Interview with DC Super Hero Girls Composer Michael Gatt

DC Superhero Girls - Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Animation
DC Superhero Girls - Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Animation /

We chatted with Michael Gatt, the composer of the Warner Brothers animated series, DC Super Hero Girls, all about how he creates character themes and more!

DC Super Hero Girls is an animated series based on the popular web shorts of the same name. The series follows the adventures of teenage versions of superheroes such as Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, and more!

Hidden Remote got the chance to talk with Michael Gatt, the series composer, about his process in creating individual scores for each character and the show as a whole.

Hidden Remote: How did you get involved with DC? Were you a DC fan beforehand, if so who are your favorite heroes and/or villains?

Michael Gatt: I have always been a big fan of DC, comics, TV, film, all of it. While traveling abroad for many years, I would buy locally sold comics to help me learn the language of whatever country I was in.

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As for getting involved with the show, it was really a lot of luck in the stoic sense of preparation meeting opportunity. I had spent many years playing in bands and scoring TV commercials before moving into film and television scoring.

When I heard that Lauren Faust was doing a DC show, I was extremely passionate to be considered so I immediately leaned into this background and wrote some new material for a very quick turnaround.

HR: What has your experience been like working on DC Super Hero Girls?

MG: Scoring a series for DC and Warner Brothers was a long-held dream of mine, I actually had written this goal down years prior to getting the show. This show is very special, with an amazing group of talent creating it and so much attention and care in every frame.

It is simultaneously fun and challenging. Unlike most serial television series scores, DC Super Hero Girls has no or very little reuse of score from one episode to the next. Sure, I’m very conscious about sticking to the themes and signature character sounds we’ve established, but each episode has an almost completely fresh score beginning to end.

HR: Who are your favorite characters to score out of the DC Super Hero Girls? How about villains?

MG: This may be unanswerable as it keeps changing episode to episode. There is so much to grab on to in this show, the storytelling, character design, art direction, voice talent, everyone absolutely brings it! As a result, I find that I’m really quite into whichever heroes or villains are featured in the episode I’m scoring at the moment and always trying to honor all of the incredible work from everyone else involved.

DC Super Hero Girls
DC Super Hero Girls – Courtesy of Warner Bros Animation /

HR: What is your process for scoring the shorts?

MG: I don’t actually score the web shorts, I did score the theatrical short, “The Late Batsby” that played in front of Teen Titans Go To The Movies. Prior to coming on board DC Super Hero Girls I scored 9 shorts for Illumination/Universal featuring characters from Minions, Despicable Me, Sing!, The Secret Life of Pets, and more.

In a shorter format, there is a ton of storytelling happening in a relatively short amount of time, in the case of DC Super Hero Girls, 11 minutes. The score has to follow suit which often means sharp musical turns.

HR: How do you decide what sound and composition you want for each girl? For instance, what made you choose rock for Supergirl and ‘60s surfer music for Batgirl?

MG: That was the result of collaboration with Lauren and Jenn and all other creatives in service of Lauren’s overall vision for the show and score. We would all talk about the characters, throw out ideas, and then I would send them music to picture and revise until we felt like we had it. We were committed to having themes and musical direction for each character before launching.

From the theatrical short to the movie to the episodes, there is a consistent feel to the score and themes. The idea was to have any choices truly grow out who these characters are. Batgirl uses all kinds of really cool gadgets, many of them analog/and old school, with articulating arms and lots of hardware. Thus, along with the fun feel of surf music fitting her character’s wacky nature, the analog old school nature of that genre seems to fit with her character’s power set.

Supergirl has a rebel attitude, both in and out of the cape. When she’s not saving the day, you may find her rocking out at a club with a live band. So, a rock direction seemed the way to go. Ultimately, we leaned on pop-punk, a little raw, if you will, to underscore her personality.

HR: You scored both the film, DC Super Hero Girls: Sweet Justice, and now the series. Did you approach the two differently?

MG: I think the biggest difference is that we are being introduced to these characters in Sweet Justice, so we were careful not to reveal their full-fledged themes until after their superhero alter egos were revealed.

For example, when Babs has her first day at school and notices some “peculiar” things about her future teammates, each moment is stung. Kara has a guitar sting when she slams the car door, Karen has a little 8-bit beat when she arrives on the school bus, Zatanna has a magical flourish in line with her sound when her dad teleports her backpack and so on.

HR: Are you inspired by any compositions or composers? How about other cartoons or animation soundtracks?

MG: Absolutely, one of my favorite things to do is see film music performed by a live orchestra. I already have tickets to this year’s Bowl concert of Maestro at the Movies, which is all samples of the genius that is, John Williams.  As for specific favorite animation soundtracks, I have always loved John Powell’s score for How To Train Your Dragon and Giacchino’s score for The Incredibles.

Like these scores, DC Super Hero Girls has a very specific set of motifs and sounds. In the Sweet Justice movie, there is a cue that takes place for their fight on the pier, the girls face off with their foe and action ensues. Up to this point in the movie, we have heard their individual themes and their signature sounds. In this scene they come together and work as a team, thus we play their group theme using their signature sounds depending on who is on screen.

HR: How do you approach scoring something animated versus something live-action?

MG: That really depends on the tone of the film and the vision of the filmmakers. Often times I approach them the same way. For me, that means diving into the story and character development.  Music composition is just another form of storytelling and in the case of the score, my goal is to foreshadow things musically.

I’ll have a lot of conversations with the filmmakers, this is one of the many things I enjoy about composing for picture. It means talking about film, music, culture, and art with other creatives. Ideally, I can watch the film, and “live” with it for a while, before writing anything. During this initial time, I may start to experiment with the creation of sounds, putting together a specific palette that will be exclusive to the film. During this process, the sounds will often inspire motifs.

In live action drama, often what is called for is setting a tone for a scene, an emotional bed.  This is something I leaned into with a recent film I scored called Braid. Certainly, I scored/stung moments, but overall it was about evoking a mood for each scored scene.
With animation, it can often mean scoring by the second, hitting every action or emotion which is why scoring animation is generally seen as a whole other animal in the world of composers.

HR: What is your dream project to work on in film or television?

MG: Per my earlier response, scoring DC Super Hero Girls certainly is a dream project!
I’m really in love with the process of what I do which makes it easy to not identify with any material result. I focus on doing work that I believe in and it’s all the better when I am doing it with, and for, people who care as much about the music as I do. This is absolutely the case with DC Super Hero Girls.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You can watch The Late Batsby short that prefaced Teen Titans Go to the Movies right here:

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Thank you so much to Michael Gatt for chatting with us about DC Superhero Girls! If you want to watch the series, you can find the animated shorts available on Youtube or on Cartoon Network!