Preparations for the London Olympics and Paralympics in 2012 continue apace. Recently, the mascots for the big events were revealed: Wenlock and Mandeville, formed – so the story goes – from two drops of steel from the last girder made for the new Olympic Stadium at Stratford. The mascots will appear in every form you can imagine, from toys to badges to web sites to cartoons, so of course they had to have their own theme music, and I recently talked to composer Thomas Hewitt Jones about the music he has written to accompany the mascots, which he did, of course, in Sibelius.
“Having commissioned an original story from Michael Morpurgo,” Thomas told me, “the London Olympics committee were looking for a distinctive, British sound, which would appeal to all ages. My brief was to create a hopeful sense of anticipation – hence my exploitation of the sharpened fourth! – and provide an emotional underscore to the 2012 Mascots’ official launch film.”
The launch film was to be animated by an overseas team based in Beijing, and the score was to be recorded in London to a tight deadline. “I chose a small orchestra with piano and celeste,” said Thomas, “and was really glad to be working on this project with my usual producer and an excellent film-making team. Despite the animation team – and sometimes the director and producer – being on the other side of the world, a commission like this is much more of a collaboration than you might expect. We spent a great deal of time working through Skype, iChat and Dropbox, with the occasional BT three-way call! Significant changes to the picture were a daily occurrence, and there was an enormous transition from the initial storyboarding, through the various editorial processes to the assembly of the final film.”
Thomas is an experienced composer for film, and offered his insight into how to ensure the iterative process still produces a musically satisfying result.
“When composing for film, you have to be adept at cutting and editing to a really intricate musical level, hitting the picture perfectly and establishing all the right emotional moods within the harmonic idiom, whilst still writing a good piece!” he said. “There are easy ways to cut and paste bars and beats vertically in sequencers, but projects such as this always demonstrate the advantages of being as musically hands on as possible, and the importance of editing both the harmony and orchestration in microscopic detail.”
Unlike some composers working in film and television, Thomas prefers to do his own orchestration. “I always orchestrate my own material on commercial music projects if time allows, so that I end up with a piece that is both harmonically and structurally integrated and can function independently. This was particularly important for the Olympics commission, where Universal, who are managing all the music for 2012, will be releasing the music track on its own.”
As with many of his projects, Thomas used Sibelius extensively for this commission. “Sibelius’s video functions came in extremely handy, and in the end, I loaded Sibelius onto a netbook, taking it around with me for the duration of the project, much to the annoyance of my friends and family!” he said.
Sibelius allows Thomas to adapt to the changing needs of the project quickly and easily. “The most complicated and detailed changes of the underscore could be fitted to the latest picture within minutes, no matter what I was doing! Whenever a text message came in saying the latest version of the film was ready, I would whip open my netbook no matter whether at home, my studio, a friend’s house, in bed, and edit the score to accommodate intricate changes to the latest version of the picture. The new version would then be sent back to Beijing within minutes for the next shift of animators working through the night. You’d be surprised how much teamwork, effort and lack of sleep goes into a three-and-a-half minute project like this; who knows how long it would have taken in the old days – but thanks to Sibelius it’s a breeze!”
You can watch the film, including Thomas’s score, at the London 2012 site.