"EXTINCT" (C4 Oct 2001) - "SIX EXTRAORDINARY ANIMALS, SIX SCIENTIFIC JOURNEYS ..." This major 6 part series for C4, produced by Wall to Wall TV using the very latest 3D computer graphics technology combined with live action docu-drama, was billed as C4's answer to "Walking with Dinosaurs". EXTINCT brings back to life six extinct species and solves the mystery of their demise. The animals range from those relatively recently vanished: the Dodo, the Tasmanian Tiger and the Great Auk to pre-historic species: the Mammoth, SabreTooth Tiger ... locations ranged from the icy landscapes of the Arctic to the deserts of New Mexico, from rain forests in Mauritius to the bustle of modern Mexico city ... there were computer generated (CG) natural history sequences, period drama re-creations and scientific documentary sequences in labs, museums, archeological digs ... a huge range of historical periods, locations and themes - all adding up to quite a challenge for me as the composer !
The music ranges from epic, widescreen orchestral-style score (using sampled instruments) to minimal, edgy soundscapes (synthesised, electronic)... and sometimes moves between musical styles very rapidly. For instance, one cue (from Mammoth) starts out in 12,000 BC and mixes through to modern Mexico City in about 4 seconds. The music had to similarly transform from "epic pre-historic" to Latin / Mariachi - a composing puzzle that they don't teach you much about at music college ! Another technical problem for me was a result of the way that the CG sequences were put together - first the "back plates" were shot as empty locations, then rough cartoon-like demos of the animals were added, and these were gradually made more realistic before finally (and sometimes at the very last possible moment) the actual CG animals were properly "rendered" in 3D. It was only at this stage that I got to see the way they moved. Some of the music was composed to shots of empty landscapes with a story-board taped to my TV monitor so that I had some idea of how it would all eventually look ... not ideal when you are trying to musically capture the essence of a particular animal.
I worked on EXTINCT full time for four months. For each episode I produced a CD of rough themes for the editor to work with. These demos were composed from the script, story-boards and the producer's brief - ie imagining the moving pictures. Sometimes this music worked well in the cutting room, and sometimes I needed to start again when I eventually got the films to work with. Most of the episodes were being edited right up to days before they were due to be dubbed (the composer's absolute deadline) and in some cases I never got to see the final versions of the CG animals at all ! All in all one of the most challenging projects that I have ever worked on, but certainly one of the best.
"HardCore" (C4 April 2001) - This disturbing, controversial C4 documentary about an English woman (Felicity) who goes to LA to make it as a porn star, included sex scenes that had been video treated to "distance" them - the producer, Stephen Walker, wanted the music to add further to the feeling of unreality - this led to a search for "edgy" electronic sounds with a dreamlike quality ... when I played the initial version of these cues to Stephen, he wanted them to be as minimal as possible, so we worked together in the studio to "thin out" the score ... this is where the fact that the music is produced on a computer becomes very important, as it is easy to move the musical elements around etc and get immediate feedback - instant composition ! Other scenes involved Felicity talking about her childhood etc over rain-swept shots of her Essex home town - the music for these sequences needed to underscore the sadness and the bleak images, without being sentimental, and remaining contemporary ... rather than compose a melodic theme, I produced an harmonic / ambient soundscape for these cues ... the final type of music sequences involved night shots of traffic moving relentlessly on the LA freeways - these cues required rhythmic drive ... I used interlocking drum&bass patterns (very fast / complex) with floating melodic lines (very slow / simple) ... the overall sound of the music has a kind of "Jazz-Noire" feel but with a hard-edged electronic sound palette. It was a difficult and challenging film to work on ... for one thing the controversial nature of the material meant that lawyers had to approve each cut, and I lost track of how many versions there were (I certainly ended up with quite a pile of time-coded VHS's !).
"Octopus Challenge" (WildLife On One BBC1 June 2001) - My first commission for 2001 was the incidental music for a new BBC "Wildlife on One" (narrated by David Attenborough)... the octopus were filmed solving various intelligence tests, finding their way through mazes etc and are really bizarre and amazing creatures ... they move in a flowing, liquid kind of dance. The film had two basic types of music sequence: shots of octopus in their natural habitat, and the "test" sequences filmed in tanks. The common element was that both were shot underwater. The producer, Hilary Jeffkins, wanted to distinguish these two types of material by having two distinct musical styles. The test sequences needed to be a bit playful, and to have an element of "game show / Mission Impossible" tension ("will Ollie find his way through the maze ...") - while the ocean sequences required a softer, more "classic natural history" style ... My first move was to find a sound - a sampled marimba trill - that could be used in two different ways to create the basis of these sequences, while uniting them by also sounding very "underwater"... this sound can create soft, floating textures or the in-built rhythm can be built up with ethnic percussion to create a kind of underwater Reggae / Salsa / World Music ! Hilary sent me raw rushes, rough footage, offline assemblies etc and I sent her a series of demos ... gradually the two styles evolved, so that by the time a fine cut was available I could concentrate on synching up the musical elements with the Octopus' movements etc and creating sufficient variation throughout the music cues.