Scoring Summer Animation: 'Smurfs 2' Composer Talks Minions, Naughties, Working With Pharrell

Sony Pictures

Heitor Pereira scored both installments of the "Despicable Me" and "Smurfs" series.

Heitor Pereira has his name on two films in the summer’s spate of family animations -- Despicable Me 2 and The Smurfs 2, which opened this past weekend and has earned $32.6 million. The composer’s approach to these kids’ franchises: “Why not animate the music too?"

The Brazilian music-maker isn't kidding. “Why not animate the instruments that are not supposed to be animated, things that are not supposed to be musical instruments?” he explains. “By doing that, I bring the animation factor into the music.”

He banged a tin can full of nails for Despicable Me and its sequel. He tapped the neck of a guitar as percussion for The Smurfs 2. For 2008’s Beverly Hills Chihuahua, he had a choir bark the score’s melodies. “I said, 'Let’s pay attention to what the dogs say,' ” Pereira recalls.

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Pereira migrated to film from pop music -- a guitarist for hit British soul band Simply Red until 1996, he also won a Grammy in 2006 for his instrumental arrangement on Sting and Chris Botti’s “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" He is now part of Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions, which also includes composers Steve Jablonsky (Ender’s Game, Transformers) and Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones, Pacific Rim), and collaborated with Zimmer to score the 2009 romantic comedy It’s Complicated.

He names Jerry Goldsmith -- the legendary composer for the Star Trek and Rambo series -- as an inspiration behind his found-sound composing. “I feel that the more variety you can give to the movie in terms of my world of sound, I think the better is the experience for everybody,” he says. But though his instrumentation is sometimes unconventional, he notes that his compositions are not radically experimental. “I don’t reinvent the wheel. I just keep it going.”

His music for the Raja Gosnell-directed Smurfs sequel features a children’s choir, which Pereira had make “whooshing” sounds and other unconventional vocals, and incorporates sound effects from the film itself. The grunts and giggles of the Smurf-like Naughties and the mechanical sounds of the antagonistic wizard Gargamel’s machines became components of beats in Pereira’s score. 

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“We have so many beautiful sound designers, special effects engineers. So to me, the more it’s a collaborative medium [the better],” he says. “I can take from the people that are using the universe of these movies.”

Despicable Me’s can of nails provided sound to accompany the Minions, whose antics Pereira says provided a fun but tricky musical challenge. “To me, for music, they are so surprising,” he says. “At every corner there is a Minion doing something.” Despicable Me 2 has several songs, including a version of “YMCA,” sung by the Minions -- their chirpy, unintelligible chatter voiced by director Pierre Coffin throughout the films. “It’s one guy’s little opera,” Pereira says. 

The Despicable Me films also teamed him with rapper-producer Pharrell Williams, whose recent collaborations with Robin Thicke and Daft Punk have yielded some of the summer’s biggest hit songs. Williams co-composed the first film’s score and wrote several original songs for the second, and the pair connected over their familiarity with Pereira’s native music. “He’s got some respect for Brazilian music,” the composer says. “It was so beautiful to know that in a way he knew me before he met me, just because he knew the music that I came from.”

Pereira praises Williams’ ability to respond to a film -- or artist or song -- in a way that contributes to but respects the original material. “He’s someone that reacts -- to a new artist, a new melody.” Pereira says. “His is a vision that’s ready to react.”

“He’s a kid at heart,” he adds.

Twitter: @asiegemundbroka