Red Stewart chats with Dynamic Music Partners….
Kristopher Carter, Lolita Ritmanis, and Michael McCuistion are a trio of composers who have been working in the animation, film, and television industries since the mid-90s, late-80s, and early-90s respectively. They are best known for their long-standing compositions for animated DC projects, most famously those in the DC Animated Universe.
These constant collaborations culminated in them forming the company Dynamic Music Partners, which scored the revival of Young Justice called Young Justice: Outsiders.
Flickering Myth had the privilege to interview them, and I in turn had the honor to conduct it:
Thank you all so, so much for taking the time to speak with me. It’s a complete honor because the three of you were responsible for my childhood. I grew up with all those animated shows that you worked on, and those themes continue to resonate with me to this day.
Lolita – It’s our pleasure!
When it came to composing the music for the DC animated shows, did you work off the animation, or was it the other way around where the animation was formulated around your music?
Kristopher- Almost always, when we were doing the underscoring, which is the music accompanying the action, that happened to the animation after it had been created. That’s mostly what we were doing. And we just had the voices and the images to work with: no other sound, because the sound artists were creating the sound that you hear- the explosions and the fighting and the footsteps, all of that happened at the same time that the music was being created. The only exception to that were songs, because the song had to take place with the singing during the voice actors’ recording sessions, and in that case the animation was actually created to our music.
Oh okay, that’s definitely cool to hear and clears up some misconceptions I had. To you Mr. Carter, you composed Batman Beyond’s main theme, am I correct?
Kristopher- I did, and then we all worked under Shirley on the series itself, yeah.
I’ve always wondered what was going on with the animators for that title sequence, because it was crazy with the visuals and the way the music was integrated into all the transitions, from 2D to 3D models, with slow downs and speed ups. Did you know anything about the process that went into the making of that opening?
Kristopher- Well, that actually was animation that was created after the music, since the music was an existing piece that Bruce Timm and visual artist Darwin Cooke put together. All of those visuals were based on their impressions of what they thought of the music itself. So, in that sense, I know that they did a lot. I agree with you, it was a very artfully done piece and they did a lot of video tricks. I’m not even fully sure how it all happened, but I agree with you that the end result is really something spectacular.
Well, thank you so much for indulging that question. Now, your company is called Dynamic Music Partners. The first major show you all worked together on was Batman: The Animated Series, where Batman and Robin are colloquially referred to as the “Dynamic Duo.” Is there a connection between the two names?
Lolita- Well, maybe there’s a little wink wink homage to that idea, but we actually went through quite a few different names to try to think of what would best represent what we do in a very good light. And just the idea that the three of us are partners and the work that we do is generally quite dynamic, it all kind of fits.
And yes, we did start under Shirley Walker’s guidance on Batman: The Animated Series, where we worked directly under her for many years. And, at a certain point she basically kicked us out of her nest, kicked the birds out of the nest, and there, there came a time where we decided that it would be better to band together and collaborate. We don’t necessarily write together, very often, in the same room, only when we’re working on a big scene or something. But just to have the collective energy of three composers dedicating all their efforts towards making any particular episode the best it can possibly be with three times the creative energy put into it.
Right, and it’s interesting because I’ve noticed a lot of other composers creating their own companies. I’ve asked several of them what their reasons were, and they’ve given a lot of different responses. One is to give them a more professional outlook, others say it helps in terms of getting work, and others that it helps with collaboration opportunities. Did any of those play a role in the formation of Dynamic Music Partners?
Michael- Well I think, in terms of Dynamic Music Partners, what we were after was a certain kind of transparency in the way that we work. When we decided DMP, the three of us, we are the composers- we don’t have any other composers working for us. We don’t employ other people to do any writing for us in any way, we do all the writing and do all the creating. All three of us do it and we all three get credit for it.
And I know there’s a lot of other groups of composers in town. Generally they’re headed up by one composer and then there are all these other composers who work for that one person. But we wanted to be something different- we wanted to be more like “what you see is what you get.” That’s always the way it was with Shirley. With Shirley, she was the supervising composer, but we each got credit on the episodes that we wrote music for. And we felt that it was important to have that truth in advertising so to speak with the three of us: that if we were going to band together, whoever wrote what got credit for it, and everybody knows who we are. It’s all three of us, there are no composers in the backroom that nobody sees or hears from. It’s the three of us and that’s what we do.
That’s intriguing to hear and I’m glad that it’s helped expand upon that strong foundation you built under Ms. Walker. Speaking of, you’ve all brought her up multiple times, and she truly was one of the greats. Her main theme for Superman the Animated Series is, with all due respect to John Williams and Hans Zimmer, my personal favorite Superman theme. I know she was a big part of all of your careers, so do you have any fond memories of working with her that stand out?
Kristopher- Gosh, I think we should all chime in on this. I always felt that Shirley was such a master of telling the story with music. She could pick one or two notes that would communicate the emotion perfectly, and it was that mastery that surrounded her, and it definitely inspired me for how powerful music can be in film. That was my takeaway, was how amazingly she told the story with music.
Lolita- For me, there are so many chapters to how Shirley has influenced my life that I don’t really know where to start, but I think the biggest impact was just her willingness to take a chance on a completely unknown composer, myself. I was working a lot as an orchestrator on bigger feature films, and I was known, within the music community, as sort of a support person for other composers, orchestrating or writing additional music.
But she took a chance on me and mentored me and allowed me an opportunity to work within her vocabulary of music that she had created for Batman: the Animated Series. In the process, she was also very nurturing of my musical voice and helped guide me, sometimes in a very kind way, and other times almost in a more parental way as far as suggesting things that I needed to improve on. Really, I think my longevity, my chances of succeeding in this business, are because of her.
And one big aspect is the fact our field is very much a collaborative art form. It’s not only about writing great music, it is about being able to work with other people who are working on the same project and knowing whose vision it is that we are trying to support: if it’s the producer, the writer, the director, whoever is making those decisions, it’s about working together with those people and understanding that it is a community effort to achieve these gems that we’ve had such a privilege of working on. Again, I could write a whole chapter, but I’ll pass it onto Michael now.
Michael- Well, I remember her most for her generosity. She never held anything back- here’s a woman who’d made her own way in this business and was truly a master, a real genius, at what she did. And she wasn’t ever afraid of passing along any of that knowledge or anything that she’d ever learned. She was always very generous and criticizing what I’d done in the most helpful way, and along with that criticism came a great deal of moral support: real votes of confidence that she would give me, you know, instilling this idea that you’ve got something truly great here, let’s make it even better. Instead of this idea that “you’re not good enough, and I’m better than you.” It was the opposite of that- “I can help you, I think you’ve got something special here, I think you could do something great in this business.” She said those words and was never afraid to say those words. Her ability to not be competitive and still be supportive is kind of unrivaled- I’ve never experienced that in any other way. It was the most intense with her because she just did not have any fear about that. It was all about elevating everyone and everything around her with herself, and not to the exclusion of herself, if that makes sense.
No, it absolutely does. I’m very happy that, with all three of you, it was a friendship driven, encouraging process. I think, after Whiplash, people have this idea that the music industry can be very cutthroat and harsh, but it is open to these other, kinder facets. And that obviously carried over to DMP for sure.
I have to ask, not that I’m complaining, but why was it that you guys ended up getting gigs on all these DC shows? It couldn’t have been a coincidence right?
Kristopher- We have been blessed beyond measure to work on so many amazing shows, and it’s very fortunate. We are certainly not the only DC composers- there’s a big collection of other wonderful, talented people who’ve worked on these shows as well. But we’ve definitely connected on a great creative level with the producers that we’ve worked with: Bruce Timm, Glen Murakami, James Tucker, and the great writers. I just think that it’s been a great ride and we’re happy to be on it.
A quick question, to follow-up on that: you worked on most of the DC shows except Static Shock. Was there a particular reason you didn’t have a chance to do any major compositions for it?
Lolita- Well, there are other shows that we didn’t work on: we didn’t do Beware the Batman or the long-form, direct-to-video [DC Animated Universe Original Movies]. Those are scored by many different composers.
Sometimes, we want something that we’ve never heard before, and sometimes we hear that and it’s like “well, maybe that’s not us, and maybe it’s better to have someone else.” Sometimes we’ll be asked to audition and we will audition, and sometimes we won’t, and sometimes a creative team comes into the fold that is not the same team that we have been working with. So, it’s definitely not a slam dunk that we’re doing all the shows- we have to fight for the shows too, we have to put our best foot forward and often create some scenes or submissions; work within the parameters of how composers are paired with producers coming up.
So, it’s nothing that we take for granted, and it takes a lot of hard work to actually make those things happen, and also being very aware of what projects are in the pipeline and often offering our creative input, if it’s asked for or welcome, even before the show is ready to be scored. It’s an ongoing process, and it’s not a slam dunk, but I thank you for the nice idea that we get to do all the shows [laughs].
Lolita- That would secure my retirement, but we’re not there yet.
[laughs] That’s honestly surprising to hear that you still have to audition. I figured it’d be like how frequent composer-director collaborations work in the film industry where “we worked great last time, let’s do it again.” So it’s intriguing to find out that there’s still that competitive factor, and I’m, of course, glad that you folks managed to do it and create amazing music with Ms. Walker.
Another quick question I had was, you all worked on The Zeta Project, which was a spin-off of Batman Beyond. I’ve always felt that that was a very underrated series in the DC Animated Universe. Having composed for it, do you feel it deserves more recognition from the fan community?
Michael- Yeah, you know, it’s interesting that you say that, I don’t think we’ve ever been asked that question before. And not a lot of people even bring up The Zeta Project, but it was a wonderful show to work on. It kind of had a different feeling about it overall. It was a series that had a lot of heart, and it was aimed to a little bit different audience- it certainly wasn’t the Batman Beyond audience, it was geared towards a younger crowd.
That was the last show that we had a live orchestra on. The first season of that we had an orchestra that we were working with on the scoring stage, a live orchestra, and I have fond memories of those orchestral sessions and I felt like the whole experience was just terrific. Each episode was a different take, musically, and there were some threads of course, but I remember several of them having different musical environments, and that was really interesting creatively.
The characters, I felt, were very endearing. And even though it was technically a spin-off from Batman Beyond, it certainly didn’t share any of the flavor of Batman Beyond in terms of music, I don’t think. It was very futuristic and very fun, but yeah, it didn’t have that sort of gritty, underworld cultural thing going on.
You know, Bob Goodman was such an amazing producer, and he and Liz Holzman together kind of created that universe, and we were all enchanted by them- we loved working with Bob. Hope we do so again someday.
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