Composer Thomas Newman on Scoring Pixar’s ‘Elemental’


when the composer Thomas Newman he was making early speeches about his music Pixar‘S “Primary education,” sought a connection point between the imaginary world of the film, where the elements are characters, and the human world. “I searched for similar issues of otherness and how it could be reflected in music and how we could identify with it through our human ear,” Newman says.

The approach to breaking the score was about applying a “musical color” and relating it to universal themes. What did his ears sonically hear when he looked at the scenes and vibrant colors of “Elemental”, and did that match what his eyes saw?

With 93 credits to his name and having worked on Pixar films like “Wall-E” and “Finding Nemo,” Newman is no stranger to composing music for otherness-type characters. Peter Sohn’s story builds a city where earth, water, fire and air are characters living in their communities. But at its core, “Elemental” is a story of migration and love between two opposites.

Newman says of Ember (Leah Lewis), “Ember has a fiery temperament, so there was more courage in her voice. There was a Zizzi-style curtsy. In contrast, they sounded cooler for Wade (Mamoudou Athie), based on the water element. I used metals and vibraphone percussion.

In one scene, Wade and Ember go to the game at Cyclone Stadium to see the Windbreakers in action; Think basketball, but in the air and in huge clouds. “There are a lot of puns in the movie, and this is an example,” Newman says. Sohn suggested using “Kernkraft 400” by German techno artist Zombie Nation. Since Gale has no sign or motif, it was appropriate to use a musical sign that is a fixture at sporting events around the world.

But Newman still needed to use more music. As Windbreaks begins to lag behind his rivals, Wade begins to gather the crowd. “This is a Wade moment and that was the last thing I wrote for the movie. It was about finding the tone. Where did these colors and sounds come from, and how did they relate to each other?

Sitar, mandolins, and wind instruments fit Newman’s quest to color the score. However, the electronic woodwind can be heard throughout, accompanied by a male vocalist. “It was about taking certain sounds from the EWI and the vocals and combining them… it gave that sense of color and soul,” Newman says.

However, the most critical scene he needed to fix was the opening sequence of the movie, which saw Ember’s family arrive at the Elemental City harbor. Newman describes the scene leading up to the boat coming through the immigration process to find a home out of an ocean mist: “It’s a long montage. For the six-minute sequence, Newman says, “The question was where did this start, and how was I going to advance it?”

This was the sign he had to get right when it came to “musical colours”. “Beginnings are the most challenging because you are laying the foundations,” he says. So he found the “Beyond the Ocean” clue that opens the movie, and the “Elemental” clue that follows Ember’s transition from infancy to a young teenager meeting Wade for the first time. This is where “Elemental” draws on cultural influences from around the world, using Chinese and Indian instruments to reflect that it is a global story.

Listen to the score below.

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