Astro Boy / 2009 Composed

Astro Boy / 2009
Theme from Astro Boy
# Title Duration
Opening Theme 1:59
Astro Files! 3:15
Start It Up 3:57
Morning Lessons 1:51
Blue Core Pursuit 3:58
Designing Toby 4:48
I Don't Want You 1:22
One Of Us / Meeting Trashcan 2:29
I Love Robots / Hamegg's Story 2:21
The RRF / New Friends 2:58
Reviving Zog 1:59
Reluctant Warrior 4:44
Cora's Call 2:28
Undercover Robots 0:51
Egg On Hamegg 3:29
Toby's Destiny 4:32
Saving Metro City 3:48
Final Sacrifice 2:48
Robot Humanity 3:24
Theme From Astro Boy 4:35
Bonus Track: "Robots Are Our Friends" Infomercial* 1:28
Astro Boy / 2009
Promotional Video Clip

Scoring Session

View the Astro Boy scoring session photo gallery!

The Themes of Astro Boy

Astroboy    Astroy Boy
Theme A and B (Heroic)
Sad Theme
Cora Cora
Red and Blue Cores Red and Blue Cores
The Cores
Hamegg Hamegg
Theme 1
Theme 2 (Slow)
President Stone President Stone
Theme 1
Theme 2

John's Thoughts

It's rare when a project can be remembered as being so much fun.  It's rare to work with people with whom you end up loving so much and actually miss.  And it's rare that both the people and the movie they're making inspire you to new heights.  Astro Boy was such a rarity.

Before getting hired, I remember going to the editing room to view a rough cut of the film. After watching, I realized I'd had a smile on my face the whole time. The temp score was often drab and drony, but I new I could find a way to breath more life into this endearing film… I was also in a place where something as innocent and bright as Astro would be terrific therapy; a change of scenery from a recent run of heavily serious, dark or "grave" films. Endearing, innocent, joyful, emotional, action-filled and just plain old fun, this film would allow me to express myself in ways I'd always dreamed of as a film composer - to tell a musical story rich with a cornucopia of character motifs spanning a gamete of emotions from sadness to elation. So I was hoping music supervisor Todd Homme, director David Bowers and his producer Maryann Garger would believe me and wouldn't interpret my passion as some flowery ploy to get the film. I truly felt at home with the movie, not to mention the warm vibe I was getting from them. Fortunately, I guess they believed me, and what followed was truly one of the most full-filling experiences of my life. 

Toby is an outcast. He's alone; but he soon makes friends and is ultimately accepted for who he is. I knew the main theme had to be innocent and emotional, yet it also had to capture his growing confidence and heroism.  So the scariest part, of course, was actually sitting down at the keyboard and coming up with the damn thing.  I really wanted an emotional foundation to the music, despite the superhero surface.  In a spotting session, David mentioned going for the heartstrings, saying he'd be happy if people cried. So I knew we were already stepping onto the same page.  (I already knew we were on similar wavelengths when I discovered he was a fan of "Space:1999" and the original "Star Trek."  What more could I ask for?)  Anyhow, the idea was not to be cutesie with the score, but classic. I mean, this was Pinocchio. So the faucet opened as I jotted down the phrases that were in my head. A day or so later I had a rough assembly of the film's main theme ("Theme from Astro Boy" as presented on the album is a direct orchestration and recording of the original mock-up presented to David.)  At first I was thinking it came too easily.  It was like this theme was lurking around upstairs just waiting to come out.  Then I reminded myself that first instincts are usually correct. Of course the big test is the looming presentation of it. To back up the concept, I thought it was best to score one pivotal scene showing how the theme would work in the film.  That quintessential moment was when Toby discovers his powers and flies for the first time. ("Astro Flies!) I remember how much fun it was to slowly hint to his theme as he awkwardly shoots from place to place, and then of course, paying it off with the theme's full iteration when he flies confidently for the first time through the clouds, relaying his joy and excitement.


So the dreaded day came when the peanut gallery arrived to my studio to hear the theme and see it to picture.  I gave all my typical disclaimers about the synth mock-up's limitations and made my case on how the theme was very malleable to be sweet, funny or aggressive, etc. About the point where everyone was glazed over, I pushed the play button. After it ended there seemed to be a general approval and smiles in the room, but the person I was most concerned about was David, the director.  He looked at me, gave a little nod and meekly said, "It's quite nice, lovely really." I was terrified he hated it.  I played it again.  He once again said politely, "Yes, it really is quite lovely."  I looked at him and said, "Honestly it's ok, if you have concerns or aren't digging it, let me know. I want you to like it.  You seem quite, um … restrained." To that he responded, "I'm British. That's about as excited as we get." That was somewhat of a relief.  So I then played the scene I scored. There's nothing like the symbiosis of music and picture.  The room seemed to light up and I got the feeling the theme was going to live.  David asked if it could be a little more triumphant as Toby flew, and asked if President Stone's theme could be less psychotic and more militaristic and misguided. (The scene bled into another scene showing President Stone in his ship.  I went ahead and quickly scored it, but wasn't exactly sure yet what to do with him – so I made it sort of screwy.)  I embraced the notes and got back to work.  They asked if they could take the music with them.  Always worrisome. A couple days after the meeting, the sweet – and beautiful - producer, Maryann, called to let me know that David really did love it and was humming it.  WHEW.


Once I was underway writing the score, the rest of the musical pathways kept opening not only because of the thrill of entering this fun world, but also in large part because of the kindness and trust these un-jaded people inspired me with.  Common in all of them was a joy of the creative process - the "movie magic" stuff that we all end up taking for granted and why we thought we wanted to be involved in making movies. This vibe resonated down the line to my small team – my music editor, orchestrators and conductor. Perhaps the little kid inside all of us was woken up.  Normally I dread showing a batch of cues more than I do waiting for a medical result.  But on this one, I actually began to look forward our meetings, to share my excitement with what I'd done.  I remember writing in the wee hours, often feeling that smile on my face again.  Of course weeks later when getting to the last couple scenes, the smiles were, well, sagging a little.  Yet when you get that far, its added incentive to cross the finishing line – especially when you know you're going to go record it at ….


Recording sessions are always stressful.  It's the first time people are going to hear the actual score, and you often can't afford any time for anything to go wrong.  I'm often looking at a ticking clock while dictating notes to my conductor as fast as I can speak.  We had about 90 minutes of score to record – and not the easiest stuff in the world to play or balance quickly; and we had five days to do it in.  That's not a lot of time. The last thing you want is all that effort to boil down to something mediocre simply because of limited time.  Even though I'm always worried about the other shoe dropping, I had great expectations for Abbey Road, being that everything I've heard recorded there sounds amazing.  (Ok, I did have a slight worry that mine would be the first score in history to be recorded there and somehow sound like trash  - no offense to my terrific recording engineer, Casey Stone.  It's superstition, Casey.) I was told the musicians also lived up to the room itself. Normally I don't invite anyone to my sessions for fear that they'll witness some bloodbath or disaster.  I mean the moment you break out a video camera, shit's gonna go down. But I was feeling somewhat good about this. I flew my parents out to London to see the sessions, and also invited some friends I know in Germany.  David's parents also came by. They were oddly like the British counterparts of my parents.  This reminded me of a creepy sci-fi film I'd seen as a kid where astronauts land on a mirror image of earth. When I've mentioned this film over the years, no one ever seems to know what I'm talking about.  But I mentioned it at the session, and David immediately responded, "Oh yes, you mean "Journey to the Far Side of the Sun."  "Yes, that's it!" I said.  I should have known he'd know of it. That film still haunts me to this day.  Weird.  Anyhow, I digress …

The first cue is usually an indicator of how things will go.  I believe it was "Start it Up." (I never remember "m numbers" much to the frustration of my team.  After someone asks me about, say, 2M7, I always scream back, "what the f**k is 2M7?! What's the name of the cue? I don't know m numbers!")  Anyhow, the baton went up, we held our breath … and right away I could tell this was going to sound terrific. The orchestrations were working beautifully, along with the amazing acoustics and musicians.  I could feel myself sit back a little in my seat, at ease.  The following days were tiring – especially with jet lag, but there was a real energy in the room.  I actually couldn't wait to come back the next day to record some more.  And after all the reasonable concern for time, we finished a couple hours early. 


The "Theme From Astro Boy" cue was especially memorable to record.  Conductor Jeff Schindler relished in conducting this cue and asked if we could do it in free time (no click track).  I thought that would be fine, except there would be an issue if I wanted to double the string tracks for extra flair.  The overdub would then have no reference click.  So we decided to videotape Jeff conducting the main orchestra pass.  We would then play his conducting performance back to the strings when they played their parts again.  (Besides, these players are so damned good they could perform it the same way based upon their own instincts.  I've never heard isolated string overdub tracks sound so perfect in my life.  Not to mention when we'd solo instrument tracks in the music mix.  Perfection.  Almost eerie.)   Jeff was very into the cue, which made it even more fun.  His video was especially entertaining as he enthusiastically waved his hands with wide-eyed expressions of glee on his face.  It was priceless.  At that very moment of watching it, I squawked to one of the engineers that I'd videotaped a conductor once before (on Lake Placid), but the tape  - or disc really – got erased.  They made note of it.  But when I asked for it later, they couldn't find it in the system. Upon a more thorough search a few weeks later, it was determined that the disc got wiped clean.   It really is too bad, as it was terrific to watch with the music.  Fortunately, Jeff's wife, Bonnie, happened to have a video camera with her from a balcony and some other vantage points.  The shots are far away, but it at least offers a glimpse into the moment.


Animation gives license to be a little more overt and literal with characters musically.  And there were so many colorful ones, that it just made sense to give them little themes (motifs). When I cut down the score for the album, some of the character motifs got lost or you only hear a piece of them. But the full score is chocked full of little themes that flow through to tell the story. First, of course, is the Astro Boy theme. Then derived from this theme is a smaller mournful motif used for when he reflects. Then there's Tenma's theme (his father) characterized by a longing solo French horn and warm woodwinds. One of my favorites is the lively motif for Trashcan, the robot dog, characterized by a duet of staccato clarinets and a clanking anvil. President Stone's theme is a sort of clumsy militaristic riff with bassoons/bass clarinet surrounded by bass drum and cymbal. His theme then gets passed on to The Peacekeeper in a big, brassier version, as this robot sort of becomes an extension of President Stone. Then there's Zog. He's an old huge robot from a past generation who I wanted to have an ancient but noble feel, mainly characterized by a six note expressive melody on the French horns. For Nathan Lane's shifty character, Hamegg, I gave a sort of Italian flavored melody that in one way feels warm and clever, but in another, it's not to be trusted. Its signature is pizzicato strings, mandolin, accordion and a solo clarinet playing the melody. There's another fun theme for the "RRF" – a rag tag group of three "revolutionary" robots.  I gave them pirate-esque music featuring muted trumpets and piccolos. Cora is a smart and tough human girl who forms a bond with Astro. I wrote a pretty theme for her ("Cora's Call" on the album) featuring a recorder and warm strings to reflect her sensitive side. The Blue Core Theme got a bit lost on the album, but it's a magical and benevolent choral melody surrounding the power element that gives Astro Boy and other robots life. Within the choral texture, the celli beautifully hint at Astro's theme. The red core is an unstable energy source, so the music is basically the blue core idea turned on its head with the choir becoming guttural men instead of angelic females. Pieces of the Blue and Red Core themes are found momentarily in the other cues on the album, but the main iteration of the cores was cut out for time. There are also other more incidental mini-motifs throughout the score to "personalize" the other robots in the story like the "Squeegee" robots.


I've written before about my irritation with premieres and how, well, grumpy I get at the bad sound, mayhem and such.  But for this one, it was an excuse to see the people with whom I had such a good time; and low and behold the sound was actually loud and the score was mixed well.  Even the party was fun and all the kids at the made it wonderfully charming for a Hollywood premiere.  It looked as though that other shoe I always keep waiting for wasn't going to drop after all.

But sadly, it sort of did. The film didn't perform at the box office as we'd all hoped, and expected. This was not only heartbreaking for me personally, but I was saddened for the group of people I admired so much. I only worked on the film for a couple months, let alone a couple years for them. I know we were all hoping for Astro to be around to see other adventures –mainly so we'd all have an excuse to repeat the time we had together. Nonetheless, I'll remember Astro Boy as one of the happiest moments of my career, where I not only broke some new musical ground, but also forged bonds with new friends – friends who helped me see once again that there still can be magic in movie making.