Composer Michael Giacchino discusses Cars 2

Composer Michael Giacchino talks Cars 2, Super 8, working for Pixar and more.

Many people think Pixar's movies are among the best in animation, even with the growing influx of animated movies on the market. Composer Michael Giacchino has a number of high-profile scoring credits to his name, such as Star Trek, Let Me In, and the beloved TV series Lost. Even though he keeps on racking up blockbuster credits, such as the upcoming movies Super 8, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, and John Carter of Mars, his best work seems to come whenever he works for Pixar. Michael Giacchino was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score for Ratatouille, and won an Oscar in the same category for Up.

Michael Giacchino provides the score for his third Pixar project, the animated sequel Cars 2, which races into theaters nationwide on June 24. I recently attended a press event up at Pixar's Emeryville, California facility, where we were able to speak with some of the people who worked on Cars 2. I was able to sit down exclusively with Michael Giacchino at the event, and here's what he had to say.

Pixar seems to bring out the best in you. What is it like for you to work in this wonderful facility?

Michael Giacchino: For me, I always go back to when I was 10 years old and, I think between the time I was 10 and going to high school, were some of the greatest moments for me, because I had a group of friends that I was inseparable with, who we would make movies with all the time. That's all we did, was make movies. Everything we did in our life was directed towards, 'I want to make that movie.' We would work so we could buy film to make movies. That's what I feel like I'm doing now (at Pixar). I feel like I have this group of friends, these guys could be interchanged with my neighbors from back home. These guys are really close and really tight, and it all stems from 'Wouldn't it be cool if this happened.' Always with that, 'Wouldn't it be,' and then you just imagine something and you set out and try to make it happen. I get to do that and I'm still in amazement that I actually still get to do that.

It sounds like the kids from Super 8, actually...

Michael Giacchino: Yeah. I told J.J. (Abrams) it was a very emotional film for me, because it echoes so much of what my childhood was. I was watching it going, 'Yeah, I did that, I did that.' He's like, 'You did that one? That one too?' (Laughs). It's an odd movie in that sense, in that it's echoing my life. Even with this stuff, I remember my mom would drop me off at the theater to go see The Rescuers or whatever was coming out at that time. Back at that time, they would play the old ones a lot more too, because that was the only way you could see it, like all the old Disney films. Now I'm working on them and going, 'Really? I get to do that too?' It's really fun and it's why I want to do the best work I can possibly do because it is very important to me and was a huge foundation for me growing up.

Can you talk a bit about the international flavor of Cars 2. Do characters have their own themes when they come on the screen?

Michael Giacchino: It's got a bit of that. Most of it does center around Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine). There are echoes of Radiator Springs, there are echoes of all these things that comes back to who they are, so you can't lose that, and I wouldn't want to lose that. But yeah, there is a very thematic element to the film that does develop as the movie goes on.

It was really cool to see all the new cars and where they come from in real life. Do we get the same kind of thing with the score, where we can tell, for example, a car is from Japan, but without being overt?

Michael Giacchino: Yes, we don't want to be too overt with it. When you get too overt with it, it becomes more about the music than it does about the movie. The thing you always want to be careful of, is you want to be with the characters. Whatever is important to them, is important to me, and that's what my music is going to say. If it's thinking about home, if Mater thinks about home, you aren't going to hear banjos suddenly. It's that feeling inside about missing home, and going in that direction.

There have been so many spy movies out there. Is it hard to find that balance with keeping that same spy theme and at the same time finding something new and fresh?

Michael Giacchino: Yeah, it is a tough thing, but I felt the whole surf guitar thing, it just felt right. When i used to listen to it as a kid, it used to make me feel like I was in the center of something big. I would see the pictures of these guys surfing in the middle of that giant wave, and they were always playing that music behind it, and it always felt like you were in the middle of something dangerous and big. I felt that could be really cool for this.

You've worked on so many other blockbusters before starting with Pixar. Does working with Pixar really stand out even from the other great movies you've worked on?

Michael Giacchino: What they do, as far as animation goes, they absolutely stand out from the crowd because they are focused, 100%, on the story and making it the best it can be. It's not about a release date, it's not about this or that. It's about, 'What can we do with these characters?' It's all about that initial spark of, again, 'Wouldn't it be cool...' I love that that's the intention of this place, about that excitement.

You are going to start with the orchestra soon for this. How long do those sessions usually last?

Michael Giacchino: We'll record for six to eight days, basically.

There are often last-minute tweaks and changes with a lot of movies. Do you get that a lot with the score as well?

Michael Giacchino: No, that is the big difference between animation and live-action. Live-action can change on a dime, at any point. Literally, I'll be sitting there with J.J. (Abrams) on the stage, talking about a scene that we're recording, and he'll go, 'Oh my God, this works perfectly for this scene, but I cut that from the movie this morning.' With this, you can't just create a new shot and it's so methodically planned out. Once you're locked in, you're done. Yeah, you can't have the wholesale changes you have in live-action.

Is there anything you can say about Super 8? A lot of people are looking forward to that one.

Michael Giacchino: I've seen the whole thing, yeah, and I've written almost the whole score so far. I can tell you that I love it (Laughs). It's a movie that I would have begged, screamed, whatever, to get my parents to take me to see. It's that kind of childhood excitement.

Did you do the score for the trailer as well? It had a very Amblin feel to it.

Michael Giacchino: No, I don't know what that was from. I was working on Cars 2 at the time, so I couldn't help out with that. Yeah, it's really neat and really fun. I just love it.

Excellent. Well, that's my time. Thank you so much for your time.

Michael Giacchino: Yeah, absolutely. It was nice to meet you.

Stay tuned for more of my interviews from the Cars 2 press event in the near future. Cars 2 hits theaters nationwide on June 24.