We had the opportunity to chat with Dominic Lewis, the composer of Disney XD’s DuckTales. We got to learn more about his career and what it means to compose for the series and his creative vision for the show. Prior to Duck Tales, Dominic scored the film Rough Night along with seasons one and two of Amazon’s critically acclaimed series The Man in the High Castle.
Laughing Place: Can you tell us a little bit about your career getting up to your current role on DuckTales?
Dominic: I started out being a cellist like my dad. My dad was like, “There’s no money in being a cellist,” he said. “You want to get into rock music.” So I started writing songs and eventually the band stuff wasn’t big enough for me and I wanted strings and brass, and all that kind of stuff. I actually went to school with Rupert Gregson-Williams’ step-daughter. I met Rupert, and he would let me go down to his studio and hang out. That sort of ignited my love for film music, and then the goal was to kind of work for him, but he didn’t really have anything for me when I left college. I went to the Royal Academy and studied composition there. So I got myself out to LA, and Rupert put in a good word with Hans Zimmer, and I did my first movie with John Powell. How to Train Your Dragon was my first one out here in LA, and it’s kind of just got better from there, and now I’m doing my own stuff.
Laughing Place: So as a composer, how is it different from doing a live-action movie or TV series, for example, Man in the High Castle, to doing something animated like DuckTales?
Dominic: It’s a very different approach. Nowadays with live-action, the shackles have been put on the orchestra and you can’t really be as floral and as intricate with the orchestra and orchestral writing because that sort of orchestral writing has been given a bit of a stigma in the way that a lot of new filmmakers believe that it’s cheesy. Sort of reminiscent of the ’80s. So now, for live action it’s a very different process where you have to really, really think through your ideas, and you can’t rely on the traditional elements of melody and strong harmony. You have to think about kind of cool soundscapes and different ideas, and thinking outside the box to come up with stuff that’s interesting, but not going too far, in terms of like overwriting for the orchestra, whereas animation, all bets are off.
You can do whatever you want, to a certain extent, especially with DuckTales. I’m allowed to call back to that era of the ’80s, the action-adventure movies, Spielberg, Lucas, whoever it might be. But then blend that with more modern-day sounding stuff, band elements and synth and what-not. So it’s a very different approach, and I enjoy doing both. It keeps me on my toes to swap between the two.
Laughing Place: With DuckTales, you obviously had the classic ’80s series. Did that inspire your perspective on how to revise that sound for a modern-day audience?
Dominic: Knowing the show as a child definitely gave me a nice window into approaching the new version of it, but I’ve made a conscious decision not to go back and revisit the music of Ron, because we were trying to create something new and something fresh. Obviously there’s some nostalgia with it, but I didn’t want to rely on that, so I didn’t go and revisit it. We just kind of wanted it to be big and accessible for kids of today. So it was kind of like taking the version of DuckTales that I think I remember musically and of the show itself, and running with that, and not really cross-referencing too much, and just trying to come up with something that was me, and that fit Frank and Matt’s idea of the show.
Laughing Place: DuckTales balances elements of comedy, classic cartoons, as well as that action-adventure, Indiana Jones sort of Carl Barks feel. Does the show give you the avenue to have a variety of styles within sort of a 22 minute production?
Dominic: It’s all over the place. The episodes tend to have one feel to them, at least I try. The guys are moving all over the world, so one episode they’ll be in Egypt, the next they’ll be in Scrooge’s house, and then the next they’re off to Atlantis, or wherever it might be. I get to kind of create new worlds every episode, all the while kind of maintaining my characters’ arcs with their specific theme. Scrooge has a very traditional, heroic sound, and melody and harmony, but at the same time it has moments of intimate emotion. It can get maudlin and really hit those moments for the audience, so I get to go everywhere. That’s the great thing about the show, I mean there’s so many different emotions that I get to score, which is an extremely difficult difference from High Castle, which tends to be tension, and people crying, and generally it’s not very nice emotions, so it’s nice to do comedy and heartfelt stuff too.
Laughing Place: Outside of DuckTales, is there anything else for the people that love your work on that show that you’re working on, that they can look forward to hearing your music at?
Dominic: I’m coming to the end of writing the score for the new Peter Rabbit movie, which is a live-action/animation hybrid, much like Paddington. That’s kind of a nice blend of both. It’s got the feel of a live-action with little moments of animation, and heartfelt, and comedy, and tragedy, action, I get to go everywhere with that, too, and it’s been a lot of fun.
Laughing Place: I think DuckTales not only found a new audience, but the folks that grew up with it definitely appreciate it.
Dominic: It’s really nice that it’s been accepted by the diehard fans, too. I know that when Matt and Frank, when my first meeting with them, they were really worried that they were going to burn people’s memories of the show. But they’ve done such a fantastic job with it, you can’t help but love it. It takes everything that was great about the old show and expands on it. The characters have more of a story arc now, they have more depth, you know, Webby is like the real deal now. She has a full story arc. They’ve just done such a wonderful job with it, so it makes it very easy to write for it, because everything’s there for me to portray in the picture, so I feel very lucky to be a part of it.