’s not all:  the musical “dialogue” replaces word-based conversations between the characters. Snyman does this with the use of repeating melodies that are unique to each character.

A violin and Piano Budget

The composition process for Ruby & Roach was an iterative one:  she would send snippets to the team and await feedback. Fortunately, Snyman says, she’s accustomed to the creative process which necessarily involves criticism: at first, the team hated everything. Part of the reason for this, she ascribes to cost: trumpets and a big band sound are impossible on a violin and piano budget. An enforced festive season break was exactly what she and the team needed.  

The final concept was as inspired as the choice of composer, and everything fell into place – in just one morning, says Snyman. The break, getting to know producer and script writer, (Dorette Nel), as well as the rest of the team, their thinking behind the characters and especially the story, had really helped.  

It takes patience and skill to animate paper and then it needs to come alive. Music plays a big role in Abyss South Africa’s Roach & Ruby.

Turning to the role of a film score, especially in animation, Snyman clarifies how the music needs to reflect not just emotion but must build to a climax. This is particularly important in Ruby & Roach, and to do this she used subtle changes of tone and pace.  

Of course, there is added complication of having to synchronise the music with the characters’ movements on screen. Collaborating with violinist and fellow improviser, Siobhan Lloyd-Jones, the score was recorded live, rather than edited and spliced. This is a long process because takes are recorded over and over until they are right.  Another layer that makes this film unique.Little wonder that Ruby & Roach won best music video or music film in season 3 of the Blu-Hill Film Festival.

An Inspired Score

Creative Director Diek Grobler’s recommending pianist, Snyman, composed an inspired score. She’s been playing “forever”, she says, composing her first piece at just seven years old. Because she didn’t yet know how to write music, she inveigled her music teacher into doing it for her. That passion for music or composition remains.  

Of music, Snyman says, “You have to breathe it, you have to be it.” Without it, she says, she will die. Dramatic, perhaps, but it’s just this depth of emotion and feeling that the endearing elephant and her gentle cockroach friend needed.   

Have a look at what Abyss South Africa can do when it comes to live action and animation by exploring the website.