Composer Joe Trapanese Talks Scoring TRON: UPRISING and Building on His Work With Daft Punk in TRON: LEGACY

     May 30, 2012

tron uprising joe trapanese

The animated series TRON: Uprising, premiering on Disney XD on June 7th, takes place after the 1982 feature film and before the events in TRON: Legacy. Produced in CG animation with a 2D aesthetic, the series follows the heroic journey of a new character named Beck (voiced by Elijah Wood), a young program who becomes the unlikely leader of a revolution inside the computer world of The Grid.  You can watch the first episode here.

At a press day for the show, music composer Joe Trapanese, who collaborated with Daft Punk on the critically acclaimed soundtrack for TRON: Legacy, talked about connecting the films with the world of the animated series, how scoring has evolved over the years, what his composing process is like, how he likes to have themes for the characters, whether or not he wants to know where the story is going, working with the director, and what type of artists he’d like to collaborate with next. Check out what he had to say after the jump.

Question: Do approach this as entirely separate from the films, or do you want to connect everything, musically?

Joe Trapanese tron uprisingJOE TRAPANESE: It’s a little bit of both. Both the original TRON and the sequel to it are so special and so unique and cool, on their own. Coming into TRON: Uprising, we’re very close to the sequel, and I was very fortunate to work on the sequel with Daft Punk. Right off the bat, there was the idea of, “Let’s take some elements from that score and transition them into the show, but find a way to do that in a unique way that’s new to the show.” So, we have new themes and we’ve added new instruments, like electric guitar, and some of the synth layers and some of the sounds that you’ll hear, percussion wise, are very familiar and are from the newest film.

What was it like to work with Daft Punk?

TRAPANESE: They’re consummate artists, they’re brilliant musicians, and they’re dedicated to their craft. A lot of time on TRON: Legacy was spent locked away in a studio with them, experimenting and finding out new ways to put together classic elements of film scoring that would work for the film. They’re really dedicated, and that’s inspiring to someone like me, who’s younger and still at the beginning of their work. It’s inspiring to work with people who are that dedicated.

Did you get your own helmet, when you finished working with them?

TRAPANESE: No. Believe me, I tried.

As a composer, how do you think scoring has evolved?

TRAPANESE: Well, I feel so lucky to be at a point where I can sit in front of a computer and really get close to the sound that I have in my head, musically speaking. For me, I try not to make any boundaries. I try to let all art influence me. If someone pulls out a new synthesizer and says, “Oh, this is going to be the best thing ever,” and it does nothing for me and conveys no emotion, then it’s really not useful. I’m interested in finding sounds and ideas that help bring the audience into the world that we’re all trying to create. Sometimes that’s with synthesizers, and sometimes that’s with French horns. I love using all of them, depending on the scenario.

tron uprising posterIs this a mixture of synthesizer and orchestra?

TRAPANESE: Yeah. That combination goes back and forth. It’s like being a chef. Some dishes are going to be a little salty. Some dishes are going to be centered around fish. With music, some cues are going to be more orchestral than others and some cues are going to be more electronic. The precise combination of the two layers will really determine the kind of flavor and tone it has. What I love about film scoring is that all the answers are in the story. You just need to get in tune with the story and realize it musically.

What is your composing process like? Do you watch the project and hear sounds in your head, or do you experiment with a lot of stuff?

TRAPANESE: It’s a little bit of both. I was lucky, on the show, that we started even before the film came out. We had a good year and a half or so, of just coming up with sonic ideas and textures and themes, so that, by the time I got to sit down with an episode, a lot of the groundwork was already done. That being said, I’ll generally watch the episode once or twice, just listening to the voices to figure out what they’re trying to convey, as well as the temporary sound effects. I also meet with Charlie, who is the creative executive and director of this show, to determine what exactly he’s trying to convey to the audience.

Once I sit down with it, because we have such limited time on each episode and I’m writing the music in four or five days, or even less, I’ll try to break things down. I’ll start sketching at a piano to get some ideas down, and then I’ll start bringing in the orchestra. I might also spend a day just working with synthesizers and finding cool and unique and interesting sounds that I can record into the computer, and those become additional layers.

That’s what I love about film scoring. Every situation is new. Every show is a new adventure. We’ll bring in some new musical elements, and it’s exciting for me to use those elements in the TRON world and figure out how to adapt them and mix them in, in a way that still feels very much a part of the TRON history, but it’s a brand new musical element.

tron uprising imageDo you like to have themes for the characters?

TRAPANESE: Yeah, I’m old-fashioned, in that way. But, a lot of modern film scoring is about a lack of themes, so I try to find ways of using music that doesn’t necessarily have thematic material in it to make the points when there is thematic material even stronger. It’s cool to be able to combine old and new.

Is it important for you to know where the story is going?

TRAPANESE: It’s a real battle with yourself. The composer for Lost wouldn’t watch a whole episode at once. He would score the episode, as he watched it. He would only watch what he was working on, so that he could react to it like an audience member. So, there are times that I’ve seen a little bit more than I’ve wanted to, and I have to put myself back in the audience’s shoes and figure out what they would know and not know. But, there are also times when I do know what’s coming up and I maybe need to hint at it, though not in a big way. It’s a little bit of both. It’s an interesting tightrope to walk.

Do you like to give input to the director, as far as where to put music?

tron-uprising imageTRAPANESE: It’s a little bit of both. I try to talk as little as possible, unless I see something that I might disagree with. But, a lot of the time, it’s about me listening to the director. For me, when I watch something without music, I’m instantly thinking, “Okay, what am I going to do here? How am I going to convey this?” I take notes and really think about that. At the same time, in those meeting, I listen to the director tell me about how he feels about the emotion he captured on screen, and asks about what kind of emotional elements I want to add. A lot of it is about communicating both ways, but a little bit less so from me. If we disagree, I’ll chime in and explain why I think one way might be better, and we’ll come to a conclusion. It’s a cool and interesting business.

After doing such cool collaborations with Draft Punk for TRON: Legacy and Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park for The Raid: Redemption, is there a dream collaboration you’d still love to do?

TRAPANESE: I have some artists I can name, but I love artists making cool music, regardless of the style. I might say, “I would love to work with Kanye [West],” but Kanye is just another artist making great, bold, interesting music. There are a lot of them. So, if a country artist making really cool music came along and asked me to work with them, I just might say yes, even though I’m not super-knowledgeable about country, like I am about hip-hop. I might do that because the idea is so interesting. When a musician is conveying that fresh feeling, that’s what appeals to me, even more so than the style.

TRON: Uprising will air on Thursdays on Disney XD, starting on June 7th.

For more on TRON: Uprising, here’s our interviews with Elijah Wood, Mandy Moore, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Bruce Boxleitner and Paul Reubens.