Anže Rozman and Kara Talve have had an incredible few years as they’ve distinguished themselves as standouts in the world of film, television, and commercial scoring. Their work garnered the attention of Oscar winningcomposer Hans Zimmer (Dune, The Dark Knight) and they work as full-time composers at Bleeding Fingers Music, a collective of film and television composers co-founded by Zimmer and CEO Russell Emanuel.
Rozman, Talve, and Zimmer recently undertook the gargantuan project of composing BBC’s Prehistoric Planet, a series narrated by David Attenborough featuring remarkable CGI dinosaurs that capture the magnificence of Mesozoic Era.
Awards Focus spoke with Rozman and Talve about their creative process, and how the team used several of history’s only surviving artifacts of that era, bones and fossils, to create the sound for the score.
Awards Focus: Can you talk about your approach to composing on the Prehistoric Planet with Hans?
Rozman and Talve: Whenever we start a new project we always take some time to brainstorm ideas. For Prehistoric Planet the key questions we wanted to answer were: How can we help transport the audience 66 million years back in time with our score? How can we make the music sound “otherworldly” and from another time? How can we make these extinct animals sound majestic? How can our score help with the illusion that the audience is watching real animals on the screen as opposed to CGI ones?
These were the key questions we needed to answer for ourselves before we even started writing a note. To help get our creative juices flowing we decided to take a trip to Arizona and visit a few dinosaur-related landmarks. We visited the Moenkopi Dinosaur Tracks, Meteor Crater Natural Landmark, and Petrified Forest National Park. On our stop in Sedona, we stumbled upon a Native American trading post with a room full of Native American instruments, amazing artifacts, meteorites, bones, and fossils. This is where our idea for custom instruments was born.
Since fossils, mostly fossilized dinosaur bones, are really one of the only things we can study to find more about the amazing life of dinosaurs, we decided to try to make instruments out of exactly that; bones, dinosaur bone replicas, fossils, and rocks. We bought a bunch of these at the shop in Sedona and started pondering what kind of creation we could make. We enlisted the help of Chaz (Charles LaBrecque), who has been building unique custom instruments for Hans for years.
AF: You used some custom instruments and specialist soloists for the “otherworldly” score which is fascinating. Can you highlight a few of these for us and where we can hear them?
Rozman and Talve: Soon Chaz helped us bring to life the Raptor Violin, Hadro Cello, Triserachord, Petrified Wood Xylophone, and The Fat Rex. Each of these instruments has an evocative otherworldly tibre. For example, the Raptor Violin’s eerie timbre was perfect for our Dromaeosaurus characters, while the warm almost duduk-like Hadro cello seemed fitting for our Hadrosaurus.
Playing and recording these instruments ourselves was crucial in the scoring process. Whenever Chaz would bring a new instrument out of the shop we would immediately run to start testing it out. Sometimes we would watch the picture on our big screen and just improvise it with our instruments. This is for example how the Velociraptor theme from Freshwaters was born. Chaz had just brought us The Fat Rex, a 14’’ frame drum with a cello neck topped off with a T-rex replica skull, and the same day we had also just received the cut for the Freshwaters episode. We watched the Velociraptor sequence, pressed record, and improvised on our newly hatched Fat Rex.
Another interesting “instrument” we used was a hollowed-out ostrich egg, the most accurate proxy we have for a real dinosaur egg. We used it as an ocarina and percussion, especially in the Ornithomimus nest thief sequence in Ice Worlds.
To transport the listener back in time and to evoke an otherworldly feeling we also recorded other very unique instruments for the score. The Yaybahar, a custom-made bowed instrument by Görkem Şen, plays a big role in the overall soundscape of the Prehistoric Planet. We had Gorkem record major themes throughout the score. A lot of the times we had him play together with the orchestral violins and cello sections and this immediately made the orchestra sound more unique and otherworldly. We also recorded Boštjan Gombač, who played for us on a replica of the oldest instrument in existence. The Divje Babe neanderthal bone flute is dated to about 43.000 BC. Even though 43.000BC is nothing close to 66million years ago, the era that Prehistoric Planet focuses on, the Divje Babe flute still helps evoke a sound from a distant past.
For specific animals featured in the documentary we also chose very specific instruments, which we thought would fit the character of the animals on screen. For instance, we recorded the Subcontrabass flute, a giant and deep woodwind, of which only a few have been made. We used the subcontrabass flute as the main instrument for the biggest sea predator that has ever lived, the Mosasaur. The haunting deep bass of the Subcontrabass flute just seemed so fitting for this amazing reptile who is the size of a school bus!
Pedro Eustach also played a few very unique instruments for us. It was especially cool to have him record for us on his one-of-a-kind Oryxophone, an Oryx horn with a saxophone mouthpiece. This instrument is featured in the Secernosaurus segment in the Deserts episode. Whenever we recorded a cool instrument, we really tried to feature it and to write the traditional orchestra around it. We believe that marrying all of these unique instruments with a traditional 70-piece orchestra, performed by the talented BBC National Orchestra of Wales, helped us achieve the desired effect of transporting the audience back in time and making these extinct creatures of our distant past sound majestic and beautiful.
AF: How was the collaboration with the producersand showrunner during COVID?
Rozman and Talve: Since a lot of the production was happening during COVID all our communication and spotting sessions with the production team and the showrunner Tim Walker were via ZOOM. We cannot stress enough how important the spotting sessions were for us.
We would often be working on rough cuts with crude animations or even storyboards, so Tim Walker and the directors Paul Thompson, Simon Bell, Dom Walter, Matthew Wright, Paul Stewart really did a great job in guiding us through the story arcs, emotions and nuances of each scene. As a bonus we even got to learn a lot about our dinosaur friends along the way.
For each director we would also try talking in detail about the specific sound they wanted for their episode. For example, in the Ice Worlds episode, Simon Bell was really keen on using a lot of otherworldly soundscapes to help enhance the landscape, since the audience is not used to seeing dinosaurs in snow and ice. On the other hand Matthew Wright wanted to keep the Forests episode very melodic and often have the music take a more calm approach so the natural ambience sounds and the dinosaur noises could play the lead role. Thus, we really think we helped achieve each director’s vision and create a unique soundscape for each episode.
AF: Tell us a bit about your background. What inspired you in your early years to follow this path? And what was your first opportunity in the business?
Talve: I was born into a family of musicians. My grandmother was an amazing piano player and my dad is an incredible guitarist. I started playing the piano and composing at a very young age. In middle school I first watched Shawshank Redemption and was enchanted by the score composed by Thomas Newman. The score inspired me so much that I really wanted to learn the craft of scoring pictures.
A few years later I was accepted to the bachelor’s program in Film Scoring at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Within this major, one of my favorite classes was Documentary Practicum. It was always a dream of mine to score for documentaries, and at the time it felt so out of reach to ever score a BBC nature show, but it was an ultimate goal of mine. In my senior year, I was awarded the BMI award for emerging composers which was presented to me by Thomas Newman himself.
This award really let me know that I am on the right path, so upon my graduation in 2018 I packed my bags and moved to Los Angeles where I soon started to work as an assistant at Bleeding Fingers Music. I moved up the ranks very quickly, so I have now been a full time composer at BFM for the past three years, and my dreams came true! I am still in awe that I had the opportunity to score Prehistoric Planet, one of the greatest creations of BBC and Apple TV to date.
Rozman: My story is a bit different. I was born in the little adriatic country of Slovenia into a family of music appreciators. My grandparent would take me to concerts of the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra from when I can remember. I was in love with music by Prokofiev, Tchaikofsky, Ravel, Chopin and later by the music of Jean Michelle Jarre, Vangelis and John Williams.
I started composing my first pieces at age 9 and honestly I was quite terrible at it, but the urge and passion I felt for the craft only grew stronger. When I was 11 I vividly remember saving my pocket money to purchase the OST of Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator. I was so enchanted by the score and film and it influenced me immensely. In 2009 I was accepted to the classical composition bachelor’s program of the Academy of Music in Ljubljana, where I studied for 4 years with my dear mentor Jani Golob, who as a film composer himself also started to teach me the basics of film scoring.
I also attended the Hollywood Music Workshops in Vienna with composer Blake Neely and composer/orchestrator Conrad Pope. Their mentorship and encouraging words meant the world to me at that time. Their support made me apply to the master’s program of scoring for film, tv and video games at Berklee College of music in Valencia, Spain, where I then started studying in 2017.
The amazing year at Berklee ended with the school taking us to Air Studios in London where I had a chance to record a 3min score for the short film Polyverse with a 54 piece orchestra. Coincidentally enough, Hans Zimmer was at Air Studio at the same time recording his score for Interstellar. Since Bekrlee booked the studio for us students for 2 days, Hans got locked out of the big hall and wasn’t very pleased.
In any case, that is where I first met Hans. I introduced myself and told him I was doing an analysis of his score for Gladiator as part of my thesis and asked him if he would be willing to chat about it someday. A month later I posted the recording of Polyverse on www.vi-control.comforum and Hans stumbled upon my post. He called me a few days later and we chatted about Gladiator. He told me he loved my Polyverse score and that he has “plans” for me for the future.
Of course I was over the moon. Anyway, after graduation I moved back to Slovenia where I spent 4 years composing music for all major orchestras in the country, films, commercials and doing orchestrations for band and singers. I had a very successful career, but in a very short period of time I have basically achieved all my goals that I wanted to in my small little country. So one cloudy Wednesday in 2017 I called Hans and asked if I could come work to his studio in Santa Monica. Seven months later I moved to Los Angeles to work as a full time composer at his company Bleeding Fingers Music where I have been working ever since!
AF: What there any score you wanted to avoid emulating with Prehistoric Planet, or consequently, lean into certain elements?
Rozman and Talve: We really did not try to seek inspiration from other scores. We wanted to write a score that would have its unique atmosphere and sound.
We have both always been dinosaur fans. So as kids we of course watched the first Jurrasic park with the music by John Williams and Walking With Dinosaurs for which the score was composed by Ben Bartlett. So as young musical minds and dinosaur enthusiasts these two scores of course left an impression on us.
Both of these shows were in a scene predecessor of Prehistoric Planet. However, Prehistoric Planetshowcases dinosaurs in a new, fresh, majestic and more natural light. While Planet Earth II was a celebration of life on Earth today, Prehistoric Planet is a celebration of the biodiversity of our planet’s history. We both also adored watching Planet Earth II and listening to the incredible music by Jacob Shea and Jasha Klebe. All of the scores above became iconic and timeless. And we sought out to achieve the same. To create a unique score that could inspire generations to come. We hope that we leave an impression on everyone who watches and listens.
AF: What challenges did you face on the Prehistoric Planet that you could share with our audience?
Rozman and Talve: The biggest challenge in starting each new score is finding the right sound for it. With Prehistoric Planet it was of course finding and creating instruments that would help bring these magnificent creatures back to life. Of course, this involved a lot of trial and error, but we had to be sure that the sounds were perfect for the story. Through collaborating with the team at BBC, Hans and Russell, we really put our heads together to fine-tune the sounds until they were just right. While it was a challenge, we grew as composers and musicians, and the final product was more than worth it!
AF: With Emmy voting starting just around the corner, what would awards recognition for Prehistoric Planet mean to you?
Rozman and Talve: We often have to pinch ourselves…just a few years ago we were both in our own small towns dreaming about working on a project like Prehistoric Planet.
And what a dream team effort Prehistoric Planet has been! We had the privilege to work with people that we have looked up to for years! Sir David Attenborough, Hans Zimmer, Jon Favreau and Mike Gunton. We feel humbled and privileged to be able to walk alongside these giants of filmmaking and music history. We are extremely proud of our work on Prehistoric Planet.
The score was created with such enthusiasm and extremely hard work over the span of almost two years. There isn’t a single piece in the score that wasn’t carefully crafted, with love and passion in every single note. We really gave it our all and we truly hope it shows in the music. Receiving recognition from the Emmy voting academy would be a true honor and it would mean that we have succeeded in telling the brilliant story of Prehistoric Planet with our score.