Super Furball Saves the Future is a sequel to Super Furball, directed by Joona Tena, the children’s story about a young girl and her super-powered guinea pig. Finnish composer Panu Aaltio worked his magic to expand the music for this new adventure.
PopAxiom spoke with Panu about becoming a musician and creating the score for Super Furball Saves the Future!
Panu grew up in a musical family. “My parents met in a choir. My mom performed and was a music teacher. So it’s always been a part of everything.” He reminisces, “I was looking at old VHS tapes, my dad was taking footage of me at three years old, putting the LP of the ‘Woman in Red’ on the record player and playing the piano along with Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Just Called to Say I Love you,’ that was a big song for me.”
“I started playing cello at six years old.” His mother owned a cello and loved the sound. “She’d asked me at four or five, ‘Do you want to play the cello?’ I didn’t really understand what I was being asked, but I’d heard this phrase on a TV show and said, ‘Don’t even think about it.’ So, she sold the cello. A year or so later, I said, ‘No, actually, I want to play the cello.”
Panu found music software on one of his early computers at around eight years old. “At first, I was transcribing cello pieces. But then I started putting in my notes and music. I thought it was so cool to hear it played back.” Next, he started making electronic music in the style of 90s British groups like Prodigy. “But then I discovered film music. I started noticing composers like Hans Zimmer were using orchestra and electronic music. I thought that was interesting.”
Panu applied to Sibelius Academy in Finland and entered the music technology department. “I asked if I could get composition lessons. They said, ‘Sure. Call anyone, and we’ll take care of it.’ So I called Tuomas Kantelinen, my favorite Finnish composer. He became my mentor. Tuomas asked me what kind of music I wanted to do, and I said ‘big emotions.’ He said, ‘Get out of Finland fast.’
“I followed his advice,” Panu smiles, acknowledging Finland’s propensity for more somber, grounded films. “I applied to the University of Southern California. I came to the scoring program in 2005. That was a cool year. I was constantly starstruck. I walked into a small classroom, and there’s Alan Silvestri like ‘Hi.’”
Panu’s time at USC included an internship on the hit TV series LOST for one episode. It was the seventh episode of the second season with a big plot point.” He jokingly adds, “The producers said, ‘If this leaks, we’ll kill you.’” Lost composer Michael Giacchino “let me conduct the orchestra, and that was incredible.”
About Super Furball
“I did a film, a thriller, with Joona years ago,” he says about becoming part of the Super Furball team. “We had a good time working together. The next film he did was the first Super Furball. He asked me to score that, which was cool because it was a totally different genre for me. That went well.” Panu was nominated for a Finnish film award after the first film.
Making the first film provided Panu with a fairly small ensemble of musicians. “So, I asked the producers this time if we could get a big orchestra so I could do a Hollywood-style score. We were fortunate to get the 97-piece philharmonic. We had a full week with this orchestra.”
But his process began as always before Panu began utilizing that large orchestra. “At USC, one of my teachers was Christopher Young; he would say that when you’re starting a composition, hands off the keyboard. Make sure it’s in your mind and let your mind work the music.” Always have the melody in your head first. I’ve found that important. If you start on an instrument or the computer, it steers you in a certain direction. So it’s essential to let the music take you first, then when you know what it wants to do, you put it in the computer.
“I always want to have a toolkit of melodies or chord progressions,” he says about his process once instruments and collaborators come fully into play. “I can call on these when I work on specific scenes. It’s important to know where you are in the bigger picture.”
Panu started with a superhero theme on the piano to get an idea of the melody. “We worked on several themes and picked one to become the main theme. Other themes we used for important characters. Once I have that toolkit ready, I start composing to the picture.”
“Since doing the Super Furball, I’ve been interested in exploring more of that, more animated stuff.” He says about the future. “Doing something or Pixar or Dreamworks would let me explore more of that kind of world on a bigger scale.”
For now, he’s scored another film that’s nothing like Super Furball called 5,000 Blankets. “It’s directed by Amin Matalqa. He’d heard my music on a scoring podcast and contacted me about this movie. It’s about a family that seems perfect initially, and the music supports that with melody and orchestral. But the father has a schizophrenic episode, and he vanishes. The music breaks apart; you don’t hear the family theme anymore. It comes back, but it’s not the same. We wanted this sort of arc in the music.”
Is Super Furball Saves the Future on your watch list?
Thanks to Panu Aaltio and Impact24 PR
for making this interview possible.
Find more interviews from Ruben R. Diaz!