Behind the Music: An Interview with SuperMansion Composer Kurt Oldman

The stop-motion animated series SuperMansion first premiered in 2013 as a quarter-hour pilot for Adult Swim, under the original name Übermansion. It then had a name change and moved to Sony’s free app, Crackle, in 2015 with Bryan Cranston lending his voice and executive producing. Because of Cranston’s following and the widely successful Robot Chicken creators Seth Green and Matthew Senreich also being attached the show, now in its 3rd season, it has gained a steady fan following along with garnering accolades along the way. (Keegan-Michael Key and Chris Pine were both Emmy nominated for their Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performances.) Also receiving acclaim is the score by veteran composer Kurt Oldman. With some of the episodes having different themes, Kurt has been able to explore a wide variety of genres and tones such as classic horror sounds in the Halloween special along with ’70s and ’80s vibes for the upcoming Summer Vacation special. We wanted to talk with him about the process for creating these melodies along with the Summer Vacation special airing August 16. Read the interview with Kurt below.

Are there any specific challenges with composing SuperMansion and if so, what are they?

Animation, in general, can be challenging because you are scoring to animated storyboard quite a bit. While the voices are recorded very early on and cut into the animatics, there is a lot that you can miss as a composer especially on action sequences. You really have to fill in the gaps a little in your head when you’re working that way. On the upside, I think it can also free you up to approach a scene in a way you may otherwise not. It allows you to not get so focused accommodating all these hitpoints—and there are a lot in animation—but focus on the natural flow of the music. You’d be surprised how much things can fall into place when you get that right.

On Season 3 of SuperMansion, it’s a real treat because I do actually get a lot of the final animation in my work-prints.

Is there a scene or sequence in SuperMansion that you composed and are most proud? Can you discuss and reveal why it resonated with you?

There have been a couple moments that I look back on with fond memories. I think one of the first few episodes I did, “The Inconceivable Escape of Dr. Devizo,” was just amazing on so many levels and really got me into the world of SuperMansion and its characters. This episode allowed me to develop a lot of the initial musical approaches and material for our Heroes. It was also the episode where we first meet Black Saturn’s alter Ego “Mange”. I remember having a lot of fun with that. Of course at the time I didn’t know that this would become an ongoing gig.

One thing that Zeb has always been very conscious about is that the emotions of our characters have to be treated in an honest way musically. We have a surprising amount of emotional moments in this show and the Season Two finale is a really nice highlight in that sense. Rex getting rescued by Lex at the end of the show was probably one of my favorites scenes to work on.

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Do you create specific themes for different characters? If so, do you have a favorite character theme?

Absolutely. The first character theme I remember writing was when I came on board late in Season 1. I believe it was the ‘Mange’ theme, for Black Saturn’s alter ego. Zeb and I talked about themes quite a bit before we started Season 2 and I ended up writing thematic suites before we started scoring to picture. My favorite and possibly the most used in Season 2 was the heroic ‘Zenith’ theme. It usually comes in when she’s transforming and in some select fight sequenced. It was interesting because we needed it to be heroic and at the same time be versatile enough to be turned into more tender and emotional versions for moments with her in the later part of Season 2. I ended up writing it in Dorian, which was unusual considering the main purpose it had to serve, but it proved very useful.
I have to admit I do have a soft spot for the ‘Deandre the Arby’s Guy’. I really scored him as Wyatt Earp riding in on his horse saving the day. It’s just so over the top and funnier than I could have imagined.

How closely did you work with the show’s creators Zeb Wells & Matthew Senreich? Did they give you more freedom with the score or did they have a pretty specific idea how they wanted it to sound?

I work very closely with Zeb Wells and the episode directors of the show. He attends all the spotting sessions and signs off on the final score for each episode. Working in the superhero genre dictated the sound to a degree, in that, we all agreed the show would be best served with a big, orchestral palette. Outside of this, Zeb is open to creative and crazy ideas and has allowed me to push things a little further. In fact, he lets me cross the line without being worried about going too far. Sometimes, for the ‘Special’ Episodes, the creative team does have a specific idea as to how they want it to sound and sometimes we change up the musical palette completely.

For the episode where Rex goes into Virtual Reality, we went full-on ’80s Synthwave and, of course, the Halloween Special we scored as a real classic piece of Horror.

Besides the score, we have written many fun songs that we recorded with the cast, from Bryan Cranston Rapping as Rex, to Jim Parsons as Mr. Skibumpers singing a Show Tune. There are many more wild songs coming up in the remaining episodes.

On average how much music are you creating per episode?

It varies from episode to episode. I think we never spotted under fifteen minutes worth. There where several episodes that were wall to wall. Often, the volume of music is not what dictates time spent writing. I think it’s important to map out your writing week by breaking down, “How much action do I have? How much sweeping emotional stuff?” At the end of the day, an episode heavy on action and fight sequences is going to take more time to write than one that has less action.

I read that for some of the specials you have gotten to experiment with different sounds. Is there a genre of sounds that you haven’t gotten to experiment with that you would like?

Zeb and I have been joking about doing a ‘show tune’ episode as a classic Hollywood musical. Now that would be interesting and we have some incredibly talented singers in the cast. Chris Pine is one hell of a singer and puts his own twist on everything. He also has about 250 characters floating around in his head. Crazy how many voices he’s done for this show. Yes, I’d definitely love to do more songs with Chris. We were talking about Dr. Devizo having a song in the last session.

Keegan-Michael Key is one of those people who surprise you. I just remember when I first heard his voice thinking, “Wow, this dude can really sing”.
I’ve given these guys some challenging material that’s for sure, without any time to prep really. They’ve all been troopers and have done a wonderful job, so having a song-based episode would be really cool.

Can you tell us about the upcoming SuperMansion ‘Summer Vacation’ special?

Our Heroes are taking a break from Mansion life and are heading off to an Island Vacation. Things go bad rather quickly…

When we spotted this episode with Zeb Wells and Director Alex Kamer, we came up with the idea to musically reference the style of some of our favorite ’70s and ’80s TV shows. We were talking about the Brady Bunch, Hawaii Five-0, the A-Team and a couple others. I’m a big fan of ’80s TV music and the sound of the smaller size studio orchestras used back then. I wrote a suite of ideas and styles before the episode was even locked to see how Zeb and Alex would respond to it. Parts of one of the suites ended up becoming the special Main Titles of this episode. I was even able to sneak some ’60s Italian exploitation music in.
We also recorded a crazy ’60s Beach song with the entire cast. It was one hell of a blast.

Have you already started working on the next season of the show? If so, are you doing anything different with the score?

We are still knee-deep in completing this season. For the previous seasons, the episode call was about thirteen episodes. This season, we have twenty-one, which will see us through to September.

Visit Kurt at http://kurtoldman.com/

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