×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Composer Randy Newman Revs Up Massive Orchestra for ‘Cars 3’ Score

Randy Newman is conducting his music for “Cars 3” on the Sony scoring stage in Culver City. He asks the strings and woodwinds for a slight change: “Bars eight and nine, drop it down to an A-flat. Closer to Mendelssohn,” he urges, pausing just a bit before adding, “Steve Mendelssohn.”

At once, 107 professional musicians burst into laughter.

Later on, when the orchestra plays a little too loudly, he cautions, “It’s nothing more than a mezzo forte. But I can understand your excitement.” More guffaws from the musicians, many of whom have played on Newman scores dating back to the 1980s, such as “Ragtime” and “The Natural.” When the recording session for the hour-long score for the latest Pixar film, which opens June 16, is finished, the orchestra applauds for two full minutes.

“Cars 3” is Newman’s eighth film for Pixar. He’s won best original song Oscars for two of them (“Monsters, Inc.” and “Toy Story 3”) and been nominated for song, score or both for four others (“Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Toy Story 2” and the first “Cars” in 2006).

Newman’s music is considered such a critical component of the animated movies that John Lasseter, who hired the composer for the original “Toy Story” and is now chief creative officer of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, continues to take an active interest in Newman’s work on projects even when he’s not directing the films himself.

Lasseter showed up halfway through the last recording session, which Variety attended. He nodded his head to the music, pumped his fist in the air at triumphant moments and, greeting Newman warmly when he came into the booth for a playback, told him: “It’s got a great emotional arc. It’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

In an interview a few weeks later, Newman was equally effusive. “It’s a privilege to be able to write for an orchestra like this,” he says. “Sometimes I wish I could get a big romantic drama with Jessica Chastain looking into the distance for 20 or 30 seconds. But I get cars going around the track.”

Recalling his early experiences with Pixar, Newman says the filmmakers worried that computer animation might be cold and that an orchestral score might “warm it up” with the necessary emotional content. “That never was the case,” Newman says. “What they did didn’t turn out cold in the slightest, with or without music. But a big orchestra is often fitting for what’s going on [in the films].”

Newman’s orchestra for “Cars 3” is among his largest ever. “To make any mark in a picture where cars are racing 50% of the time,” he points out, “you have to make some noise.”

Propelling the action is only one aspect of the assignment. Setting the tone and underlining the story’s emotions are equally important. Says director Brian Fee: “Randy can do Americana like no one else. But he has this magic ability to be incredibly emotional. He can play comedy, and then two beats later have you reaching for a tissue. You have an epic experience because of what Randy writes.”

Although Newman reprises a racing-victory theme from the original “Cars” in the final reel of the new film, the vast majority of his music is new and classically styled. “It’s a fairly mature premise,” notes the composer, “about someone getting older and worried. It’s a little less broad.” In the story, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), no longer the world-champion racecar he once was, is trying to make a comeback.

Newman, who’s been nominated for an Oscar 20 times, the first two for “Ragtime,” spent a year, on and off, writing the “Cars 3” score, recording it in three chunks over a period of several months. “Randy can start thinking about things, but he can’t put notes to a page if we’re not done cutting a scene,” Fee explains.

The composer’s solo-piano score for “The Meyerowitz Stories” just debuted at Cannes, but Newman is leaving film behind for the next few months. His first album of original songs in nine years, “Dark Matter,” will be released by Nonesuch Aug. 4. Its lead song, a send-up of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has already been released (along with a hilarious video directed by his cousin, Tim Newman). The singer-songwriter expects most of the remainder of 2017 to involve touring in support of the album.

Still, “Toy Story 4” is due in June 2019. Asked if he’s planning to return to the world of Woody and Buzz, Newman says simply, “I think I will.”

More Artisans

  • Home Again Trinidad and Tobago

    Trinidad and Tobago Attracts Producers by Adding Hefty Cash Incentive to Visual Lures

    A dual-island Caribbean nation that fits fulfills the all visual requirements of a tropical paradise, Trinidad and Tobago offers a striking variety of shooting locales ranging from azure waters, white sands, thick jungle, sprawling savannahs and – on the urban side – bustling cities. Though the islands have predominantly housed local films, they are now [...]

  • Netflix Our Planet Sophie Darlington

    Netflix's 'Our Planet' Roars to Life With Work by Top Wildlife Cinematographers

    In terms of scope, production time and — very likely — budget, Netflix’s “Our Planet” is one of the most ambitious projects from the streaming service to date. Narrated by David Attenborough and made available worldwide on April 5, the goal of the eight-part series is to capture diverse habitats across the globe and highlight [...]

  • Les Miserables BBC

    BBC's 'Les Miserables' Recreates the Dark World of Victor Hugo's Novel

    Director Tom Shankland didn’t want his “Les Miserables” to be anything like the stage-musical version of Victor Hugo’s sweeping historical novel, nor like the 2012 Tom Hooper feature-film musical.  For the BBC limited series — a drama starring Olivia Colman, Lily Collins, David Oyelowo and Dominic West, which aired the first of its six episodes in [...]

  • Marsai Martin Little Movie

    How the 'Little' Production Team Created Look of Marsai Martin-Regina Hall Comedy

    What if you could return to a time in your childhood and relive your life from that point knowing what you know now? That’s the fantasy at the core of Universal’s “Little,” released April 12, in which Regina Hall’s Jordan Sanders, a character overwhelmed by the pressures of adulthood, gets the chance to relive the [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8 BTS

    How 'Game of Thrones'' Locations Have Expanded With the Series

    When the eighth and final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” debuts on April 14, the show’s millions of followers will once again be transported to the exotic lands and sweeping landscapes where the saga is set. From King’s Landing to The Wall, stunning locations have been woven into the fabric of “Thrones” since its [...]

  • In The Dark CW

    How 'In the Dark' Trained a Regular Dog to Act as a Guide Dog

    There used to be an adage in show business about never working with animals or children, but for Violetta Hessing, there’s nothing more fulfilling than finding a dog that wants to be on set and training it to deliver just as much emotion as its human scene partners. Hessing owns and is the head trainer [...]

  • Ryan Higa Youtube Star

    YouTube Star Ryan Higa Shows the Way to Maintain Independence With DIY Studio

    Hollywood creatives have always dreamed of having total control of their work. For most of them, it has been just that: a dream.  But that doesn’t hold true for a new breed of content creators: YouTube influencers. These individuals, with no corporate boss to answer to, and whose work is growing in scope and impact, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content