dominic lewis-duck tales-composer

The soundscapes behind Duck Tales, The Man In The High Castle and the upcoming Peter Rabbit film all come from the mind of Dominic Lewis. The 33-year-old composer is compiling an impressive list of credits. Lewis’ is a life steeped in music, and it shows in his body of work. The father of soon-to-be two sat down with Monkeys Fighting Robots via the phone to talk about his career, music and more.

Lewis’ music career got off to a very early start “I was in choirs from a very early age. As soon as I got into structured school, I was slammed in a choir pretty early.”

“And then, I think I was 11, just a teenager and the goal
was to be in bands and become a big rock star. ”
– Dominic Lewis

Getting started that early meant that Lewis discovered music primarily through one source — his parents. “At first I wanted to be a cellist like my dad. Follow in dad’s footsteps.”

But as all good pre-teens will find, the influence from the outside world will alter perspectives “And then, I think I was 11, just a teenager and the goal was to be in bands and become a big rockstar. As we all do.” During these years, Lewis spent time “… writing songs then creating string arrangement for songs.” But it wasn’t enough. “I wanted to explore more instruments.”

Things changed in the mid-teen years when “My dad had started doing film sessions … I took notes on it when I was around 14, 15. And from then …” Lewis pauses for a moment to snap his fingers as if to say something just clicked, “… I really, really wanted to get involved in film music.

“My sister, she’s five years older than me, and so she was introducing me to all of her favorite bands.”

Dad isn’t the only musician parent. Lewis’ mom is a singer, and the music-rich environment naturally shaped his sonic repertoire. “Having two classical music parents, we had a lot of classical music in the house. So I was listening to Oprah and quartet music as a very young child.”

With so much rich music to draw on, who influenced Lewis most? “We listened to all the classical music from A to Zed really. My favorites being Revel, Strauss, Beethoven. So I had a healthy diet of that.”

Beyond mom and dad, Lewis has a sister who he credits with another important aspect of his musical understanding. “My sister, she’s five years older than me, and so she was introducing me to all of her favorite bands. So I went through a brit-pop phase where I loved Blur, Oasis, and Prodigy. We used to listen to everything. The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Dire Straits and Eric Clapton.”

“I’ve been really lucky. I’ve had a very broad diet of
music from a really early age.”

Lewis was faced with a tough next question. If you had become a famous rock band, what band would you want it to be? “If I had to be a band … “ dramatic pause “… I idolized The Beatles. I wanted to be Paul McCartney. I wanted that trajectory for me.” And, of course, we mused about how easy that is. Lewis added Beach Boy Brian Wilson to his list of influences. “The man is a genius” And as any good Gen-Xer will tell you “Nirvana was massive. A huge influence.”

Outside of the pop music world, a lot of films throughout the years also resonated, particularly the works of composers such as “Max Steiner, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, and of course John Williams.”

Reflecting on his musical tastes and mental audio library “I’ve been really lucky. I’ve had a very broad diet of music from a really early age. I think it’s really helped in this job because you have to really be able to do everything.”

“I just shoved it all into my computer and
started messing around with it.”

And what exactly is everything? Take a look at Lewis’ 2017 work alone: Fist Fight, Rough Night, and the spectacular Duck Tales reboot. Three distinct works. And if you go just one more year back, Lewis worked on season two of alternate reality science fiction series Man In The High Castle. And 2018 kicks off with Lewis’ score for the half live-action, half animated Peter Rabbit movie featuring Daisy Ridley, Domhnall Gleeson, and James Corden among many other stars.

What’s the process like to go from one project to the next often radically different project? “The process is very different. For a project like Spooks [2015 British spy film], I took all the kind of spy and technology noises I could find like the starting up [sound] of an infrared to a typewriter to Morse codes. I just shoved it all into my computer and started messing around with it.”

The result of that was only the beginning. “From there, I got some cool atmospheres and cool noises. But I wasn’t getting any thematic material from it.”

Lewis continued to play with the concepts and add layers “So, I picked up the cello and just started mucking around with that. Trying to make it sound weird and not like a cello. Then I got this eerie, kind of pretty piano. Started mucking around with it, with reverb and different EQs, trying to make it sound different with delays and stuff.”

Soon after Spooks, Dominic scored Money Monster for Jodie Foster and said “So, similar to Money Monster, that’s my process for those gritty, thriller movies that don’t necessarily want a generic or typical Hollywood sound. So I try to think outside the box for that.”

“A lot of it is digital.”

In 2015, Lewis began scoring The Man In the High Castle with an entirely different vibe from his previous work. So, the process adapted “For High Castle, I started with orchestral instruments, the cello, piano, clarinet, horn and sort of treated them quite traditionally. And then from that point made them sound weird with sound design elements by taking organic materials like chimes or marimbas or vibraphones or anything like that. Stretching them and manipulating them in different ways to kind of create that eerie atmosphere.”

Generally, composers love to work with live instruments. But our modern world is less inclined to that. “A lot of it is digital. I play the cello on all the High Castle stuff, and I played it on Spooks as well. Whenever I can get the cello out it really helps to heighten the sound. A lot of times there’s no budget to use orchestras. But I’ll bring in a violinist or flutist just to make it come to life. There’s never anything like the real thing.”

“Cinematographers who know what they are doing and
using this amazing planet we have as one big set.”

Artists have superpowers. And for a composer, it’s an uncanny ear that can spot live versus digital instruments. “I’m normally on the money, but there are guys out there that really know how to manipulate samples.” It’s a part of the biz as Lewis continues “I do it myself. I hope that my stuff is not completely obvious as to what’s real and what isn’t.” Lewis laughs, “I’ve been called out a couple of times, but mostly I’m pretty good.” But the endgame for Lewis is always clear “The goal is to replace everything with real people because there’s nothing like it.”

The abundance of digital sound coincides with the abundance of CG in many major movies today. “With a lot of movies now you can tell what’s not real and what is. When you get those movies like The Revenant that are actually real; it makes such a difference. Cinematographers who know what they are doing and using this amazing planet we have as one big set. The people who do that, it truly makes a difference. The [Christopher] Nolans of this world.”

“I feel like John Williams is an obvious choice.”

Bringing up Nolan brings us to Hans Zimmer. Lewis spent time at Zimmer’s Remote Control. “Hans is a genius. Hans is one of those guys who is continually changing the game. Thinking outside the box. He’s one of those guys who’ll never just do the first thing he thinks of. And if he does, he’ll go through one million other ideas before he realizes that the first thing he did was the best thing. He’s something else. You have to be in the room to truly realize what a genius he is.”

I challenged Lewis to pick a modern-day score that he admires. One caveat, he could not pick anything by Hans Zimmer. “I feel like John Williams is an obvious choice.” Lewis thinks then asks “What’s my timeframe?” The new rule: anything from the last 20 years. Lewis answers quickly with “The Prisoner of Azkaban.” If you don’t know, that stellar soundtrack is the work of John Williams.

“The thing about movies is that you get to go through a lot
of ideas and figure out what’s good and what’s bad.”

We didn’t exclude Williams from the choices. But Lewis also mentions “You know what I thought was absolutely amazing? And, I am biased, because he’s a very close friend of mine. But Matt Margeson’s score for Eddie the Eagle. I thought it was utterly brilliant.”

Lewis has worked on both television and film. So, what’s the difference? “As TV shows go, I have a lot of time considering [other weekly shows]. I have two weeks [between episodes]. Whereas Peter Rabbit, I spent six months doing it. Timeframes are a big difference. And there are pros and cons for both. The thing about movies is that you get to go through a lot of ideas and figure out what’s good and what’s bad. Come back to things and reevaluate.

“Where on TV, I’m happy with it, but its go-go-go.”

But things are much different for television, “With TV you don’t have that luxury. You just kind of have to go with your heart and in your head just be like ‘I gotta go’ there’s no time for second-guessing. It’s a very different process.

And which does Dominic prefer, TV or film, if any? “If I’m being honest I prefer the movie process because I like to iron out things and really get something I’m happy with. Where on TV, I’m happy with it, but its go-go-go. So you sometimes come back to it and say ‘hey that works’ or ‘I could’ve done that better, but it works.’”

Temp and reference tracks are a part of the filmmaking process today. Like other composers, Lewis thinks “When a temp track is too good, it’s a problem. Sometimes you get a temp track that is terrible, and it’s easy to beat.”

“It’s been pretty awesome to be able to throw
a full orchestra at 2D animation.”

What’s in store for the future from Dominic? “I’m doing my TV shows now. I’m in High Castle season three and carrying on with Duck Tales.”

And that’s where we end, with a talk about the beloved cartoon brought back to life in 2017. Full disclosure, I LOVE Duck Tales and even created a crappy role-playing game based on it. Lewis grew up with the 80s/90s cartoon as well, so what was it like to work on the new version? “It was very exciting. But obviously, when you have you such a strong musical idea, it was just like ‘do I want to do this?’”

One of the best parts about working on the new Duck Tales “It’s been pretty awesome to be able to throw a full orchestra at 2D animation.”

The fear of fan-boy rage loomed, but Dominic ends by saying “It’s been pretty awesome, everyone’s kind of accepted it. It’s a great reboot.”

Thanks to Dominic Lewis for taking time away from animated
duck adventures and alternate reality dystopias for this interview.

Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.

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