We chatted with the composer of Netflix’s magical new film Klaus, Alfonso G. Aguilar, about his work on creating the music and score.
Klaus is Netflix’s new animated Spanish-American film about the magical legend surrounding the world of letters, Santa Claus, and Christmas. The movie has received rave reviews from critics and audiences alike.
It’s a compelling new origin story about Santa Claus, or in this case, just Klaus, and it was created with incredibly gorgeous 2D animation and a moving musical score. We had the chance to chat with Alfonso G. Aguilar, who served as the composer on the movie.
He spoke with us about the labor of love that went into creating this mesmerizing film and his process for scoring the most pivotal scenes. Read our interview, below.
Hidden Remote: I watched Klaus just the other day and I was impressed with it! How did you get involved in the project?
Alfonso G. Aguilar: It’s been five years working on the same movie. It was worth every minute. A friend of mine introduced me to Sergio [Pablos], the director of the film — this was like 5-6 years ago — and he started talking about the movie.
He said, “I’ve got an idea, and I don’t have the money or the script, but I think I’ve got a great idea.” When we finished the meeting, I told him that I wanted to do that movie, so he said, “remember we don’t have the money or script, but if someday we do this movie, you’ll do it with me.”
HR: Is there a particular musical score from the film that you consider your favorite?
AGA: For me, the best one is the Klaus theme. It’s the most emotional of the whole movie, but the first one I like it because it’s the one that brings you into the film and tells you you’re going to watch a Christmas movie in the first 20 seconds. Then it switches to something completely different, which is the story about letters we’re trying to tell.
HR: Was it the fact it was set around Christmas something that appealed to you?
AGA: I love that it was not about Christmas, it was about Santa Klaus, so that’s what I liked the most. Every time we started talking about the meaning of the movie, we thought about the idea that we were not doing a Christmas movie.
At the end its Christmas, but you don’t see Christmas until then. So, it’s actually a story about letters, friendship, emotion, and loyalty. It’s not trying to be a Christmas movie.
HR: How do you differentiate between animated and live-action when composing? Is the process different?
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AGA: Yeah, it’s quite different because, in animation, you’re changing the music every time you get an update on the image. Sometimes I had written and composed the music, and then when I saw the update, and you watch it with the colors and lighting then you change the music because it did not fit perfectly to the image, so it would evolve.
It has been evolving since the first day when I started writing with the animatic until the last one when I wrote the final seven seconds of the movie. I wrote them 30 minutes before recording in Vienna.
HR: What musical instruments did you use the most for Klaus?
AGA: It’s quite a classic soundtrack with some of the Northern instruments, but I used the strings and the grasses. I used the biggest orchestra that they’ve ever recorded there in Synchron Stage in Vienna, which was 126 people, 86 people there, and a 40-person choir. So, it has been quite a big team and quite a big music department for a movie.
Then I’ve got the ocarina, a wind instrument. You blow inside it, and it represents Lydia who is Mrs. Klaus. It’s so beautiful and so emotional. It feels like you were blowing into your hands. It’s very human.
HR: One thing I liked about the movie, aside from the music, is in the animation. Was that something that intrigued you about the film?
AGA: It’s different because it’s like old, but new. It’s a very complex technique, but it’s 2D. They’ve grown every picture 24 frames a second. It’s crazy, and it’s a process so difficult to me because I’m not able to draw anything.
Any time I see what they were doing, it was so funny because we arrived at the studio, and they said, “this week has been amazing because we’ve done 7 seconds!” That was 250 people drawing at the same time.
HR: How do you decide what score to put in which scene? Do you watch the scene first, or do you do any storyboarding or writing first before making the music?
AGA: Some of the cues were written before having the script, just with Sergio’s ideas about the characters. I wrote some of them then later when I had the animatic. I started writing to picture, but it’s tricky because it was intended to change a lot.
We had a fixed picture, and you had to imagine what was happening there. After that, they record the voices of the characters, so you are watching the image, the still image. At that point is when I started mocking up the stills throughout the movie.
HR: So they do the voices after the music go in?
AGA: No, at the same time. I started mocking up when I had the voices but the first thing you do when you have animation is do the voices because they have to lip-sync to the audio. It’s a different workflow from what I’m used to.
HR: Did you take any inspiration from other animated movies or movies in general?
AGA: Not only animation, but I also get inspiration from many things. But for this, I’ve got a lot of inspiration from the Joik, which is a song they sing in the North with one drum and the voice. It’s magical. We orchestrated some of that stuff and you only have the voice and drums. It’s so deep and translates a lot of emotion
HR: I think music plays a huge role in how well-constructed Klaus came out to be. I loved it.
AGA: Thank you so much. But I have to say it was teamwork with Sergio because he knows what he wants emotionally and he can put himself in the seat of the audience. He was directing me and helping me to arrive at the concept many many times.
HR: Thank you so much for chatting with me. I enjoyed the movie, and I’m sure more people will be watching it soon with the holidays coming up. I hope it performs well for you guys!
AGA: Thank you so much and thank you for watching
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Klaus is now available to stream on Netflix.