Why 'Coco' Composer's Score Had to Be "Born Out of the Story"

MAKING of Coco -Composer Michael Giacchino - H 2017
Courtesy of Deborah Coleman/PIXAR

Guitars, marimbas and ancient Latin instruments contributed to Michael Giacchino's musical creation.

Creating a score that sounded like it was "born out of the story" says Coco composer Michael Giacchino, 50, was a priority. That meant not only getting the right music for the score but also for the sounds of the environment. "Music is being played in the streets," says the longtime Pixar collaborator on films including Inside Out, Ratatouille and Up, for which he won an Oscar. "We wanted that to feel legit."

Getting there meant a lot of research and attention to detail. "I was very lucky to work with [songwriters] Germaine Franco and Camilo Lara, both of whom have amazing insight into the world of Mexican music." Original songs also were contributed by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez of Frozen.

While in Mexico, Giacchino "recorded instruments, traditional music and music that I wrote to feel like traditional music," he says. "And we used Mexican musicians. They were incredible — the banda style, ranchero style … we dipped our toe into all of these styles. A lot of it was guitar-driven, but there's also marimbas and all kinds of ancient instruments that we used from Latin America. We tried to use as much as we could and then built an orchestra around these sounds that would then give it a nice big feel when we needed it. But a lot of the score is very simple."

Some of the music had to be done quite early, as Pixar had to animate the musician characters in the movie to match the music. Giacchino recalls that early on, the team discussed whether the music should have different qualities in the lands of the living and the dead. They opted against it.

"We decided that since these were the same people who were on earth, it seems they would probably play the same music that they played while they were alive. So I felt that it should be the same, because it's something that they carry over with them." 

This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.