Posts tagged #Animation

Artist Spotlight: Zach Marsh

Composing music for clients can be a balance of humility and knowing when to speak up. Get to know Zach Marsh and how he manages this seemingly daunting task.

First things first, Zach Marsh has a lot on his plate, and he makes it look easy. Not only is he a full-time composer for clients including VeggieTales, Netflix's Daredevil and Fiat, but he also teaches piano through his YouTube channel (we highly recommend his insane "Coffee Covers" series), and directs an original musical starring children with autism. For him, music lives, breathes and grows and it's critical to grow along with it as it transcends to different mediums.

Marsh's music is beautiful. His cinematic and often grandoise songs, spark an emotional potency in every project. When approaching music as a full-time career, Marsh has developed his life in a diversified way. Whether he's writing music for a TV show, or teaching students, he navigates and cultivates an "emotional intelligence" when collaborating with others. Each project is balance between the natural push and pull between following the vision of the director and imparting your own creative voice into the mix. We chatted with Marsh about his respected career and how he's able to navigate the varied life of a working musician. Enjoy.

Marmoset: What makes a good composer?

Zach Marsh: Good composers are good psychologists because they get into the head of the director and the viewer. Music in media is all about hitting the emotional nail on the head, so composers have to be really psychologically in tune with the story. If you can tell a good story, if you read a lot, and if you can quickly hone in on the emotions of a scene, you’re halfway there. Basically when you’re writing music for TV or film, music is the given. It’s the rest of it — the technology, the business, the relationships, the emotional intelligence — that’s what takes a lot of time to develop.

M: What is your favorite instrument to compose with?

ZM: I started piano and it’s always been my go-to for performing and composing. I write with other instruments like guitar and drums every once in a while, but when I’m working on tight deadlines it’s easier for me to quickly get my ideas down at the keyboard.

M: When starting off in your profession, what instrument would you suggest one learn to play first? Why?

ZM: I’m biased, but I always point people toward the piano. Not only does it give you a really clear visual reference when learning music theory, but it’s also the most common way to input MIDI info into your computer. The better pianist you are, the easier any type of production work will be. It’s like getting good at typing.

M: When and how did you start composing music for Veggie Tales

ZM: Ironically, most of my best music projects have come from people outside the entertainment industry. I was volunteering at a homeless ministry in Pasadena, where “networking” was the last thing on my mind, and one of the other volunteers mentioned her husband was the composer for Veggie Tales. A few months later I told her if he ever needed help, please let me know, and she said he needed lots of help, please help. So, I started working for him and writing additional music for the show as a ghost writer. All that to say, you never know where you’ll find music projects, so I think getting out there, being really active, and doing a lot of different things (especially if you live in LA because everyone's a filmmaker) is a great way to meet people. Another example: I work out at a gym, I met another composer there, one time he called me because he couldn’t take an orchestration job... fast forward a few months and I’ve done two projects with the theater company he referred me to and I’m now their resident orchestrator. When I started out pursuing a career as a composer professionally, I was looking for any type of road map or path that most people took to become a composer, and now that I’ve been doing this for a while, I’ve realized there’s no one path to making it happen. If you want to be a composer, and you’re resilient, you can make a living at it. It’s also easier than ever to be a full-time composer because we all have access to the same technology. I’ve sat in with some of the biggest composers, and besides maybe some external gear, the majority of the tech they’re using is the same stuff I use in my home studio. Twenty years ago it was a job reserved for the elite, but now it’s more of a working class job: no one’s getting filthy rich, but there are a lot of hard-working people out there providing for their families as full time composers. That’s what’s important to me. 

M: How do you feel that composing music for the show shaped your career?

ZM: It’s definitely still shaping my career. Producing music for TV/Film/Web is difficult to learn in the classroom. There are some really great computer music academic programs, but for me, I’ve learned the most from working in the field. Robert Watson, the main composer for Veggie Tales, started out assisting on Pokemon and other animated series from the 90’s, so he’s been working specifically with animation for a long time. Having someone who’s both a veteran of the trade and invested in the quality of my music has helped me a lot. Since I’m ghostwriting for him, he’s always making sure the music I write for him doesn’t suck, so that's pushed me to keep getting better. Aside from writing for the show, just having a household name like Veggie Tales in my portfolio has provided a lot of other writing opportunities for me. One of the catch 22’s of composing is that people won’t give you big projects unless you’ve already done big projects. So working as a ghostwriter in some ways is like a backdoor in to getting those bigger projects. The Veggie Tales reel I sent to Marmoset was also the only music of mine they said they could use, so it also helped me get in there. 

M: In your opinion, what role does music play in film?

ZM: When you’re a songwriter or composer for the concert hall, you’re writing music for you. When you’re a composer for film and TV, you’re always writing music for someone else. In most cases, you’re coming on to someone else’s creative vision and you’re trying to write something that you can be proud of and that everyone else likes as well. That can be really tricky sometimes. I’ve often showed a new cue to a director that I’m really passionate about and they don’t like it because it’s saying too much in the moment, or it’s being too important. Even though I’d love to flex my compositional craft more in film scoring, sometimes a single note works best for the scene, or just one instrument instead of the whole orchestra. That’s part of getting more projects and working with lots of different types of directors; you gain that restraint that says, "this job isn’t about me and showing everyone my cool music chops, it’s about writing something that helps tell the story."

M: When you are first brought onto a composition project, what questions do you tend to ask? What information about the project do you prefer to know?

ZM: I always like to listen to references they send -- that’s a good starting point. A lot of filmmakers want to use musical lingo to communicate things, which can be kind of rough sometimes, so I usually start by asking them to talk in terms of emotion instead of musical styles. I think it’s easier to find a starting point if you’re thinking emotionally, since saying something like “rock feel” can mean a lot of different things musically, but saying “somber feel” immediately limits you into a specific tempo, chord structure, timbre, etc. 

M: Are there any changes you’ve made to you approach to creating music over the years?

ZM: My goal has always been to make a living making music. I haven’t had a job outside of music since freshman year of college and for me that’s success. When I was studying composition in school, everything was from a theoretical perspective. I was entering into a grand tradition of great composers, trying to learn everything I could by studying their works and all that. As soon as I left school, it was all about business and technology. Like I said before, music is the given. I still work on developing my compositional craft, but the majority of my time is spent figuring out how to use the technology to my advantage and help me be more efficient, and then the rest of the time is spent building relationships with people and building up my business as a composer. I’d say the biggest change has been being okay with writing simple music, learning how to say more with less elements, and shifting my mentality to understand the music I write is for someone else.

I used to be more concerned with the fact that I don’t use a lot of live instruments. I’d be really self conscious when I saw other composers tracking a bunch of string parts or guitar on their cues and I’d wish I could play other instruments well enough to do that quickly. What I’ve been learning more recently is that almost all TV shows are using exclusively fake instruments. I wrote a few jazz cues for season 2 of Daredevil, and originally I just sent them demos that we all decided would be re-recorded with live instruments in a big studio, but they ended up liking the demos so much they just used them in the episode. So I’m more comfortable now, especially for TV work, using sampled instruments for cues.

Learning Restraint In Storytelling: An interview with Filmmaker, Luke Randall

Field Notes Interview #46: Luke Randall, Animator + Director

When the short film The Walrus was shared with us from its filmmaker, Luke Randall, a bizarre, yet captivating breeze swept through our studios. The film immediately captured everyone's attention over here. It wasn't just the unique nature of the film that enthralled us, it was in the pacing. Driven by the soundtrack from Marmoset Artist, Henry The Rabbit, the story unfolded at a natural speed and with subtlety -- something that's only learned through experience and maturity in the craft of storytelling. 

Originally from Tasmania, Randall spent his first 20 years experimenting with different forms of storytelling. Now crossing to the other side of the pond and living in Los Angeles, he's firmly rooted as a filmmaker and animator for DreamWorks. We chatted with Luke about his creative process, tough decisions he's had to make as an artist, and how he's learned the element of restraint to tell compelling stories.

M: When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

LR: I tried storytelling through lots of different mediums as kid and teenager; messing around with the home video camera, drawing comics and making animated flipbooks. I was pretty isolated and didn't really understand that making films was a thing that I could possibly do though and there were a lot of digressions along the way that I can only hope were at least character building. Now I'm very much focused on writing and directing.

M: What's your favorite moment of the filmmaking process?

LR: I enjoy all parts. On set is really adrenaline inducing but when there's no budget and you're wearing all the hats and calling on favors, it can be a bit of a circus. Editing is gratifying because you have all the footage and are no longer at the mercy of the conditions of the set. It's just man vs footage.

M: What do you think defines a filmmakers' voice?

LR: As a viewer, the thing that interests me is specificity- the antithesis of generic. Taste, experience and the ability to articulate and spin the best of them into a narrative is probably what it comes down to. If you don't specify each detail of the film, the decisions get made arbitrarily and that can lead to generic results.

The films I enjoy most are auteur films, ones where you could tell who wrote and directed after a couple of shots. They are more personal and more interesting to me. Those films don't always work but when they do, they are thrilling.

M: Tell us more about your process when filming The Walrus.

LR: I wrote, directed and photographed it myself using consumer gear so it was pretty DIY. I was lucky enough to have my good friend and fellow filmmaker Jordan Chesney acting as right hand man through out which made a huge difference as he has more experience and caught a lot of things. The Walrus himself was played by my talented friend Rodrigo Huerta and his girlfriend Samantha happened to be a make up artist. I was originally going to apply the walrus prosthetic myself which would have been a disaster, it took Sam -- who is a talented pro -- several hours to get him into the full walrus get up. I was extremely lucky to have their help.

The exterior stuff was shot guerrilla style which was also nerve-racking. Driving down the heavily policed Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible with a walrus at the wheel attracts attention.

M: What's the toughest decision you've had to make as a filmmaker?

LR: Probably just putting stuff out there. You have to make things to practice and get better, but filmmaking is an expensive and communal medium so it makes sense to put it out there and experience the response, good or bad, even if you are not entirely satisfied.


M: What role do you feel music has in film?

LR: I think it's critical. It can set the entire tone for a scene without a single word or action. Even if it's no music, that's a decision that can have a profound effect.

M: How do you feel music is misused in projects?

LR: There can be a tendency to want to jump right to the touching, emotional juicy part or high energy part in a film by just turning up the appropriate music. That can feel insincere if it's not earned by what comes before.

That's the hard part. I've made a lot of mistakes myself with music trying to work it out. Less is more is a lesson I've learnt the hard way.

M: When do you know that you have something ready to show the world?

LR: It's always different. I never really feel satisfied and tend to shelve things for a while. Once I'm well on the way with a new project and have some detachment, I'll put it out there.

M: What's coming up?

LR: I've got another film finished that is sitting on the shelf. I'll likely release once I've let it stew for a bit. At the moment most of my free time is focused on writing a feature length script.

Does any of this resonate with you? Share your thoughts by commenting below... On that note, share your most recent short films with us at: We'll feature our favorites on the journal and send some sweet swag to our featured filmmakers.

After A Month On The Road, This Amazing Film Was Created

It's amazing what a month of travel will do. It's a time to break out of routine, a time to reflect and a time to create badass art.

French filmmaker, Cyrill Durigon travelled through California for 30 days with his friend and hand-letterer, Hervé Marmillot to discover and be inspired. When sharing his work with us, Durigon explained that "one night in Los Angeles [Marmillot and I] decided to leave our amazing host with a gift, here's the result: A chalkboard artwork on the wall of our host’s loft."

"Fantasize (Remix)" by Kye Kye enhances the ethereal nature of the film. Everything moves and floats like a daydream. Watch how the film unfolds into a multimedia presentation that will take you to other states.

Share your work with us at We'll select our favorites and share them on our journal. 

Field Notes: An interview with composer, David Swensen


Much like breathing, music is an innate ability for composer, David Swensen. And when it comes to writing songs for Swensen, it's all about constant movement and keeping things interesting for himself. 

Swensen's unique folk-pop tracks are compelling and uplifting, leaving any listener with a smile on their face. Even when working with filmmakers, his work wildly shines through. In our recent collaboration with producer, Katie Reardon on an animation for Nike+, we learned that David's original composition was the perfect pairing for the project. He also provided an amazing soundtrack to the Levi's Eureka short film.

David Swensen is not only a blue-collar musician, he's a family man and a hard worker. We caught up with Swensen and chatted about his relationship with music, being a father, a husband and what a day in the life of a full-time composer looks like.

M: When did you start writing music?

DS: I guess I started writing music when I was a little kid. My brother took guitar lessons and I would try to mimic what he was playing then I'd try to make it into something of my own. In sixth grade I remember writing a song with a friend about Colonel Custer for a history project and performed it at an assembly. However, I didn't really start writing my own music until I was in college. I used some of my student aid money to buy a beat up 70's Gibson SG and a cheap recording interface for my computer. Then I was finally able to listen back to some of my ideas which was both exciting and humbling. Later, I think I finally found my stride a bit better after living in LA and playing with the Parson Red Heads (Evan Way and I have played music together since we were about 13). After playing and touring with them I finally had the courage to sit down and write an album. 

M: What does a day in the life of a working musician look like for you?

DS: I try to start my day by waking up before everyone so that I can have time to myself to drink coffee, pray, and read. Then I usually make breakfast for my wife and two boys and make sure my oldest son gets to preschool on time. If I have time, I take my dog for a walk before going into the studio. I usually get into my studio somewhere between 9:00 and 10:00 and start working on whatever that day's work might entail. I take a lunch break around noon and pick up my son from school. I usually work until about 5:00 or 6:00 (or later if the deadline is tight). Have dinner then get kids ready for bed. I try to go to the gym either before or after working for the day. I feel very fortunate that I can spend so much time with my kids and my wife and still do what I love. 

M: What direction were you going with when writing music for "Your Year With Nike+"?

DS: They had actually liked a track I had done in the past so I was trying to capture what they liked about that track while creating something new that represented the mood of the animation. I suppose I was kind of going for a soul/motown-ish vibe in the rhythm section to capture the attitudes of the characters while adding some quirky/psychedelic elements to compliment the otherworldly side of the animation. 

M: How do you feel your song complimented the animation?

DS: I think the swagger and intensity worked well against the characters. I also think the quirkiness of the track suited the style of the animation well. The monster scene was particularly fun to score. I had a lot of fun with it and think the final product turned out awesome!

M: What are you excited about for the future?

DS: I'm excited to see what God has in store for me and my family in this new year. Music is a beautiful thing and it has allowed me to meet some truly amazing people. I'm excited to continue to write new music and continue to tread into unfamiliar waters to push myself to become better at what I do.

Original Music // Your Year With Nike+

When it comes to most achievements, the only obstacle to overcome tends to be ourselves. Our collaboration with Nike+AKQA and our dear friend Katie Reardon takes this idea literally, having a ton of fun in the process. 

Nike teamed up with French artist McBess to illustrate animated videos highlighting a year of amazing triumphs runners had in 2014 using the Nike+ app. Over 100K athletes across the United States and Canada were rewarded with a personalized filmeach telling a unique story. Take for example that Lesina from Santa Monica, CA's film is different than Richard from Loveland, CO's.

In the spirit of celebration, our team of producers Tim Shrout and Rob Dennler went with a joyful and bouncy indie-rock anthem packed with energy. As the soundtrack runs along with the playful animation, there is one unifying call to action: outdo yourself in 2015. And we intend to do just that.

3 New Music Videos You Should Check Out

It's been a damn good time for music videos.  With so much music coming in our thriving artistic community, it's been answered with a loving outpour of cinematic interpretations.  We present 3 recent collaborations of sight and sound.


Nick Jaina // Don't Come To Me

We love Nick Jaina, we also love his charmingly awkward dance moves.  The Oregon Ballet Theatre must also love his sweet moves too because they choreographed a routine with him.  Beautifully shot by director Seth Wheldon, this videos will leave you fully enraptured again and again.

Check out Nick Jaina's Artist Profile HERE.

Alameda // New Leaf

An older song brought to new life. This animation was a labor of love from the awesome Denver-based agency Legwork. The project took nearly two years to finish due to files being lost and computers crashing. However, this amazing piece is getting the accolades it deserves being selected as an Staff Pick on Vimeo and will be screened at this years SXSW Festival.

Check out Alameda's Artist Profile HERE.

Cars & Trains // Nations

multi-instrumentalist + electronic aficionado Tom Fillep (aka Cars & Trains) makes his selfie debut in this simple and unique video.  This glitchy one-take shot reminds us of those analog VHS tracking days, yet something more modern.  The textures in the video are strongly reminiscent with the ones in the song. Enjoy.

Check out Cars & Trains Artist Profile HERE.