DC Animated Composer Scores "Big Emotional Core" in "Son of Batman"

Peruse composer Frederik Wiedmann's list of early credits, and a theme sticks out: "Blood Ranch." "Hostel: Part III." "True Bloodthirst." "Hellraiser: Revelations." But as you continue to look, you notice his recent work has been focused on an considerably less bloody genre: "Green Lantern: The Animated Series." "Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox." "Beware the Batman."

The German-born Wiedmann, now based in Los Angeles, may have roots in horror, but much of his time in the past couple of years has been focused on scoring DC Comics-based animated projects for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. His latest composition include the recently released "Son of Batman," directed by Ehtan Spaulding and based on Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert's 2006 story "Batman & Son;" and "JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time," which reunited him with "Green Lantern" showrunner Giancarlo Volpe and is slated for a wide release later this month.

CBR News spoke with Wiedmann during a recording session for "Son of Batman" in Hollywood last fall -- complete with an orchestra performing sequences set to roughly animated scenes -- about making the transition from live-action to animation, how Morrison and Kubert's source material affected his approach and avoiding the temptation to sound too "John Williams-y."

CBR News: Frederik, you started your career focused on live action, including a lot of horror movies, but the comics-based features appears to have kept you busy recently. What prompted towards gravitating towards animated, superhero material?

Frederik Wiedmann: It's an interesting question. There are a lot of similarities -- not necessarily the horror genre, but live-action versus animation. The first big conceptual thing that they tell you as a composer, at least when I started working on all of those shows -- they don't want anything John Williams-y, which is kind of a funny thing to say. Everybody agrees he's the best composer in the world, but they all know you're not John Williams, it's not going to sound as good. [Laughs] I love that.

The other thing is, they say, "Don't make it sound like an [animated] movie. Make it sound like a live-action feature film." So the music's not supposed to be too Mickey Mouse-y. They're very aware of that. They want it to be very real and dramatic, just like you would treat a Chris Nolan movie.

That is really the gist of it, and coming from a live-action background it really helped me to know what they were talking about. The fact that I hadn't done animation before I did "Green Lantern" wasn't really restricting me in any way. It was kind of a good thing. They didn't really care about the fact that I hadn't done animation -- they were a little concerned about the fact that I hadn't done a TV show by myself, because that's the constant re-delivery, every two weeks, for a year and a half. You need to have a lot of endurance, and they didn't know if I had it in me. But the fact that I had no animation experience didn't really bother them too much, because they knew they didn't want that approach.

Sounds like it may have been more of an advantage than anything else.

Yeah, I think so. I had done, at that point, maybe 25 movies -- some small, some bigger. I just knew the craft, and how to score scenes across several genres. I was well prepared to dive into that world.

From your background both professionally and as a viewer, were you a fan of animation? Is this something you had hoped to get into, or the opportunities that came your way?

To be honest, I was stuck in the horror genre a little bit. I wasn't too happy -- I liked working on those, but not exclusively. I always like to do other things, too. Getting into this was just a really good change of pace. I still do horror movies -- I just finished one called "Gallows Hill," which was a great movie -- but now that I have this other line of work, superhero music, it's a really great, refreshing new thing in my creative life. I really enjoy doing that.

I did grow up with a lot of animation in Germany, where I'm from, but not necessarily DC stuff. In Germany, I was really into "Lucky Luke" and "Asterix." Those I absorbed, read every single one of them multiple times. And some Hanna-Barbara stuff, too. Superman and Batman -- it's popular, but there's other stuff that you can get anywhere, that's what makes it do much more accessible.

The superhero stuff isn't as ingrained in the culture as it is here.

Exactly. But I always liked it. I did watch some Superman cartoons when I was young, and some Batman stuff. Of course, I've seen Bruce Timm's "Batman: The Animated Series." Especially recently, I've become a really big fan of composers like John Powell, who does a lot of work for Dreamworks animation, like "Kung Fu Panda," "Rio," "Ice Age," those kinds of movies. I think his music's terrific. That's where I see myself going as a composer. I think that's really what I'm striving for. Being a fan of that, and then getting called from Warner Bros. to do these animation projects felt like a great path towards that.

With "Son of Batman," specifically, what's the general theme or specific challenges of this project as opposed to similar ones you've worked on?

There was nothing really super-difficult to crack. Some movies you really have to crack it, and you have to do a lot of trial and error to figure out what the tone is, and what works and what doesn't. This one was not really like that. It was quite clear the way it was shot and colored and edited, what it needed. It was just kind of asking for that specific score, which is nice, because you really know that the vision is just very clear.

There's certainly a very big emotional core throughout this, just because of the father-son relationship, which is a growing relationship throughout the movie. Batman didn't even know he had a son in the beginning. Besides all the action and the suspense that a Batman movie needs, there was this big emotional thread of that relationship that really needed to be treated well with a good story arc. Damian himself has an emotional theme, because he goes through a big transformation, too, throughout the movie. I think the relationship between him and Batman, and his transformation itself, was the more difficult part to figure out -- how do you build on that, and how do you structure that so it pays off at the end, thematically?

It's a relatively recent story, too. DC animated features have adapted a range from stories, including "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Batman: Year One," which were originally released more than 25 years ago. Does that affect your approach at all, "Son of Batman" being more of a contemporary story?

No, not really. Honestly, I didn't know it was recent. I just read the comics, but I didn't know how old they were. I did read the source material.

How does that help the process?

It just helped me [in] getting prepared. I knew the basic characters that are in involved -- they always make changes of course, but it was good to know what the big characters are, and what the big idea of this relationship is, and all that.

When I did "Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox," I did not read the source material. I didn't get my hands on that in time. I wish I had read it, because there were a lot of characters in it, and they were all twisted, as you know. The good heroes are suddenly the villains. I started working with fairly rough animatics -- there wasn't much animation done by the time I got to work on it. I was looking at black-and-white images of characters that were completely twisted that I wasn't that familiar [with]. It was tricky. I had to really get a lot of information from the director -- "This is him, he's hitting this guy, and he's not bad, because we're in the alternate universe." This project, since I had read everything and really studied the source material, I watched it and was like, "Great, this makes sense, I know exactly who these people are, and why they're here, and the backstory of Deathstroke and all of those guys." That really helped.

How long is your end of the process typically for an animated feature like this?

It's about a six week course of composing. I get an act at a time, about 20 minutes long, and I have a week for each of them. And then there's another two weeks to prep for a session like this, and to finesse any notes the producer and director have. Then we mix it, and it's done. That's actually a pretty normal process for any movie, any big feature film. Sometimes the really big movies they get a little bit more time, but often they don't. Like "King Kong" for example -- they switched composers halfway through, so James Newton Howard had five weeks to score an almost three hour movie. That's insane. Nobody wants to deal with that in that fashion. It's too much work.

But yeah, it's a pretty normal timeframe. And these movies are like 84 minutes -- they're not too [long].

"Son of Batman" is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download. "JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time," initially a Target exclusive, is scheduled for wide release on May 20.

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