Born in Stuttgart, Germany, Frederik Wiedmann came to Los Angeles in 2004 to become a film composer. Wiedmann was twice nominated for the Annie Award for his musical work on Green Lantern the Animated Series. He has also worked on the Beware the Batman TV Series as well as DC Animated movies Son of Batman, Batman vs. Robin, Batman: Bad Blood, Justice League vs. Teen Titans, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, and Justice League: Gods and Monsters.
Following Wiedmann’s win of the Daytime Emmy in the category of Outstanding Original Song for All Hail King Julien’s “True Bromance”, he discussed his musical career in the world of animation with Toonzone News.
TOONZONE NEWS: You have a background in composing for live action. Was moving from that to animation tricky?
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: No, not really, because, so far at least, most of the people who hire me in the animation world tell me to keep it at a feature film theatrical level. I don’t think I’ve ever had the note to make it cartoony or make it Mickey Mousey or anything like that, probably because of the shows I’m working on. If I was working on Mickey Mouse, it would probably be a different story. Or DuckTales or something like that. The stuff that I do, I’m pretty much always told to keep it cinematic, keep it big, keep it like a movie. Crossing over from what I’ve done into that wasn’t difficult because it was like second nature to just apply that to animation. Things move a lot faster. In live action, you get a good 30 seconds of a close-up of a face to do something musically. For example, if there’s an intricate moment happening in the person’s mind. In animation, they cut away quickly from things like that. So you have to move a bit at a brisk pace through all the emotions you’re trying to accomplish, but in general, I would say it’s a very easy adaptation coming from live action to animation.
TZN: I love the DC movies and you’ve worked on several. How do you prepare for them?
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: For the DC movies, I try to read the source material whenever it’s made available to me. I always request that and mostly they send me a PDF of the comic that it’s based on. That’s always a good first step because you get a vibe of what the comic was. I’m getting into the world from an original perspective and I can feel the environment that the writer, the illustrator, were trying to accomplish. So by doing that, I’m completely detaching myself from the movie but diving into the raw form of the story, and it helps my brain to start a process. Things start to happen as I’m reading it, and I’m hearing colors and hearing how dark it’s going to be overall. Things that are starting to pop off the page as I’m reading it. I take notes as I’m reading it. Later on when I actually see the footage, I can see how I can apply that to the actual movie, and mostly it works out pretty well. There hasn’t been a time where I would deviate it completely from what I initially felt for the comic into the movie, so it’s nice to see that they do a great job adapting it. It never feels very detached. Bruce Timm’s Gods and Monsters was a bit of a different story because that one had such different renditions of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman that it needed a fresh approach. That one, I think, I attacked by just looking at the movie itself without anything else before. But it’s fun to do it this way too because you have Bruce Timm’s vision, which he conveys to you at the meetings and in conversations. Combine his words and my initial instinct, and the outcome is what it is.
TZN: In Gods and Monsters you’re dealing with a Batman who isn’t Bruce Wayne. However, you’ve worked on several different Batman projects, like Son of Batman and the Beware the Batman TV show. Do you try to make a consistent sounding Batman theme across projects?
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: No, no. I think Beware the Batman is a completely different universe than Son of Batman, Batman vs. Robin, and Batman: Bad Blood. I think they’re different voice actors, they’re different designs, different Gotham, different villains. I find those projects have their own sound and vibe, and I try to stay away from combining them. But that only applied to Beware the Batman show vs. the movie series that started with Son of Batman, because those, actually, do have a common thread, throughout. There’s a lot of crossing over themes from the whole Batman string throughout all three movies. And even in Justice League vs. Teen Titans, because Damian plays a great role in that movie, too. So those I felt are kind of like a saga, they belong together, and since they were kind enough to let me score all of them, I was able to weave in thematic materials from the other movies to make it consistent and cohesive with the rest of the series. Beware the Batman the series was a whole different animal. We wanted to do something very fresh, a very different kind of Batman that they haven’t portrayed in TV before. I think it came on really cool and different except that it was for a young audience and it was a little bit too dark, for them, in the end. We only did one season.
TZN: I liked it, maybe because I’m a bit older.
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: Yeah, I did too, I think it came out great. I thought it had a cool look and a cool vibe and the designs were fun. And the villains were really fun because they were using villains that we hadn’t really known and it’s not just the regular bad guys you see all the time. Like Pyg and Toad and Anarky, I thought that was a really cool new way to treat Batman. But that one we had a very different musical concept. The point was to make it its own animal, its own vibe, its own universe, and sound.
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: Oh yeah. I had seen two of them before I got the job, and then I got the job and did my research and watched a little bit of Penguins of Madagascar, a little bit of that TV show that they made a few years back, the Madagascar movies, and I got into the vibe a little bit of because I did want to continue the sound palette from the big movies into the series. Not anything thematic, just make you feel like it’s part of the franchise and not something completely different like Big Band or something like that. That’s what we tried to do. I did my share of research and viewing just to keep that all going.
TZN: What would you say is the biggest challenge in that?
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: In King Julien, the biggest challenge is always the comedy. This show is all about the jokes and music plays a big part in that and that often means that I need to be way over the top with something or I have to be very subtle and let the joke and the sound effects play by themselves. So it completely depends on what it is, but I have to tread very lightly and be very cautious of where the joke happens and how I’m going to amplify or even just stay away from it so it can play. So I think the biggest challenge is to accomplish that. Now we’re in the post production of season two, 50-some episodes into this thing, and it becomes a lot easier. Once you get a hang of it and you’ve done it so many times you understand how the comedy works and what needs to be done to have the most desired effect. I think now it’s pretty much smooth sailing, but in the early stages, that was the hardest part to figure out how to treat the comedy. Or how not to treat it.
TZN: Congratulations on the Emmy win for “True Bromance”.
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: Thank you, that was an interesting night.
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: I think certainly the song is strong, it’s a catchy melody, that always helps. But I think the thing that really made it appeal to people was just the fact that it was pretty funny. Most people know King Julien and his voice, they identify with it and they know who it is, and then having him sing so over-the-top emotional, and then narrating through the saxophone solo that this is how he expresses his emotions because he can’t express them verbally. I think that got a chuckle in everybody’s face, and I think that’s ultimately what made people say this is a clever song. I think. We’ll never know, but I think it was that combination of being really funny and people know the character, which makes it funnier. Rather than if you don’t know the character and he’s just a random person. And then, maybe it was catchy for them, they like the melody. Who knows? I was honestly surprised because I thought the other songs, especially the one from Turbo, I thought was great.
TZN: There’s no set piece of music that plays over the end credits. It changes.
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: Yes.
TZN: Could you talk a little about that?
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: That was a decision we made early on. We were like, “Okay, are we going to do a reprise of the main title at the end to keep it consistent or are we just going to do something different every time?” And we decided on the latter because it, again, can be a little more funny that way. Each episode has its own thing. Its own musical identity or musical joke. It depends on what it is. Sometimes it’s a character that gets a distinct theme or it’s a certain dance cue that comes up several times because they’re dancing. We try to find the identifiable piece of the episode that made the episode so special and stand out from the others and then use that as a 30-second piece at the end. I think one episode, just to do an example, but the one with the coffee, I forget the title. Where they find out about coffee and get high on coffee and can work really fast and efficiently. We have that really fast paced techno beat when King Julien is running through the forest accomplishing all these things. This really obnoxious, high pulse piece, and we put that at the end credits of the episode because we thought that was such a funny moment and identifying moment for that specific episode. It makes sense to bring it back. It’s always a different thing, and I think it’s nice to change it up. It makes people wait for it and see what happens at the end credits rather than just turning off.
TZN: And that’s what sticks with you as the last thing you hear.
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: Exactly.
FREDERIK WIEDMANN: Honestly, I enjoy every aspect of it. I think the funnest moment, especially when you’re in a feature film, and it’s a film that needs a concept to develop, I think the funnest part is when you feel like you’ve cracked the code of the film and you can just run with it. There’s always this phase of trying things and experimenting and writing ten different things. One of them might work and then working your way through different ideas to get everybody, the producer, the director, and the studio, on the same page, and I think the funnest part is when you feel like everybody is loving it, everything works, it’s coming together. Then you can just go, and your mind is more or less free to do all this creative stuff that you wanted to do because now you have the palette, you have your themes, you have everything set up. I think to me, that’s when it becomes the most fun. But I really enjoy most aspects of the job. I get to write music every day in my studio. How can you not like it? It’s awesome.
Toonzone News would like to thank Frederik Wiedmann for taking the time to talk with us as well as Ashley Moore at Krakower Poling PR for arranging the interview. The All Hail King Julien soundtrack is currently available in digital and CD format. The third season of All Hail King Julien will be available on Netflix starting this Friday, June 17, 2016.