DuckTales Composer Dominic Lewis Talks Creating The Right Sound For The Reboot

Once again, say it with me-“DuckTales-Woo-Ooo!” 30 years after the original animated adventure series premiered, DisneyXD has given the reboot a new home and a new look. But the show did something that is nearly impossible after decades of being off the air. It has kept the same spirit as its predecessor: from the carefree, yet tight-knit attitude of the family of ducks, to the accompaniment of sound that is essential to making the show what it is. Dominic Lewis was given the challenge of creating the right score for the DuckTales reboot. This meant creating the right theme for every character and occasion, while still playing homage to the original. TVOvermind was able to talk to Dominic about how he created the score for the show, the different dynamics of his wide range of work, and a tease of his handiwork on the upcoming feature film Peter Rabbit.

Where did you draw inspiration from specifically for DuckTales, since it’s kind of unique?

There’s lots of different inspiration. Obviously with stuff like this, with adventure, you can’t gloss over John Williams’s master inspiration. All these guys from the 80’s, you can’t undersell their inspiration. Anyone my age and older draws from those guys. For the more kind of hybrid stuff, it just kind of all sits. They [the ducks] keep moving, so it’s all over the place. The inspiration is mainly from the picture. You use it as a guide and draw from that.

You’ve done such a wide range of shows, from television dramas, to animated features, and on. Give us a sense of your process composing for each new body of work.

My process is always different depending on the genre and the timing of what I’m working on. With animation, I like to come up with things on the piano and then head to the sequencer and start writing the picture and adding all the instruments. But I think, for some reason with animation movies, the sequencing material has to be stronger because you’re relying very much on the orchestral world. When I’m doing dramas, nowadays with producers and directors really wanting to push the envelope with being modern and cool and all the rest of it, a lot of that comes from messing around with it and kind of processing; rather than strong, traditional themes. For something like DuckTales, it’s good to have those really identifiable melodies that can carry you through, hopefully a number of seasons.

Focusing on Ducktales specifically, the original series had such a unique sound, not just the theme song that every body knows and loves. As you said, it has such an important orchestral component behind it that brings the series to life. Did you take anything from the work of original composer Ron Jones, and how did you draw inspiration from that for new series?

Ron Jones is such a genius. I actually didn’t even want to refresh myself of the stuff that he did and the music that he wrote. I wanted it to be something completely new. I didn’t want to mess with people’s memories. I just tried to come up with something that evokes the feeling of the old series, but with something new and a little bit different. It is predominantly orchestral, but there’s a lot of other instruments and sounds that get thrown in there. There’s a lot more modern things thrown in there, [such as] drums, piano, guitar. Stuff that might be more relevant now. And obviously with an adventure show, they’re going all around the world. So I get a chance to use all sorts of crazy instruments from all over the world as we move through the episodes. That also helps to bring new life into the series.

Have you been making any particular themes for particular characters?

Scrooge obviously being the focus of the show, his theme, his melody, is very swashbuckling nostalgia from that sort of Spielberg-Lucas 80’s action era; with a slightly modern twist! That’s really fun to do. The triplets have their own motif. It’s a bit more “Pop-py” and I use more bandy instruments for them. Webby has a theme, which sort of starts off kind of cutsie with a little set that I came up with. But then, she’s a total bad-a**! There’s also new themes in every episode [depending on where the characters are on the planet].

What’s the difference between scoring live-action versus animation, for those of us not familiar with the process behind it?

Time is a big factor. The process from TV animation to feature animation is different. Ideally with a feature animation, I like to take a week or two if I have enough time, to sit at the piano and come up with themes that can be arranged in any way, shape, or form. And then with a feature live-action movie, it’ll start with the power of sounds, whether they be sets or organic sounds from wherever [the particular setting] may be. For example, with Money Monster, I took a lot of audio from the tech world and the stock market. And then I used that as my jumping off point for those sounds, and tried to come up with little motifs and ideas to attach the characters. When I needed emotional stuff, I’d just have to sit at the piano and come up with chords. It is a very different process. The live action for me is much more sort of exploring, and with animation it’s sitting at the piano and coming up with something that had to be a melody all by itself, to be strong enough by itself. With DuckTales, it being TV, there is a quick turnaround, so sometimes I don’t have that kind of luxury [of time], and I just have to go straight into the sequencer.

It just blows me away that you can score DuckTales and alternate to The Man in the High Castle, because it’s just a stark contrast in every form.

I just like to mix stuff up! It keeps me on my toes. For me personally, if I do too much of one thing, it gets boring. It’s good to be able to flex all those musical muscles. I try to be the most well-rounded composer I can be, and that just helps me evolve. It helps for me to be able to draw from all sources of my music collection. High Castle is extremely dark and dreary, and the next day I’m scoring ducks running around and having adventures! I think I’d become a really serious and unfunny person [if I did that]. What’s actually really tricky to write comedy. It’s the hardest thing to do. R-rated comedies are really tough because you can’t step on the comedy, but it has to be there. It’s a really tough mix.

What’s at the top of your playlist? Who do you draw inspiration from?

Again, it kind of depends for what I’m doing. For the more orchestral stuff, I tend to go back to my classical heroes. I’m a big fan of Strauss, Debussy, Wagner, the big guns from the classical world. Whether it’s an R-rated comedy or drama, there’s such a wide range of people I draw from. From Peter Gabriel to Hopkins, back to the Beatles, A Tribe Called Quest…if its good, I listen to it.

What else are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a new feature animation directed by Will Gluck. James Corden plays Peter Rabbit, and it’s brilliant. It’s sort of a modern adaptation of the classic children’s story. And it’s different, but it’s really hilarious. When you do new versions of things, as DuckTales has proved, you don’t want to step on people’s memories and ruin things. Will’s done a really great job of staying true to the original Beatrix Potter story, but completely modernizing and putting a new light on it. I think James Corden was born to play this rabbit!

Is there anything that you haven’t worked on yet that you’d like to work with?

I would love to do a live-action fantasy film, sort of in the vein of the Harry Potter films. Because I’ve done a lot of animation and dramas, it’s all orchestral writing, but more towards real people’s experiences. Fantasy has those dark, underlying tones running through it. Any director who has done those films, like John Williams, has the ability to create the franchise with the melody.

As for immersing himself in the world of Disney, Lewis could not be more thrilled or welcomed. With a company and its millions of young fans expectations on his shoulders, “it’s nice to have a voice and an impression on the show.”

New episodes of DuckTales air Saturday mornings on DisneyXD.

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