Having just completed work on Disney’s ‘African Cats Adventure’, three 50 minute films produced from the hundreds of hours of incredible footage filmed to create the 2011 Disney feature film ‘African Cats’ directed by Alistair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, I surfaced from the studio with a real sense of job satisfaction.
I was approached in September last year by Keith Scholey and series producer Hilary Jeffkins and asked if I could write for the series. After the initial viewings it was clear that there needed to be more music than would be usual for a natural history documentary series. The main reason for this was the dramatic content and story lines which called for a high amount of narrative music. Where a one hour BBC natural history documentary may have typically twenty five minutes of music these three films would average forty minutes.
So working within a reasonably modest budget I wanted to produce a score which where possible would be written for live orchestra and soloists, and also with a little vocal ingredient. I made a pact with myself years ago to use live musicians at any opportunity even if I earned less on the production, it being generally accepted that the lasting results of live music in nearly all film scores aesthetically outweigh those of an electronically produced soundtrack by some distance.
I discussed the style of music I’d be producing with orchestrator Will Goodchild and we decided on a suitable size of string arrangement. There wasn’t a lot of time to play with in the production schedule so the studio options were limited. With the considerations being studio size and availability my best option turned out to be Real World Studios near Bath. This had the added bonus of being relatively local to my Bristol studio so avoiding the run up to London.
Will Goodchild had been the first to recommend this studio having worked there in recent weeks with Bristol composer and Massive Attack producer Neil Davidge for a similar string ensemble session. My friend and ex sound dubbing colleague Andrew Wilson had also recommended the studios as he is now based there in the film dubbing suite Red Six. I had of course heard of the studio complex since its inception in the mid 80’s, and the idea of my being there in a professional capacity one day always really appealed to me.
The sessions (two very long days – though the second was frustratingly postponed due to Bristol’s sudden heavy fall of snow which totally hampered most of the musicians) went exceptionally well and not only were the Bristol Ensemble (conducted by Will Goodchild) on fire but the studio was a real joy to work in. This was mainly due to the fact the the Big Room at RW must be one of the finest and most well appointed control rooms in the country. Both sessions were engineered by Patrick Phillips, assisted by Jose Tomaz Gomes and Oli Jacobs, all who made me feel exceptionally welcome. They don’t have many film related sessions as they mainly cater for bands and vocal artists, so that added an extra element for them too, and film sync was no problem for them.
Both days went really smoothly and were very successful in that we got great performances from the ensemble in the Wood Room, with its renowned acoustics, the Big (control) Room was luxuriously expansive to both listen and mix in, and the engineers were a real delight to work with and operationally very fast, and not forgetting the on-site French chef Jerome who provided first class cuisine day and night in the dining room. The relaxing rural setting of the studios, the Big Room built out over a lake with swans and diving kingfishers almost laid on like a special effect, all added to what actually felt more like a holiday retreat.
Additionally for the score I added the musical talents of the amazing Abbie Lathe (voice), Roger Armstrong (flute), and Dirk Campbell (duduk), all who provided me with outstanding performances, recorded either in my own studio or theirs and the recordings winged electronically to me.
Once all recordings were complete it was back to my studio in Bristol and to the job of mixing everything down to 5.1 surround stems – mostly split into one tuned instrumental stem and one percussion stem, for mixing flexibility during the sound dub for Andrew Wilson who this time was mixing at my old studio location of Films At 59. Due to the lengthy writing and recording process I didn’t want to rush the 5.1 mixes as I’d been looking forward to that bit. However it did take longer than expected and although I enjoyed it I worked until almost literally the last hour before the last final sound mix preparing everything.
Happily for me the end results were extremely well received by Keith, Hilary, and the production team and although there was a large music content I was relieved to know that Kate Hopkins’ (Wounded Buffalo) as always immaculately crafted fx tracks didn’t suffer under the weight of music, largely due to Andrew’s artistry with the faders.
So I really enjoyed working on this project in the writing, the live recordings, in fact the whole music production process, maybe with the exception of the stupidly long hours in the final weeks.
Disney’s ‘African Cats Adventure’. Transmission 2013 (TBC)