Before getting the gig to write the score for Guillermo del Toro’s Trollhunters on Netflix, Tim Davies was no stranger to Hollywood film scores. He’d orchestrated and conducted the music for well-known films like Ant-Man, Edge of Tomorrow, and La La Land as well as animated features like Frozen, Minions, and The Peanuts Movie. But Trollhunters marks Davies’ composing debut, and since it’s a series rather than a movie, there’s plenty of score to write.
Davies hooked up with del Toro through a series of professional connections. Having worked with composer Gustavo Santaolalla on the video game The Last of Us, Davies was also hired on for the Santaolalla-scored animated film, The Book of Life, on which del Toro served as executive producer. That film’s director, Jorge Gutierrez, passed along Davies’ name for some last minute work on another of del Toro’s films, Crimson Peak.
“I got an email actually from Jorge Gutierrez, the director of The Book of Life, saying, ‘You’re about to get an email’,” says Davies. “That was all! And then two minutes later there was a short email that said, ‘I need help. Are you busy? G-D-T.’” Davies was off to Toronto to help with Crimson Peak.
No big deal; this was all in Davies’ wheelhouse. Then came the offer. “What scared the hell out of me was… he then says to me, ‘Oh, and I’m working on a new TV show I want you to write the score for.’ And I’ve never actually done my own score before,” admits Davies. “I’ve always just orchestrated and conducted and helped other people, but that just really put the pressure on me.”
Davies didn’t even get put through the normal process to get the job. “I was at Dreamworks meeting with the producers,” says Davies, “and [del Toro] basically introduced me and said, ‘This is the guy who’s writing the score.’ Normally, they have a whole process of auditions, demoing and all that. But I sort of got walked in there.”
With Trollhunters telling the tale of a teenager who has been chosen to become the protector of humans and trolls against malevolent forces, this was Davies’ chance to write some interesting theme music… or so he thought. “I thought ‘Wow, this is all mine, and I get to write all this crazy, cool fantasy music’,” remembers Davies. “Then they told me that someone else has written the main title and two character themes. And I just… well, I thought I swore on the inside, but apparently it was the outside.”
Fortunately, this unexpected collaboration came from famed French composer, Alexandre Desplat, which pleased Davies. “If I’m going to have to work with someone, he’d probably be my top pick anyway because he’s one of my favorite working composers,” says Davies. “In fact, when people would ask me as an orchestrator who I would like to work with that I had not worked with yet, he was at the top of my list.”
Using Desplat’s initial themes as a jumping off point, Davies came up with his inspiration for the rest of the Trollhunters score. “It’s like Amblin,” he explains. “That’s the vibe of the above ground: that style of movie and that kind of happy, orchestral flourishing music, but there’s also this fantasy and the amulet and the trolls. So there’s a magical element, and there’s the dark element of the bad trolls. So the palette is quite diverse.”
The world of the trolls has a particularly unique sound, which musically-inclined viewers will notice immediately. “Most film music now is in a minor key,” explains Davies. “I thought for the Troll Market, I’m going to make this all major, so it almost gives it an ancient vibe because you’re just not used to hearing it… Sometimes in the background we have a calliope playing. It’s happy music.”
All of this serves to create an interesting mixture of an adventurous tale for a younger audience and Davies’ rollicking orchestral score with the unique sensibilities of a storyteller like Guillermo del Toro, who wrote the book the series is based on. “Which is what’s amazing,” agrees Davies. “Finally, this is a kid’s show with his sense of humor. You can watch it with your kids, but there will be a whole lot of other people who will see the entertainment value and enjoyment in this.”
Davies’ music is a big part of the enjoyment of Trollhunters, which will be released on Netflix on December 23. It features the voices of Kelsey Grammer, Ron Perlman, and Anton Yelchin in his final professional performance before his passing. Find out more about Tim Davies on his website, timusic.net.