Harry Gregson-Williams talks to Ian Sandwell about composing the score for Arthur Christmas.
When it came to scoring Aardman Animations and Sony Pictures’ Arthur Christmas, composer Harry Gregson-Williams had to get into the festive spirit earlier than most.
“My studio is on Venice Beach in California,” the composer explains. “In the heat of August and early September, various tubular bells were teeming from my studio windows onto Venice Beach.”
The tale of Santa’s youngest son, Arthur, who goes on a last-minute globe-trotting trip on Christmas Eve to deliver a present left behind at the North Pole, was a “composer’s delight” according to Gregson-Williams. And while he came onto the project “unusually late”, the composer says that working on a tighter schedule had its benefits. “It was quite luxurious really, because the film was almost fine-cut… a lot of the colour wasn’t there and some of the scenes were to be trimmed a bit but, on the whole, it was largely there,” he says. “In the first Shrek movie I did, I remember Shrek didn’t have any legs for the longest time. I thought that was a bit curious.”
While not the composer’s first work in animation — he worked on all four Shrek films and with Aardman on Chicken Run and Flushed Away — it was his first Christmas film. So did he feel there were any conventions to follow? “Not really, and it’s difficult to say what Christmas music is apart from bursting into We Wish You A Merry Christmas, which the score does a couple of times. Apart from doing that, anything sparkly.”
The sparkliest instrument Gregson-Williams used was the kantele, a Finnish instrument, though the composer believes music is less about conventions and more about following the emotional arc of its central character, Arthur. As a result, various themes were created for the main characters.
“Arthur had a theme and I often orchestrated that with piano and clarinet; that seemed to work really well for him,” he explains.
Next up for Gregson-Williams is Mister Pip, which sees him reteam with Shrek director Andrew Adamson, and Len Wiseman’s Total Recall.