UCF Alumnus Alexander Bornstein ‘09 has been composing music for television, film, concert halls and more since graduating from UCF. Bornstein’s next big project, Transformers: War for Cybertron is now streaming on Netflix. We caught up with him to see what it was like creating the music for the new animated series.
What was it like creating the music for a series in such a popular franchise?
AB: It was a very daunting challenge! I really wanted to make sure that I created a soundscape and themes that resonated with the show. So much time was spent sitting at a piano and trying out various ideas that got thrown out. All that being said, it’s ultimately been a dream project to work on and an amazingly cool experience to be entrusted with a franchise as well known as Transformers.
What is the process for composing the music for a TV series? How do you work with the director? What stages of production are you part of?
AB: On this series, I work primarily with the show runner F.J. DeSanto and supervising producer Matt Murray. F.J. and I had discussions very early in 2019 about the dramatic goals for the series, then I wrote three main themes (Autobots, Decepticon, and Cybertron). Those themes were able to establish the sonic palette for the show, then by the time we finished them the series episodes were ready for scoring. The routine since then has consisted of talking through each episode’s story, deciding where the music is going and then what it needs to accomplish. For the themes, I’d only seen concept art but I composed the in-episode music to what is called a “No Lighting” animation from the studio in Japan. “No Lighting” means the timings are mostly finished, but the animation itself is less detailed and unfinished. While I compose the music, Polygon Pictures (the studio producing the animation) adds final lighting, textures, etc.
Have you composed for an animated show before? Is there a different approach you take to composing for animation?
AB: I’ve helped out on some before, but this was my first deep dive. I loved it! It’s really liberating to have just concept art to be inspired and directed by in the beginning. It allowed for me to go into the series with a degree of security and confidence knowing we had an established sound for the show.
Did you use any of the music from the classic animated series and movies or from the most recent live-action franchise to inspire the music you created for this series?
AB: We made a conscious decision to not emulate or reprise music from previous franchise entries. The series itself is a very exciting and new take on these beloved characters and we thought the music should itself be treated as a blank slate. That being said, we’ve taken lots of inspiration from scores like Tron: Legacy and Blade Runner, among many others. F.J. and I also consistently communicate story beats in “Star Wars-ese!” A lot of times he’ll mention something like, “This is like the moment from Empire Strikes back,” and as soon as he mentions the scene we will instantly be on the same page, creatively.
What is it like to watch a TV series, movie or other media that you have composed the music for?
AB: It’s incredibly fulfilling to see all of the endless hours and work come together in the final version of the project. Many times, there’s a large gap of time between me finishing and the episode/film/etc. having the final touches put on. This usually means that I get to view it with a fresh perspective. I don’t always actively seek out the finished result, though. Artistically there’s a sense of closure for me when I finish and at that point it’s more the audience who I want to see enjoy it than pat myself on the back.
Watch the trailer for Transformers: War for Cybertron
UCF Alumnus Alexander Bornstein ‘09 is an award-winning composer currently based in Los Angeles. His music has been heard on television, independent films, feature films, web series, documentaries and concert halls around the U.S. Alexander has also been at the forefront of new multimedia platforms, composing music for one of the first VR television series.