Annie-nominated film composer Dan Levy had never worked in animation before he took on Jérémy Clapin’s inventive “I Lost My Body.” For Levy, that news experience proved to be even more meaningful than his live-action scores because it was more of a partnership. “He told me it’s about being stuck in destiny and that I could change the destiny with my music,” Levy said of the filmmaker. That was quite a sense of empowerment going into this existential, graphic mystery about a severed hand trying to reconnect with its body — by far the season’s boldest animated feature.
“I knew I could make the music of this movie,” added the French composer. “So I started with this theme of destiny with the hand [called Rosalie] and the melody of the childhood flashback in black-and-white.” The problem was that the composer intended to use flute but Clapin wanted a completely synthesized score as ambient music. But he eventually won him over. Levy also wanted melody and strings for the parallel love story between the young man who’s lost his hand, Naofel (Dev Patel), and a librarian, Gabrielle (Alia Shawkat), who reawakens his passion for life. They went back and forth about that as well until the composer wore down the director’s resistance.
“I had to fight for melodies and I had to fight for strings [using the Sinfonia Pop Orchestra],” Levy said. “The first scene where they meet in her apartment lobby and they talk through the intercom, I started with synthesizer and slowly eased into the strings. He was fine with it. At the end, I had the mix of everything. But when Naofel follows Gabrielle to the subway and the library, it was tough because there were the noise of the metro. But I said to Jérémy, we have to admit that we need love music or he’s going to be like a stalker.” Once again, the composer was persuasive.
However, the director was adamant that the perilous journey of the hand through Paris be more abstract, textured, and harsh. It required an emotional dimension that was best conveyed through the composer’s use of synths. But it was here that a discussion about blending score and sound design became integral to their strategy.
“Jérémy asked for a lot of descending [synthesizer] for the sequences with the hand,” Levy said. “But what he didn’t realize at first was that he was talking about sound design. And we had a lot of back and forth with the sound guys, which was really interesting because sometimes the sound was really music and sometimes the music was more powerful as sound. The blurring was the really the work of the engineer.”
“I liked the way the music can go to sound design and it’s not even music anymore,” Clapin added. “Very melodic to something else. It sounds very organic. It’s really like the editing.”
Ultimately, the balance of strings and synths provided musical unity for “I Lost My Body.” Added Levy, “The first time I saw the finished movie was at Cannes. It was really emotional for me, but the power of the movie didn’t grab me until the second time.”