How did you develop the sound palette for the series? It has elements of fantasy, sci-fi, drama, and action, but with the wide-eyes of a child kind of sensibility.
I have a standard orchestral palette loaded into my computers – woodwinds, brass, percussion, strings – plus, I decided that the series also deserved an “other-worldly” sound as well, so I’ve been using different synthesizer textures on top of the orchestra each week. In terms of the electronics, I try not to re-use the same sounds from week to week, so I choose what I feel are the appropriate textures to complement the story.
Regarding theming for the show, are you compelled to write specific character themes, or simply situational ones?
I’ve written themes for each of the characters, which reoccur often. I haven’t written any themes for situations, unlike the original series, which had themes for things like “danger.”
When writing the new version of theme song, were you directed to pay homage to the original iconic theme, or did you simply feel obligated to bring a sense of familiarity to it?
The producers wanted to compress the original 2 minute theme song into 10 seconds – quite a challenge when there was so much great stuff I had to leave out.
Do you write the interior music for the show, i.e. festival music and the pan-pipe music played by WilyKit?
Yes, that’s all me. I hire a live musician to play all of WilyKit’s flute music.
Do you score the final product, or did you have to work from storyboards? And did you have any difficulty “feeling out” any of the moments/characters in the series?
I usually wind up scoring to 95% of the final animation. But sometimes I have to work from animatics and storyboards, since the animation from Japan isn’t complete. That’s a bit of a challenge, since I have to figure out what’s going on in the story. That’s when I ask the producers what’s happening – and I try to get timings for what needs to be addressed musically.
Did you do the entire series in advance, or are you scoring it episode-to-episode, like some live-action TV shows?
I’m scoring each episode now, in which I have 2 weeks to write 22 minutes of wall-to-wall music. I’m about 5 episodes ahead of what’s airing on TV right now.
The original THUNDERCATS series, while it did have some rich theming, I think suffered musically from a thematic sameness, meaning that almost every episode contained the exact same themes. Did you make it your goal to move beyond this trait that plagued most 60s-90s cartoons?
Yes, the only time I repeat themes is for the characters. I almost never re-use the rest of the score that I’ve written for previous episodes. Copying and pasting just seems lazy to me, and doesn’t properly comment on the underlying narrative.
On the topic of throwaway, old-school cartoon music, what do you think has changed in this era to expand the horizons and possibilities with cartoon music?
Two things, in particular: An ability, tendency and desire to emulate the style of music from big-budget blockbusters, and also, access to newer technologies not available in previous generations, such as the aforementioned synthesizer textures, which can add a musical sheen that wasn’t available even 30 years ago.
The quality and effort put into the new THUNDERCATS series seems less like a nostalgia trip and more like it is taking a potentially good idea to a new level.
One review I read on the new series suggested that it shouldn’t have even been named “Thundercats,” since it was such a departure from the old series. I’m in agreement with that; this seems like an entirely different show.
Have you yet had to deal with any “purists” who think that you are participating in ruining their childhood memories, and how do you react to something like that?
The only comments I’ve read so far that critique the new series’ music deal with the opening theme – it seems that a lot of people miss the iconic 2-minute theme song. But I wasn’t involved in that decision – the producers wanted the opening shorter – much, much shorter.
Has the reaction to your work on THUNDERCATS yet gotten you some more offers in the cartoon realm? Do you have a desire to work on more cartoons, or is this part of a master plan to move on to more high-profile projects?
Nothing as of yet has been offered to me as a result of THUNDERCATS, but I’m not too worried – I’ve got another cartoon series I’ll be scoring in the spring for Disney, which should last for a while. I’d like to eventually make the move into features, but I’m not in a rush – it took me 15 years to get recognized for the work I’ve done to get to this level.
Will a soundtrack be released for THUNDERCATS? I can imagine that score junkies are already frothing at the mouth for one, since the music is so rich.
That’s being discussed currently – and it looks pretty good that it’ll happen.
Learn more about Kevin Kliesch at IMDB.
And check out THUNDERCATS now at Cartoon Network!
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