Sony Pictures Animation’s Peter Rabbit, a brand new live-action/animation hybrid film inspired by the classic children’s books by Beatrix Potter, opens in U.S. theaters on Friday. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with the film’s composer, Dominic Lewis, ahead of the film’s opening about his process and approach to the score.
In addition to scoring Peter Rabbit, Dominic has worked on an impressive number of animated and live-action films and television shows, ranging from Duck Tales on Disney XD to The Man in High Castle for Amazon. He was nominated for an Annie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music for his work on the animated film Free Birds and has worked with such renowned composers as Jon Powell and Hans Zimmer on films like Rio, How to Train Your Dragon, Wreck-It Ralph, and Big Hero 6.
Can you talk about your process on Peter Rabbit and how you approached the score? Were you at all influenced by the Beatrix Potter books?
I started with the band basically—drums, bass, guitar, pianos, organs, that kind of thing—and then, you know, Will [Gluck, the director] really wanted it to be big and British and epic and “movie-like,” so on top of that, I slammed a big orchestra. So, it was kind of like the modern element and the traditional element being slammed together. The orchestra represented the more traditional side of Peter Rabbit, the side of it that comes from the books, and then the band incorporated the kind of fresh look on the story. So, yeah, that was the main approach, and I think what we ended up with is a really cool blend.
You’ve worked in animation quite a bit, and Peter Rabbit certainly has elements of animation in it. Do you approach composing music for animation differently than for live-action?
Peter Rabbit, as you said, is not an animated movie, but it is definitely in that genre, so while we didn’t want to ‘Mickey Mouse’ everything in a way that can happen in animated movies, we still had to hit things—there were still comedy beats to hit—slapstick moments that needed to be pointed out by the music. So, in that respect, it’s very different than a normal live-action film where you tend to use broader brush strokes and not necessarily try to hit everything, but it’s more about creating the mood and serving the story in a more general way.
For Peter Rabbit, I was definitely in “animation mode,” and by that I mean, you know, with animated films and the orchestral scores that I do, I tend to start on the piano and come up with my main theme, and if it works on the piano, then it’s going to work on an orchestra—that was the approach I took to this. I took about a week sitting at the piano every morning and really nailing and ironing out the tune before I even sat down to start arranging it for a band and orchestra.
Do you have a favorite genre to work in, and is there a genre you haven’t worked in that you’ve always wanted to?
My favorite thing is animation. I’m classically trained. The orchestra is my first love, and the reason I say animation is my favorite is because that’s really one of the only places you can be experimental with your orchestral writing. There are exceptions with live-action, but in answer to the second half of that question, I’d love to do those live-action, fantastical movies like Harry Potter or Fantastic Beasts that would allow me to flex my orchestration muscles. I love to do everything, but animation is my favorite.
Thank you so much to Dominic Lewis for taking the time to talk to us about his work on Peter Rabbit! Don’t forget to hop over to your nearest movie theater to catch the film in theaters this weekend!
Edited by: Kelly Conley