Interview: Composer Daniel Rojas on creating score for Netflix’s Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts

The wait is officially over, the third and final season of Dreamwork’s Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeast is now available to stream on Netflix. In case you need a refresher of the show’s premise: Kipo is set on a post-apocalyptic Earth where animals have become sentient and are called mutes, while humans have been forced underground. But when a young human girl, Kipo, is lost on the surface and discovers she has both human and mute DNA, she becomes the key to making peace between the two groups. Fans of the show have seen Kipo overcome many challenges and obstacles in the last three seasons, all to an eclectic and ever-surprising score by composer Daniel Rojas. While most shows have one common thematic sound, Rojas has pushed the boundaries and made the blending of many different musical sounds and styles the norm in Kipo’s world. To learn more about Kipo’s music, we spoke exclusively with Rojas below.

In a previous interview, you said that a lot of the songs were done before the storyboards so that the artists could board to the songs. Is this the way it’s normally done? I feel like a lot of the time, songs are created in post-production?

You’re right, most music is created in post-production, but on shows that have musical moments on screen, it’s quite normal to do it this way.  You want to make sure the animation synchs perfectly to the song. It’s easier to do it that way than trying to synch the song to the animation. Even voice-over usually gets recorded before animation as well so that’s why the songs have to be done at the same stage because the voice actors sing them, then everything gets added. There are many other songs on Kipo that are not sung on screen, and all of those were done much later in post.

Why do you think the creatives picked you for the job? What do you think stood out to them most about your work?

I think the variety of genres I included on my demo is what stood out. I remember thinking to myself that this might be a little too all over the place, and I was actually afraid of that being taken against it, but luckily that’s what they were looking for. They wanted someone who could dab in different genres, so that’s what benefitted me the most. Also, having a background in songs because they wanted a composer who could also write and produce songs. Not every composer has experience with that.

When approaching the show, musically, what was your philosophy for the way you wanted it to sound?

Rad and the music department had mentioned to me in the very beginning that the show takes place in a fictional LA of sorts and they wanted to tap on all the subgenres and subcultures of LA. They wanted to do this, but with a magical spin where things have morphed and now there are mutants that have been taking over. So, they basically wanted to represent all the different subcultures and the music had to respond to that. They wanted to give a sonic identity to each of the subgroups that represent an LA subculture.

There is a big hip hop element to the score. Was this something you had in mind from the beginning or did it seem more fitting the more you worked on the project?

It was discussed from the very beginning. Rad and the writers are big hip hop fans. They wanted to infuse this early on, so that was discussed since I got there. Things were adapted as things moved on and what we saw works best. So, the style of hip hop or the style of the music in the show definitely informed us as we got to know the show better together.

What has working on Kipo taught you, that you might bring to your next project?

Thinking outside of the box. It’s opened up my palate and approach to things in a less conventional way. I think I owe so much of this to James and Kier, the music supervisors. They have such a fresh musical approach to things. I think that’s something I will take on to future projects. Trying to find unexpected choices that will make a scene more fun and iconic.

You said that The Deathstalkers have sounds that were inspired by John Carpenter’s movies. Can you elaborate on that? Which John Carpenter films specifically?

Nothing specific, just in general. It was discussed that the type of characters that those were, felt like an ode to those Carpenter genre horror films. A lot of that is specific synth sounds that have “blippy” sounds. This sound was very common in ’70s horror genre films.

Kipo has a lot of different musical genres in it. Was there a style of music that was in the final product that surprised you?

Yes, the old songs that are used in the show, which came from the music supervisors. They surprised me because they work well and are very different than the rest of the music in the show. There are a few old songs in season 1 episodes 2 and 4. Then in Episode 10 of season 3, we have some old songs that give it a unique flavor that the rest of the show doesn’t have as much, because the rest of the music in the show is pretty modern.

Season 3 of Kipo is the final season. What are you going to miss most about working on the show?

I would say the team. Working with the creative team of Kipo was something very special. It was a really friendly group of people. They were just trying to make something fun and special that I’m sure will be hard to top. And also the fanbase, Kipo fans are just the friendliest and most supportive. We can only wish there’s more to come in the future.

The Season 3 score is available now, https://music.apple.com/us/album/kipo-and-the-age-of-wonderbeasts-season-3-mixtape/1535119092

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