Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment
October 17, 2004
In the Disney/Pixar animated feature The Incredibles, a family of superheroes shelves their powers in the wake of a public backlash and assumes the identity of normal, everyday people. Father Bob, mother Helen, daughter Violet, and son Dash all manage to slip into the mediocrity of suburban life, but when a new, villainous threat emerges, they are eventually forced out of hiding and back into action.
In this interview, composer Michael Giacchino talks about the music of The Incredibles. His work spans a varied mix of projects--in addition to the jazzy score for Pixar's superhero feature, he has created music for the Medal of Honor video game series and the television shows Alias and Lost.
MEDIA: How did you first get into music?
MICHAEL: I used to goof around on the piano all the time. I had a harmonica as a kid, I had a mouth harp. I was just always into music. The classical music station was always on my radio. I was kind of off the beaten path, as far as popularity goes, with what I was listening to. But it was the only stuff I liked. And it's not that I don't like rock and roll. I do. There's a lot that I like in it. But as a kid, that's the stuff that attracted me. I think it was the idea of telling a story with music that attracted me the most. And especially if you listen to classical music and film scores, and even great jazz, there's always a story being told somehow if it's being done well.
What was the challenge in composing the music for The Incredibles?
It was a challenging thing because we really wanted the film to live in this era of the '60s--musically, architecturally, design-wise. When we first talked about this, I thought, "Wow, this is going to be tough just because every time we hear this style of music these days, it's generally in a more satirical context." When people do this jazz orchestra thing nowadays, it's parody. And I was thinking the whole time, "How do I do this and not make it parody, and still make it about the story and not about the craziness of the music and the swagger of the sound from those days?" But the story is really strong in this film, and that pretty much dictated everything we did. And because of that, I think we're able to watch the film and not feel like we're parodying a time that is long gone.
Does this type of music still have a place in today's world that doesn't relegate it to parody?
I think we're validating that this music that was used in the '60s, this stylistic approach, is as valid today as it was then, even though some people are like, "Oh, it sounds old." Well, so what? So does anything that has been around for so long. And also, we wanted to open it up and say you can still do this kind of music today as long as you're true to it, true to the emotions of the story, and you're not making fun of anything.
Did you watch a lot of spy movies from the '60s?
Oh, as a kid, absolutely. I had tons of Henry Mancini albums, and all of these guys that I would listen to. They were working at a time when they had much more freedom to just do what they wanted to do. It wasn't as relegated as it is today in film music. It's changed so much, and it's much more about marketing.
Were you working on The Incredibles at the same time you were working on Alias?
Was it a little schizoid going back and forth between the two?
It was schizoid, because it's a crazy schedule on Alias. I have basically three days to do twenty-five minutes of music. And we record it live orchestra every week. I would work like crazy those three days, and then the other days I would work on The Incredibles.
How long have you been working on The Incredibles?
For about a year or so. So that was kind of spread out over time. There were some breaks in the Alias schedule. I don't know if you noticed, there were times when you'd go weeks without seeing a new episode, which is why now this year they're starting in January, so they can give everyone a full run with no real interruptions.
Are you back at work on Alias?
Yes, and Lost as well. That's a really fun show. I'm really lucky because my first love is orchestra. I love working with the live players.
And you work with a live orchestra for all these projects?
How do you approach the music for Lost?
The idea was to never let go of the fact that these guys are on a small island in the middle of nowhere. And we're always trying to be very sparse, very simple with the music. I try not to get too complicated with it, and everytime I do, I'm always having to back up. Lost is about "unorchestrating."
You've done music for video games, television, and film. What are the important criteria for you in picking projects?
As long as it's good, as long as it tells a great story, as long as it's well done, as long as the people on it are really creative and are people I can get along with, because on these projects, you work for a long time with these people.
Can you tell us a little about your work on The Muppets' Wizard of Oz?
What I'm trying to do is get back to the roots of the Muppets and the craziness of what they were. The Muppets in general are just basically--don't take this in the wrong way--kind of losers who never could get it right. But it didn't matter because they all cared about each other, and that was at the heart of the whole thing. That's kind of changed a bit over the years. They're kind of rediscovering their identity again, and I'm hoping now that they're with Disney, that can happen. Ashanti is playing Dorothy, so there's obviously some R&B element to her songs.
Did you have a lot of fun working on it?
I had the greatest week just recently up in Vancouver. I was up there and we recorded all the vocals for all the songs. And all these puppeteers who worked with Jim Henson...I knew all about them, so when I got to meet them, it was like meeting my idols. My brother and I used to do puppet shows, we were so into the Muppets. We used to do them for hospitals and stuff, it was kind of like our little side job when we were kids. So that was an awesome week to be able to meet Dave Goelz, who was the voice of Gonzo.
Do you have any kids?
Yeah, I have two kids and one on the way.
What did they think of The Incredibles when they first saw it?
They loved it. Oh my God, it's beyond my expectations as far as how much my kids love this movie. My 6 year old son especially, he runs around the house, he wants to be Dash. And it was so great to have them there watching it.
How did you come up with the theme for Bob Parr, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible?
Well, we wanted obviously a very strong superhero feel to it, but not in a traditional superhero sense, whether it's Superman or even the dark, brooding Batman stuff. We wanted a little more swing to it. And the character of Bob changes so much throughout the film, he basically becomes a different guy by the end. So we wanted the music to do the same thing. So he has a theme that starts out really standard, but as he gets older and raises a family, we wanted to complicate that theme. It started becoming a little bit more jazzy, just to kind of represent the juggle you have in life when you have the family, and you have kids. And so we just kept making it more and more complex as the film goes on. And, of course, by the end credits, it's just crazy.
What was your approach to the process of recording the music?
Because the music had this kind of '60s feel, I was really adamant about recording nothing digitally. We did it exactly like they did in the '60s. My engineer likes to do things the way they were done. And I listen to the way he records things, and that's what I remember I was listening to growing up. The whole process has changed now with digital. And not that it's worse, it's just different. And I'm kind of a traditionalist. I just get stuck in what I'm used to. So we had the entire orchestra in the room at the same time. Of course, nowadays everything is done separately. We were just like, "Forget that, let's throw everyone in the room, let's pretend we only have three microphones, and let's get it right. Let's just do it." And the players had the greatest time doing that, because they don't do it anymore. Aside from maybe a live performance, they don't ever play like that with each other. And that's just really important for this music.
What is so important about having all the musicians together?
I think it's important if we're going for the jazz orchestral thing. The energy you want comes out of the fact that all these guys are in a room together, playing together. If you have the string section record one day, they don't know what's going on on the other side of that. They're playing counter to something that they can't hear. Whereas if you have them all together, they all get what the final thing is. And it just creates this other level of energy that you would not have gotten otherwise. Which is, I think, why a lot of film scores are kind of functional, but I don't know if you'd listen to it in your car afterwards.
What was one of your most pleasantly surreal experiences working on this project?
One of the most exciting things about working on this film was that I got to meet Steve Jobs. I met him at the wrap party just last week. And the greatest thing he said to me was, "Hey, if you ever have a problem with your computer, you call me." [laughs] How cool is that, you know?
Thanks for your time.
Nice talking to you guys.