Composing for flamingos: Duo pens score for nature special

NEW YORK (AP) — The man who composed the music to “The Lion King” is just as comfortable with real lions, too.

Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer scores such stunning nature sequences as goofy flamingos on parade and lions hunting in the Namib desert for “Planet Earth: A Celebration.” The animals are acting on instinct and so is Zimmer, in a way.

“I look at a moving image and I hear something in my head,” he says. “And it’s not necessarily right, but I do hear music. That is how I’m built.”

The one-hour special pulls together sequences from “Planet Earth II” and “Blue Planet II” with a new narration from Sir David Attenborough and a reworked score by Zimmer and Jacob Shea.

The composers say they enjoy writing music for nature documentaries because the sequences have never been seen before and have no associated baggage.

“When you start watching the footage, you are seeing something that you didn’t realize existed or was possible,” Shea says. “It’s all about getting caught up in the romance of what you’re able to witness.”

The TV special highlights various animals, from bottlenose dolphins surfing for joy to an octopus outwitting a pyjama shark and baby iguanas scampering past snakes in sequences more thrilling than any Hollywood action movie.

“You go from something which is hilarious to great tragedy constantly. The extremes in the material are so vast,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer and Shea have tremendous respect for the camera crew members who risk their lives in dangerous environments to film the animal sequences.

“We’re the guys sitting in a studio and the most dangerous thing that ever happens to us is that the deadline is just around the corner,” Zimmer jokes.

The composers created new music and rearranged their scores for the TV special. They recorded with the BBC Concert Orchestra in London and were accompanied by rapper Dave, who performed on the grand piano. Revisiting their music gave them a chance to rework familiar sounds.

“It’s nice to visit with old friends, even though sometimes they can be a bit contrarian and sometimes they can be a little bit boring,” says Zimmer. “But most of the time, you get to look at them from a new perspective.”

Zimmer is perhaps the best known contemporary film score composer, with credits including the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, “Interstellar,” “Gladiator,” “Inception,” “Dunkirk” and “The Dark Knight” trilogy, among others. He scored “The Lion King” in 1994 and returned to Pride Rock last year for the photo-realistic remake.

Shea was the music programmer for “Public Enemies,” arranger for “Madagascar 2” and “Despicable Me,” and composer of additional music for “Lone Survivor,” “Transformers: The Dark of the Moon” and “Battleship.”

Both composers say they start by watching the animal sequences and try to translate that into notes. If it’s life and death at stake, the score is more ominous. Funner sequences get a lighter treatment.

“One of the problems I think both Jacob and I have is that the images are so stunning and so amazing that they’re basically challenging us each time,” Zimmer says.

“It seems to come with a little note — that it doesn’t actually come with — which basically reads: ‘Yeah. Look at this. What are you going to do now?’”

Different animals pose different challenges. Shea says it’s harder to understand some aquatic creatures because their facial expressions are so foreign. Zimmer is partial to birds and sea creatures.

“There’s something magical about the water. The movement is different. The rhythms are different,” he says. “I find air and sea totally inspiring. And land is a little harder.”

Both men are enchanted by the natural world — Arctic orcas feasting on herring, a snow leopard love triangle in the Himalayas or kelp forests in South Africa.

“We seem to know more about space and space travel and all that kind of stuff than we know about what’s happening in the little pond behind your house,” Zimmer says.

“I’m interested in the mysteries that are right in front of our eyes.”

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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