The World’s Finest caught up with Dynamic Music Partners to discuss their work in scoring the Justice League vs. The Fatal Five animated feature. In this Q & A, Dynamic Music Partners – consisting of Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis and Kristopher Carter – touch upon their score for the aforementioned DC Universe Movie, along with other recent works, returning to the DC Animated Universe, some of their favorite works and much more. Justice League vs. The Fatal Five hits digital media on March 30, 2019 and physical media on April 16, 2019. To read more from Dynamic Music Partners, just continue reading below!
To start things off, in the off-chance there are some readers who are not familiar with Dynamic Music Partners, could you perhaps offer up a little refresh?
Michael McCuistion (MM): Sure! The three of us began our careers working with Shirley Walker on Batman: The Animated Series, and we’ve been fighting crime and injustice ever since, composing music for series such as Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League, Teen Titans, Batman: The Brave And The Bold, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Marvel’s Avengers Assemble and Young Justice, as well as long form projects such as Batman: Return Of The Caped Crusaders, Batman: The Killing Joke and Batman & Harley Quinn. We formed Dynamic Music Partners (DMP) after working separately but side-by-side for 10 years; we decided that since we were already working together it was better for us to present ourselves as a team in the world of animation.”
Lolita Ritmanis (LR): These past few years have been quite an adventure for us! Ebb and flow…that is our business, and 2018 was really busy. We just wrapped 127 episodes of Marvels: Avengers Assemble, a great series executive produced by Eric Radomski. The latest incarnation of that series was called Marvel’s Avengers: Black Panther’s Quest, where we had an opportunity to work with producer Jeff Allen. Also on the Marvel side, we are the composers for Marvel Rising, a property geared for the amplification and elevation of kick-ass women superheroes. With that project we score anything from shorts, to long form. We are in the midst of that project now, working closely with director Alfred Gimeno.
We just wrapped season three of Young Justice for Warner Brothers, working closely with producers Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman. And, as this article is about Justice League vs. The Fatal Five, I will mention the coolness factor we felt returning to Justice League. We are working with Bruce on something else, but I cannot say what that is.
And now Justice League vs. The Fatal Five! Can we expect some familiar themes in JLVF5?
Kristopher Carter (KC): Most definitely! Our scores to Justice League were filled with leitmotifs (musical signatures for the characters) and it was a real joy to revisit some of our favorites!
How was it to revisit Justice League and the DCAU continuity? Were there chances to not only revisit previous themes but do something a little different?
LR: Without giving anything away, I will say that fans of both Justice League and Justice League Unlimited will not be disappointed. That being said, this is a new story, and with that terrific opportunities to create new themes, new textures, a bringing together traditional with contemporary sounds. The story is epic in scope, which made our decision to hire 12 French horn players and electric guitar virtuoso Greg Herzenach extremely satisfying. We recorded at The Bridge Recording. Our orchestrator Larry Rench was on board, as were recording engineers Bobby Fernandez and Mark Mattson, horns contracted by Gina Zimmitti and Whitney Martin.The sound of 12 horns is magnificent. When we told Bruce Timm that we were planning on hiring 12 horns, he was a bit confused by that, asking – why not throw some trumpets in there, or trombones? Why 12 horns? It was our decision to go for that epic wall of sound. Horns are so versatile. After Bruce heard the final mixes, that our engineers Mark Mattson and Mako Sujishi completed, he was very complimentary of the score and the sound of the score. He sent us the nicest email – one that we all will cherish.
When crafting a character theme, what do you take into consideration? Character traits, status, etc.? What separates the themes of one established hero – like Batman – to a new one, like Jessica Cruz or Starboy?
KC: Creating a character theme is such a fun challenge for a composer! It’s like a puzzle: how do you create a phrase of music (or “motif”) that unlocks what the character is about? Some ways are very apparent to the listener, for instance, Shirley Walker’s Superman: The Animated Series theme is a repeated group of 3 notes… you can even sing “Su-per-man, Su-per-man!”. Other musical links are much more subtle. Michael’s theme for Jessica Cruz in Justice League vs. The Fatal Five has a series of notes that move in opposite directions to the accompaniment (sometimes upwards, sometimes downwards), which captures an intense inner struggle that her character faces over the arc of the story. It’s a wonderfully-constructed theme, just as a piece of music, but when you know how it relates to her character it has a much deeper meaning. I don’t personally think that we treat the themes for the new characters any differently than the more established ones, although I know for the viewers it will be a new experience to get them plugged into their ears alongside the familiar character themes they’ve heard before.
Like with Justice League vs The Fatal Five, you also returned to Young Justice after a considerable gap. Can you tell us about jumping back onto that show, especially considering your work on that series is considerably different than other programs you’ve worked on? Is it tricky to get back into the groove?
LR: What an amazing call that was: asking if we are available for another season of Young Justice, after having wrapped season two of Young Justice five years ago! We had kept in touch with Greg Weisman during that time, scoring his audiobook Rain of the Ghosts. We also had an opportunity to work with Brandon on a Scooby-Doo DTV title, so we did see the producers from time to time. The fans of Young Justice never gave up! Getting back in the groove on Young Justice was not really tricky, it was actually quite wonderful to be able to return to that musical universe! Sure, we all have greatly increased our arsenal of cool sounds in our palate, but what sets Young Justice apart in such a unique way is not so much about one sound or another, but the level of engagement between producers and composers. The story nuances, the twists and turns, discussions over the point of view for any particular moment in an episode, all of it is really deep. If you were to be a fly on the wall at our music spotting and preview sessions, you would feel as though we are discussing an epic feature film, not a 22-26 minute animation show. We all deeply care about making every episode a little gem.
Can you break down your scoring process for a DC Universe Movie title? How early in the film’s production do you start your work and how closely is your work tied into the work of the storyboard artists, animators, writers, etc.?
MM: Generally speaking we’re brought in to the production at the very end of the post production process, right before the project is finished. We may have a rough cut of the picture to view ahead of our first meeting, and sometimes we even get the script to read. But the editing of the picture has such an important effect on the music that if we can begin our process after the editing of the picture has been locked (meaning no more timing changes to any of the scenes) it greatly helps to inform our creative choices. That’s usually possible on a DC movie, which is really terrific. Our composing process is definitely influenced by anything visual, including the artwork, backgrounds, animators – everyone working on the visuals, and also the actors who give life to the story and characters. We only have what we see and what we hear to work with when we’re writing music (there are no sound effects or any other sounds other than the actors’ performances), so those elements are amplified in our process and even the smallest nuance can make a big difference in the decisions we make as composers.”
Again, it’s been awhile since your last DC Universe movie and DC animated series. Have things changed in the industry since then? Any new technology or software that you were able to experiment with? Basically, any new gadgets in your utility belts?
KC: Absolutely, the industry is constantly evolving, although often not in ways that are apparent outside Hollywood. The biggest changes are the ways that projects are released, especially in the huge shift towards streaming and away from traditional TV broadcast and home video sales. In our studios, computers are getting faster and more capable, and the technology to reproduce an orchestra using samples is getting more convincing and expressive (although there is still no exact substitute for an actual musician, breathing life into a musical performance—and I hope that will never change!).
LR: There is always new technology available. We all make sure that we have the same sounds if anything specific is needed for a particular character, etc. The industry is changing at the speed of light. The biggest unknown is the ever changing landscape of new media, streaming services, etc.
MM: It’s been a little over a year since Batman & Harley Quinn, right? And we’ve been working solidly this past year on Young Justice (talk about scoring gadgets – that show is full of them!). But it’s definitely been awhile since Justice League and I can tell you it has been very gratifying to be able to use today’s technology to bring life to these characters and their stories through music. When we originally scored Justice League the idea of a show being scored in an orchestral style with only synthesizers and samplers was very daunting – it required a lot of gear and a huge investment of time and effort to get it to sound like anything musical or emotional. Nowadays, with 15 years of evolved technology behind us, it’s wonderful to be able to invest in live musicians (there’s no replacement for them!) and also create with the speed of current computer technology which definitely leaves more time for writing compelling music!”
And now, some recommendations. Are there any Justice League and Justice League Unlimited scores you’d list as your favorites? Any you’d like to point readers to as some of your top work? And, on that note, any cues, themes or tracks from Justice League vs The Fatal Five that stand our to you? Something for viewers to keep their ears open for when the movie hits?
LR: I cannot comment about specific cues on Justice League vs. The Fatal Five, but please let’s talk in the future about this! For me on Justice League – of course the main title, and being nominated for a Primetime Emmy award for the theme was thrilling. On a musical side – “Starcrossed” is probably my favorite. I do invite our fans to check out the four-disc CD set of Justice League released by La-La-Land Records.
MM: One of my favorite Justice League scores has to be “The Enemy Below.” Aquaman’s story really inspired me and I felt I was able to communicate some tangible emotion with that score. Another would be “Shadow Of The Hawk.” I was able to establish some character themes in that episode that were brought forward in the series—a favorite thing for me to do. As to Justice League vs. The Fatal Five, by all means listen for the epic live horns! We had 12 french horns playing for much of the score and the sound was amazing to behold.
KC: Some of my favorite Justice League episode scores were the ones to “Hereafter” and “Maid of Honor.” I was very moved by the outpouring of emotion on-screen during Superman’s funeral, and was so inspired to accompany him in the second part as a kind of post-apocalyptic Conan! “Maid of Honor” was a fun arc to feature the character motif I composed for Diana, exploring the feelings of her as both the warrior as well as the princess, and a fun homage to John Barry with the portion of the adventure in space.
A quick follow-up, any word on more of your work being released through La-La Land Records. Perhaps a soundtrack release for Justice League vs The Fatal Five? Pardon the pun, but there are scores of fans waiting to hear about the next DCAU soundtrack release!
KC: La-La-Land Records is amazing! I can’t say enough good things about those guys—they are passionate about movies, superheroes, sci-fi and soundtracks and it shows in the care with which they assemble their collections. That being said, there aren’t any immediate releases we can talk about, but stay tuned because they are (in Roz-from-Monsters Inc. voice) “working. Always working. Always.”
Any final thoughts on Justice League vs The Fatal Five for fans out there waiting to check it out? A tease of two perhaps on what we can expect?
MM: Without being able to be too specific, I’d say you can expect to see some awesome teamwork from the Justice League characters we all know and love.
For fun, can you tell me one misconception that people generally have about composing for film and television? (and can you, for lack of better term, correct us?)
MM: We’re often asked if scoring for animation is any different than scoring for live-action, and in fact it is. Animation is generally much more compressed in the way stories and scenes are presented, leaving less time for music to unfold. So it does require a different skill set to be able to shift the music’s feel and tone quickly, hopefully effortlessly, when there is so much less time given to a scene.
LR: I think people are most surprised to learn that we score each and every episode. We compose specific music cues for each and every scene. Sure, we reuse thematic material (as we should,) but we do not just plug in existing music and hope for the best.
KC: I often hear that people assume that our work is “cartoon music,” as though it’s different in some way from music for live action. I suppose this might be true on a show like Wacky Races, where we are consciously modeling our music in the classic WB “Bugs Bunny” style pioneered by Carl Stalling, but when we write for Justice League, our music is exactly the same kind of music we would write for a live action movie: our score is supporting the storytelling—we’re communicating the emotion seen onscreen or felt by the characters and really we don’t do anything different for a drawn character than we would for a living/breathing one!
Lastly, can you let us know where we’d be able to catch more Dynamic Music Partners work in the future? Concerts, shows, movies – what’s coming down the pipeline?
LR: Michael and Kristopher will be at WonderCon – please reach out and say hi to them. I meanwhile will be in Latvia, where I will be spotting a feature film I am scoring. More about that in the future. Our music – fully orchestrated is available for rental through Lucks music (through Warner Bros.) We are hearing more and more about various college and high school orchestras performing our music from everything from Batman Beyond to Justice League, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman, Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero, and more. I will be at Soundtrack Cologne in August, and would love to meet any of our European fans.
MM: We have some awesome projects coming up with both DC and Marvel – be sure to stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter feeds for announcements about them!
KC: In addition to Wondercon, this year I’m planning to be at CONvergence in Minneapolis, and hopefully will announce some other convention visits in the near future. In addition to my composing, I have a new EDM project called “The Kr Protocol.” I released my first EP last summer and am having a lot of fun bringing the epic energy from our superhero scores onto the dance floor!
Are there any other upcoming events you’d like fans to keep an ear out for?
LR: If you are in the NYC area on September 20, 2019, I will have 2 new compositions performed at Lincoln Center as part of an epic music concert called Women Warriors: Voices of Change.
MM: Be sure to check out my soundtrack to the Griffith Observatory planetarium production “Time’s Up!” which is available on LaLa Land Records – a wonderful multimedia production and a terrific collaboration with curator Dr. Laura Danly whose vision for the show was so inspiring!
KC: Later this year I’ll be releasing more music as The Kr Protocol. You can keep up with releases on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube by searching TheKrProtocol or listen on iTunes or Spotify!
The World’s Finest would like to thank the Dynamic Music Partners for taking the time to participate in this Q & A!
Interview conducted by James Harvey.
Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League/Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans, Batman: The Brave And The Bold, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Young Justice, Batman: Return Of The Caped Crusaders, Batman vs. Two-Face, Batman: The Killing Joke and Batman & Harley Quinn