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On composing "How to Train Your Dragon 2"
June 12, 2014 12:34 AM   Subscribe

Composer John Powell on the creative challenges in scoring the sequel “If you’re trying to evoke the joy of flying, you just try and make it as wonderful-sounding as possible in a way you’d imagine it would feel to fly. It’s that simple. I knew I had to deliver music that was as good as the film as I was fitting it to.”
posted by wallawallasweet (12 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I had the luck to sit in on a talk of his week before last. He showed us the temp tracks, rough orchestral takes, and then compared it to the final film sound. The most surprising thing is to hear how much he cuts out. He talked about how they try to bring him to the process as close to the end as possible so that he's composing to the final animatics/storyboards, but in the end, he still ends up dropping out a bunch of instruments and cues as those spaces are filled in with sound and acting. I was just struck by how complete Powell's arrangement sounded as a rough take, and how he was able to make the soundtrack just as full and exciting with so much less in the final pass.

There was a story about how the orchestra's love his stuff because he utilizes every instrument, and rarely just has notes that drone on and on. My favorite bit was actually about the song that they sing in the film, and the struggle to introduce the music and instruments without it sounding contrived, or cross the line into being a musical. He went on about the subtlety of the piece and how natural the final arrangement sounded. Then, after showing us the amazing completed sequence, he said "Of course, we wrote and recorded this before Frozen proved that people still like musicals. I almost wish we had gone bigger." Not even the best are satisfied with their work.
posted by TheNegativeInfluence at 1:46 AM on June 12 [6 favorites]


I'm always fascinated by interviews with those who score movies. There is something amazing about taking so much compositional, editorial and performing talent and then rendering it in such a way that it will affect the audience without them realising what is going on. Michael Giacchino's interview about the scoring of Up - where he reveals the emotional impact he could wield with a sad F major 7th chord and a melody designed to be played on a wind up music box, is a case in point.
posted by rongorongo at 3:15 AM on June 12


An awesome score can turn a bad movie into a good movie, and a good movie into a great movie. It is by far the most influential and most under-appreciated aspect of movie making.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:46 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


An awesome score can turn a bad movie into a good movie, and a good movie into a great movie. It is by far the most influential and most under-appreciated aspect of movie making.

I once watched the rough cut of Star Wars IV without a soundtrack. It was the worst movie I'd ever seen.
posted by hanoixan at 7:53 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


I once watched the rough cut of Star Wars IV without a soundtrack. It was the worst movie I'd ever seen.

So, how long were you in Guantanamo Bay?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:23 AM on June 12


My favorite bit was actually about the song that they sing in the film

Oh, god. A movie about Vikings and dragons does NOT need to be a musical!* I was looking forward to Dragon 2 with hope but also the misgivings I usually have about sequels; now I'm beginning to wonder if it'll be worth watching it at all.

*except maybe for "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam ..."
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:30 AM on June 12


First, I echo Greg_Ace, NO SINGING IN HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. It made me stare at the monitor blankly, and surely caused someone passing by to wonder if I had just suffered a stroke or something. I hope it doesn't mess with the rest of the movie and it's more "people singing" versus "song being used to convey what would otherwise be shown or said." You know, like the Ewok victory song that will always be at the end of RTOJ.

Second, I adore the soundtrack to the first movie. For some reason I've yet to understand, I didn't actually buy it until last week. It's been on heavy replay ever since.

I have purposely not listened to the new soundtrack, which is streaming right now, because I want to experience it straight up in the movie. This is odd, as I often will buy the score if I know the composer and am pretty excited about the movie. Dragon 2 is one of the movies I've most been looking forward, too. THIS WEEKEND. WOOOT.
posted by Atreides at 8:56 AM on June 12


I'm pretty sure a musical usually has more than one song.
posted by kmz at 9:55 AM on June 12


True, but I was looking for an excuse to use that MP reference.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:31 AM on June 12


Yeah, but maybe it's like that awesome dwarf basso-profundo song from The Hobbit. That was the best part of the movie.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:09 AM on June 12


There's a lot of good in the movie, some questionable directing and layout choices here and there, but I actually really liked that song.
posted by TheNegativeInfluence at 11:37 AM on June 12


My faith is being restored.
posted by Atreides at 11:52 AM on June 12


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