Free article from issue #002 | October 2018
"I don't start a project of animation thinking that it's animation, that it has to be for children and so on. To me, that's a wrong way to think about music in films."
– Pablo Pico.
We are trying to set up an interview with Pablo Pico, composer and musician, who created the beautiful soundtrack for the animated feature film Adama (2015) by Simon Rouby. Adama is set in part in Africa and in part in war-torn Europe in 1916. The cold drama of the war and the warmth of a sunny childhood are animated in an almost painterly style, using impressive, analogue effects. Simon Rouby asked Pablo Pico to be his composer for the film long before it was produced. Pablo has a packed programme, but we find time.
WA: This was supposed to be my last question, but you are clearly a busy guy, so tell me, what are you working on now?
PP: Haha... Yes, I work on many different projects. I just finished a mix, the music of the next feature film by Anca Damian.
Anca Damian is a Romanian director, and her next feature is the third film in a trilogy about heroism. The first two, Crulic - the path to beyond (2011) and The Magic Mountain (2015) won international accolades.
PP: It's called The Extraordinary Journey of Marona, and it is the story of a dog. I think it’s also very personal. I just finished - that was a big job, because there is more than one hour of music in the film.
At the moment, Pablo is also composing for short films, a TV series and documentaries for TV.
WA: You have been composing for films at Gobelins, was that the first thing that you did, and was that your way into animation and film?
PP: Yes, my first experience with scoring film, that was with Gobelins. I was, and I still am a musician, and I keep performing, but at this time I was a performing a lot on stage and in studios. Gobelins was a way for me to start composing for films, and it started with student films, one or two, in 2007. Ten two more in 2008 - it was a very calm beginning. After that, I met a French director called Léo Verrier, and he asked me for a short film, called Dripped (2011) - this guy steal paintings in museums, he eats them, and he transforms... and one day, he has no paintings to eat, because he ate them all, so he starts to find a way to paint by himself. The film had some success and was a little bit famous, and I earned some awards for the music, too, and I just went on from there, composing more and more. Most importantly, I met Simon Rouby. Very early, maybe the first or the second year I was composing for Gobelins. I met him maybe 10 years before Adama.
WA: So when you started working on Adama, you knew each other pretty well.
PP: Yeah, we knew each other very well. We met in Annecy, at the festival, and I had only composed for one or two film for students and I met this guy and he says, “I heard that you are quite good at composing music, I have a feature film, my own project, and it's called Adama - Le Monde des Souffles. Are you interested?” So I accepted, and eight years after, that was Adama.
WA: When you started actually working on Adama, how far was it in the process of getting made?
PP: There was a first script - it changed a lot afterwards - and a few drawings of Adama and the African soldiers, and a bit of backgrounds and nothing more. There was no a producer, there was nothing, only Julien (Lilti), the scriptwriter, and Simon.
WA: For how long time did you work on it?
PP: Oh, not for as long as they worked. But it was interesting, because I was able to be involved, in the writing process. It was very interesting to me to understand what kind of film they wanted to make. I say they, because the discussion was between Simon, me and Julien, the scriptwriter, discussing in a kind of triangle. I started working on the first teaser for the production, and afterwards I started buying some African instruments, a flute and some percussion, to start researching and writing the music. I worked like maybe six months before the mix. I mean - real work. But in a way I was making it, working on it in the back of my brain, during eight years.
WA: As a composer, how do you get involved in the process so early, with the scriptwriter and the director - how do you do that?
PP: It's just about talking, exchanging ideas about the script, and on Adama it was especially important.
Music is an essential part of some of the characters in Adama, and Pablo was able to help find the suitable instruments. One character, Abdou, was supposed to be playing the kora, an African harp, but animating someone strumming the kora would have been an ordeal, Pablo explains. So they came up with a solution: a very simple flute with only three holes for Abdou’s fingers to switch between. Finding the right instrument also meant in could be used as a prop to gesture and play around with, instead of having to be hid away off screen.
WA: How do you begin composing? Music seems a similar to animation in that when you start out creating, there are no limits. You can go anywhere, you can do anything. It's a blank canvas. When you start out composing, do you put any limitations on yourself?
PP: It's pretty true what you said about the blank page and the no limit of animation. There's something about that - it's probably why I like composing for animation.
The most important thing is the project, is it good or not, do I feel it. Then, the meeting with the director. Then the production, the team. It's all about human connection, it has to match and fit and be based on trust.
So how do I start composing - there are two methods. One, I have the visuals. So I take the pictures, they inspire me and I choose something to try to limit myself in some way. I choose the instruments, maybe. Because if I always score all the films with the same palette of sounds and instruments, it will all be the same in the end and I don't want that. So I always try to limit myself in terms of orchestration. Not being orchestral every time, not being on the strings or on the percussions every time. So for Adama, For instance, I only chose strings and African instruments, thats all. No piano.
The second way to make music, it's only with the script, and talking to the director. It gives you a lot of freedom of expression and there is no limit, cause there is no picture. It’s a very interesting way to work - it’s what I did for Anca Damian. I have the script, I have characters, and the directors asks, “can you send me the theme the music for this character?” And I do, and they want a little more of this, a little more of that, and when that’s OK, we move on to the next scene, or the next character. Six months later, I discover an animatic, a rough film. It's completely magic.
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