Animaniacs is one of television’s oldest and most well-known animated series. The show is filled with a lot of humor and charm, as well as several notable songs and scores. With the release of the brand new Animaniacs reboot, BagoGames had the pleasure of interviewing Steven and Julie Bernstein, composers of both the original and reboot series, to discuss their origins, process, and more.
What goes through your minds as you compose the score for Animaniacs and other shows you’ve worked on?
Steven: After the fear and panic (laughs), our main function is to serve the action and story and hopefully to provide a third dimension of feeling. What goes through our minds is “how we best accomplish that?” and “where are the parts in this film/ show that are landmarks?”
Julie: But eventually something kicks in and takes over once you start the process and you’re able to write, and it’s a satisfying feeling, but usually, this zone doesn’t last long as the scene always changes.
Were you always fans of the show?
Steven: Well, we were there from the beginning, and we loved the show even before there were music and sound effects in the episodes, and we still found ourselves laughing and appreciating the brilliance of the performance.
Julie: We’ve always loved the show, and we were, fortunately, one of the first to see it at the start in the nineties. We even used to collect the Animaniacs toys from McDonalds so yeah, we’ve always loved it.
Are there any specific episodes you enjoy from either the original and reboot?
Steven: I think some of our favorites were mostly the musical ones.
Julie: Yeah, the musical episodes, especially maybe West Side Pigeons Steve scored that and that was incredible. We really enjoy the musicals.
I noticed a lot of tonal shifts in the scores. How do you consistently keep up with that in each score?
Steven: We serve the story and the characters, so the tone especially tends to shift with each character and their personalities.
Julie: Well, we handle it depending on each scene, and there’s always a language for each genre, and sticking to that helps with the consistency.
So how were you first discovered to compose for the show?
Steven: It’s really an odd story, and it came out of left-field.
Julie: Steven and I both studied together, and we were already prepared, and one day we were at an event when we bumped into an old friend of mine who happen to be friends with Richard stone who was searching for a composer to work on a show before the Animaniacs called Tazmania so when Steve got the job for Animaniacs as a composer I worked with him as an orchestrator so it all sort of worked out in a crazy way.
So have you guys ever been in a slump?
Julie: That’s like asking if we’re composers (laughs)
Steven: There have been long periods when we haven’t been working much, and there have been both up and down moments, so hopefully, we can sustain the up moments as much as we can.
Have you ever had a spark of inspiration that saves a project before a deadline?
Julie: Every two weeks. (laughs) there are many moments where we think we’re never going to find it, and then it comes.
Steven: Yeah, it’s usually in the midst of things where we need to find some sort of inspiration, especially where a deadline approaches.
Of all the shows you’ve worked on, which was your favorite?
Steven: It’s kind of like asking which is your favorite child. It’s a pretty hard question. There is a moment that we’re very proud of over several episodes, like we mentioned West Side Pigeons. I think there’s an episode I was proud of called White Gloves. It was fun to write, and I like what I wrote (laughs)
Julie: Thing is as we’re working on something, that thing is or favorite at the moment.
Julie, would you like to compose works that aren’t just cartoons?
Julie: Absolutely, I think we both would. We’ve both done other stuff, but it just happens to be that both of us have been blessed with most of our professional lives working on cartoons.
Steven, how did it feel reconstructing some of the world’s most beloved film music?
Steven: That was some of the first works I ever did, and I was glad to have it. It was a huge responsibility to recreate the music faithfully of these film titans, and it was also an invaluable training. I had to listen intently to reproduce them. I was happy to have the job, but I would have done it for free had I known what incredible training it was.
What do you think about the art of remastering popular music and scores?
Steven: Well, I’m not crazy about touching the classics like Beethoven, but with pop and music from the beginning of the century, I believe there’s an opportunity there.
Julie: All the jazz standards and making new arrangements are fantastic, and each composer can make their own spin, and as a composer, I love the idea of going into something, rearranging it, and making it your own.
What goes into the process of your collaboration?
Julie: When we collaborate. We usually write separately and then weave it all together. We often give themes to each character. We agree on what theme the character gets, and then we go to our separate corners and write and orchestrate our music alone.
What is your favorite genre aside from jazz?
Julie: Mostly Classical and Jazz.
Steven: Yeah, I think we’re both huge classical fans and covering the ages, not just current. Well into the 20th century.
Do you agree that earning money from music can be quite difficult these days?
Steven: Oh, sure. There’s so much more product to work on, but with the advent of electronic music, all you need is a little budget and a way to go. But I think the ones that will be successful are the ones that understand the language of music. it’s also hard. There are many talented individuals all trying to get their big break.
Julie: Yeah, it’s quite competitive, and this wasn’t the case thirty to forty years ago cause now people can study varying fields in the medium of music, which is great, but as Steve said, there’s more competition now more than ever.
What advice would you give to these struggling artists?
Julie: Well, I’m going to say it’s something you must really love and be what you want to do and I think chance, being at the right place at the right time really helps. Also, make sure to practice, write and listen. Making it in the arts is especially hard, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
Steven: One also needs to persevere. You don’t give up even if you have to put food on the table at the same time.
Have you ever considered composing for videogames?
Steven: Oh yeah, we’ve definitely considered it and would welcome the opportunity.
Julie: When videogames started getting popular in the 90s, we were quite busy with Animaniacs, but we knew a lot of people who were hired to work on games at the time, and now, it’s become a huge industry with many games having a significant budget for orchestras so we would definitely welcome the opportunity if it arrives.
It was a great opportunity to talk to you guys, and we look forward to the release of the new Animaniacs.
Both: Thank you, it was our pleasure. The new Animaniacs is currently on Hulu, it’s fantastic, and we think you’re going to love it.
Are you a fan of Animaniacs? What do you think of the interview? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, be sure to check out our review of the 2020 Animaniacs reboot.