INTERVIEW: TROLLHUNTERS Composer Tim Davies – Animation Scoop


One of the most in-demand orchestrator/arrangers (and now composers) in Hollywood, Tim Davies’ massive credit list includes La La Land, Frozen, Jack Reacher, Ant-Man and video games like Batman: Arkham City. For Netflix’s Trollhunters, series creator Guillermo del Toro brought Tim into composing for TV animation for the first time.

GREG EHRBAR: How did your work on The Book of Life lead to Trollhunters?

TIM DAVIES: When I was conducting the music on The Book of Life with Jorge [Gutierrez], I ended up arranging the underscore. Gustavo [Santaolalla] had written those great songs, and he wrote a couple of things for characters, so I took that and molded it into the underscore–like they used to do in musicals. I didn’t know I was going to do that.

Later, out of the blue Guillermo got in touch and asked if I could write some additional music for Crimson Peak, they were behind and needed some help to get it across the line. As I was leaving that meeting that is when he said, “I’ve got this TV show I want you to score.”

GREG: Because Trollhunters takes place in different worlds, do you make a conscious effort to reflect that?

TIM: I was just scoring a scene in season two and was thinking about that, if there was anything I was doing consciously–if I was doing anything different above ground and below ground.

When we go to the Darklands in the finale of season one and into season two, I came up with a palette of sounds to differentiate it from where you’ve got Claire and Tony running around in the real world and the Trollmarket. So I did have to differentiate the music or I tried to at least, come up with different things for each.

But usually I just see something and get inspired by it. When you’re writing to picture I’ve got this inspiration right in front of me, so I don’t find it hard at all. For me anyway, as soon as I see it, I have an idea of what to do and where the vibe should be.

GREG: An underscore might be comprised of specific themes, interpolation of melodies or reactive music to accentuate the action. Do you find yourself doing all three on Trollhunters?

TIM: Most characters have a theme or something associated with their environment, though not every character has done something worthy of a theme yet. I have a magical mystical theme that I use and that can be used anytime. When Jim is armoring up, it’s the Heartstone theme.

Tim Davies

GREG: What are some of the differences between creating music for a TV series and a feature film?

TIM: First of all, the timeline is also compressed compared to a movie. For Trollhunters, there’s 18 to 19 minutes of music in each 22-minute episode and there’s always a big action sequence with a lot going on. We do it all in the computer, though the first two episodes do have 16 string players on top of the samples–but after that, apart from a little guitar and me playing tom toms to beef up the drums, its all programmed. In a movie, you still have to start with the computer samples in order to get approval before it gets recorded, but in TV there’s no budget for that.

There are some Trollhunters character themes that were written by Alexander Desplat, who was on the show before me. He wrote the main title and a couple of other themes that I use in the show. Sometimes we’ll use his themes, or I come up with 30 or 50 new ones. He and Guillermo have wanted to work on something for years and he’s going to score Guillermo’s next movie.

GREG: Does every episode have a score created from scratch, or do you go back and reuse earlier cues?

TIM: For the most part, it’s a new score for each episode. In most TV series, after about half a dozen episodes you can reuse the music. But because of the nature of Trollhunters– it’s so fast moving, all the environments are different, the characters are in different places in their arc and development, in addition to the comedy, I’ve only been able to put in something from another episode two or three times.

GREG: How do you program the music?

TIM: I have a couple of guys who help me with the programming. Most people sequence, so they’ll play maybe a piano part and they flesh them out. I like to write an actual score, so I use a notation program called Finale to orchestrate other people’s scores or write my own music. I write out every note for the orchestra in score form and then it can play back very basically.

That gets taken and programmed. It all gets uploaded so I can open it and see what it sounds like. It’s a challenge to make it sound as real as it can. There are some things you just cannot do. Sometimes you have a musical idea and the computer cannot realize and you have to change it.

GREG: On the subject of one of your other projects, I have to tell you how much I appreciated the orchestrated version of Vince Guaraldi’s “Skating” that opened The Peanuts Movie. It’s a shame that it didn’t show up on the soundtrack album.

TIM: Ohhhhh! Chris’ [Christophe Beck] projects are great. He does his bit then you do yours at the session, and if he doesn’t like what you did he just says “Can we go back to what I did?” in a real nice way and you say sure and you put it back. 99% of the time he loves what you’ve done. He’s awesome to work with.

Greg Ehrbar

Greg Ehrbar

Greg Ehrbar is a freelance writer/producer for television, advertising, books, theme parks and stage. Greg has worked on content for such studios as Disney, Warner and Universal, with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. His numerous books include Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney (with Tim Hollis). Visit for more.
Greg Ehrbar
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