Making Music for Batman: Behind the Scenes of Three Decades of Animated Composing

For most fans of the franchise, the most iconic Batman opening to ever exist is the opening of [...]

For most fans of the franchise, the most iconic Batman opening to ever exist is the opening of Batman: The Animated Series.

It's a perfectly animated action sequence that introduces the character, his quest, and Gotham City without a single word. What narrates this feat of storytelling is music. It builds tension, sews scenes togethers, and delivers each punch with explosive energy. Listening to that theme song can still produce chills almost 25 years after its debut.

That song was crafted by the inimitable Danny Elfman, but he was not alone in composing the music for Batman: The Animated Series. Elfman worked with a large team of composers, three of whom have continued to work with the character and banded together to form the studio Dynamic Music Partners. Together or apart, Lolita Ritmanis, Kristopher Carter, and Michael McCuistion have scored a variety of animated Batman stories such as Batman Beyond and Batman: The Killing Joke. Most recently they composed the music for Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, bringing new life to Adam West and Burt Ward's beloved camp interpretations of Batman and Robin.

Before any of those series or films came about though, these three were first introduced behind the scenes of Batman: The Animated Series. All of them were young composers looking to make their mark, but none suspected how the Caped Crusader might come to define their careers.

Ritmanis was hired by Warner Brothers in 1991 after graduating The Dick Grove School of Music. In the coming decade she would also work as a Hollywood orchestrator on a variety of series and films, including Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The X-Files Movie. A mix of composition, orchestration, and other musical endeavors have shown her to be a multi-faceted talent throughout her career.

Carter was the youngest composer to work for Warner Brothers when he scored his first episode of the series. He has gone on to become a teacher himself. In addition to his work on various animated Batman stories and popular horror films, Carter has instructed young musicians on the art of film composition.

McCuistion entered the world of composition after working on orchestration with a variety of Hollywood talents, including Elfman. It led him to his very first assignment on Batman: The Animated Series. That work would lead him to a long career of scoring the adventures of other superheroes, including Superman and Spider-Man in their own series and games.

Batman Beyond Music

It was in 2007 that they formed Dynamic Music Partners. Together they share a portfolio of hundreds of hours of music created for television, films, video games, and live performances. They also sport dozens of Emmy and Annie nominations, including an Emmy win they shared in "Music Direction and Composition" for work on Batman Beyond. It's a staggering collection of accomplishments that make them such a powerful trio. It's also a lot of work, but they say, "We take pride in running a well-oiled machine." They focus on the needs of the client and then decide what the best approach to the assignment may be. Sometimes that means a collaborative composition, and other times it means one member will run with the project on their own. The results speak for themselves.

You can listen through the many compositions on many different stories that the Dynamic Music Partners have created and quickly come to learn something about the character of Batman. The range of energy, mood, and style vary wildly, but there is something quintessentially Batman about it all. Carter says, "I've always been intrigued at how Batman's story is broad enough to handle so many different characterizations." It's that variety that has kept him working on the character repeatedly over decades. "There always is a new musical direction to explore."

McCuistion has seen his understanding of the character grow along with his own career. "I always thought of him as just "the dark hero" at first" he says. Yet with new projects new layers were added. Contributions to the thrilling noir-like adventures of Batman: The Animated Series became a generational battle in Batman Beyond. What once seemed like a black-and-white story has become much more complex, as has the music scored for him. McCuistion says, "I get that part of his story much more now that I'm older."

Batman Beyond Music

Their newest score for Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders stands out as being fresh despite the story fitting in perfectly with the 1966 television series. Compared to work on Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond, it's truly unique. The team says, "we wrote in the jazzy, big band style of composers such as Neal Hefti, Nelson Riddle and Billy May." That's apparent with enough horns, drums, and guitars to transport viewers to a swinging 60s nightclub. While there are variations on this theme, they say "the core sound you hear is that horn-driven, jazz-rock fusion."

The closest comparison viewers could make is to their work on the Batman: The Brave and The Bold episode, "Mayhem of the Music Meister!", the first Batman musical. That episode was clearly designed as an accessible, modern musical, while Return of the Caped Crusaders revels in being a period piece. It was further enhance by a live recording session at Capitol Records to capture the energy of the moment. The team notes, "it was a privilege to bring the music for this long-form project to life in such an historic place". Now Capitol Records belongs to the unique history of this team of composers as well.

Throughout so many distinct projects, honors, and changes in work, the common thread that weaves this team together is Batman. He was the starting point of their careers, a high point with their Emmy win, and now a recurring motif with each new film or episode. Ritmanis says, "Batman has been with me on and off since 1985." He has been all things in the lives of these composers, sometimes dark and brooding, other times cheerful and light. Whether they accompany the voices of Kevin Conroy or Adam West, they convey the endless joys and excitement of the character.

That history speaks to both the tremendous talent of these composers and the continued inspiration so many artists find in Batman.