Composer George Shaw Interview: Abominable And The Invisible City 


Available to stream starting October 5, Everest and the gang make their grand return in the form of an all-new television series. Originally based on the 2019 DreamWorks film, Abominable, Abominable and the Invisible City reveals that Everest is not the only fantastical creature in need of aid. With help from her friends and her magical violin, Yi sets out to ensure all the lost animals find their place.

The series stars Chloe Bennet as Yi, Tenzing Trainor as Jin, Ethan Loh as Peng, Michelle Wong as Mei, Karen Huie as Nai Nai, Darin De Paul as Everest, and Alan Cumming as Burnish.


Related: Every DreamWorks Animated Movie From The Last Decade, Ranked

Screen Rant chats with composer George Shaw about connecting the show’s music to the storyline and shares his favorite Abominable creature.

George Shaw Talks Abominable and the Invisible City

Screen Rant: I just wanted to start by asking how you got involved in the series. Did you do any work on the original film?

George Shaw: It would have been a dream to actually work on the original film. I was actually in the Universal Composers Initiative, and it was actually our first day of the program. I approached the executives and said, “I hear of this movie that’s set in China. I’m an expert on various Chinese instruments, and I’d be happy to help if there’s anything I can do to help,” but didn’t get that opportunity. But I’m so happy to come full-circle and be the composer on the TV show.

Screen Rant: The series isn’t a musical, but it has a lot of instrumentals, especially because of Yi’s magical violin. How much did you end up composing?

George Shaw: There are ten episodes, and every episode is just chock-full of music. For a twenty-two-minute episode, there’s probably an average of eighteen or nineteen minutes of music. So it’s a lot. It’s just a privilege to be the musical voice behind Yi and Everest’s powers. It’s really special.

Screen Rant: What’s that process like? When the music is ongoing throughout the episode, are you finding a way to connect it to the storyline? What are you thinking about when you’re making it?

George Shaw: We started pretty early in, during the animatic phase. They brought me in very early to write all of Yi’s violin playing and I had to actually record a violin player, and actually shoot footage of the actual performance, so that the animators could then reference that in the animation and can actually match where her fingers are on the instrument and make it look as realistic as possible.

In that regard, I was able to create a lot of the themes early on. Once we got into the final animation, I was going to picture, I was able to use those themes and also expand on them and write new things for various characters and creatures throughout the series.

Screen Rant: You were also an orchestra conductor. Were you excited to compose Yi’s violin music?

George Shaw: Oh, this whole project has been a dream come true. Partly just being Chinese-American and seeing my culture represented on screen, but also musically, I was able to draw on my classical background, so I was influenced by 18th and 19th century violin concertos, the modern orchestra, particularly in animation scoring. Particularly drawing on a little bit of the movie and just what you expect from a DreamWorks project in terms of a big orchestral sound.

On top of that, there were all the Chinese instrumentation that I was able to use to connect the story with the Chinese mythical creatures and the setting in China—particularly at Nai Nai’s dumpling shop where a lot of scenes take place. But even beyond that, it’s also set in modern day, so there were opportunities to have electronic music, rock music, jazz, and just the whole gamut of musical genres was so much fun to explore.

Screen Rant: I’m guessing you do, but do you play any instruments yourself?

George Shaw: I do. I actually play piano and clarinet primarily, but I’ve taught myself a lot of other instruments over the years, including harp and a little bit of guitar, ukulele…also saxophones. Particularly for this project, I was playing a lot of Chinese wind instruments, which are called the bawu and the hulusi. Or you could just call it hulu for short. But that might confuse people since the show is on Hulu!

But yeah, I recorded a lot of those myself. I also recorded some Chinese drums, including a lion drum, which you’ll hear in the Chinese New Year’s episodes where there’s a dragon dance. So it was really fun to just play around with all those instruments that I spent money on [laughs]. It’s good to put that investment to use.

Screen Rant: Wow, you’re actually playing a lot of the music you composed for the show.

George Shaw: Every single episode, there are probably a number of cues where there is particularly prominent solo woodwind stuff. That’s a lot of it.

Screen Rant: You’ve composed songs for live-action, as well. Is there a difference in the overall tone or feeling that you’re going for, or is it purely based on the content of the story?

George Shaw: Yeah, at the end of the day, a composer’s job is to tell that particular story through music. And so when we started with this project, the producers told me, “We want you to approach this like a feature film and not so much the more cartoony Mickey Mouse scene kind of music where the music sort of accents or mirrors every little action on screen.

I brought a very big approach to this in terms of the music and longer phrases and melodies. But also, it’s still animation and sort of a difference from live-action is that there’s just sort of more room for the music to be magical and be a little more active in elevating the story. Although, if you’re doing more fantasy-adventure kind of stuff, there is room for that in live-action as well.

Screen Rant: This show is about Yi and her friends saving magical creatures, and I’ve been asking everyone who their favorite animal is this season.

George Shaw: Gosh, there are so many cute animals.

Screen Rant: I know. They’re adorable!

George Shaw: I guess, besides Everest, who’s kind of the star of the show, I really love Fenghuang, which is the magical Phoenix that we meet in episode one. I think a lot of it is because I wrote a theme for Fenghuang that I love, and frankly, a lot of the team working on the project loved, so much so that it sort of evolved beyond Fenghuang’s theme, and became the magical creatures’ theme. So you actually hear it all throughout the series.

Screen Rant: Lastly, I know that you also created the Star Wars Musical, which I love, because it’s a bunch of different Disney songs! Would you ever want to do something like that again in the future?

George Shaw: We actually have a second episode coming [since] 2017. It’s been in post-production, languishing, because it’s a lot of work; a lot of digital and visual effects work. But we definitely hope to finish it soon, and it’s pretty close. We’re just waiting on editors who are basically pouring their love and passion into it, but they have to make money on other projects. So this is their fun side project, and we’re hoping to release it fairly soon.

Screen Rant: Oh, that’s so exciting! Awesome!

George Shaw: It’s called Star Wars Musical: Empire’s New Groove.

About Abominable and the Invisible City

Abominable and the Invisible City is a comedy adventure series that continues the wild and wooly fun of DreamWorks Animation’s Abominable. Through Everest the yeti, Yi, Jin, and Peng know that there’s a whole magical world out there, and now it’s even closer than they think.

Check out our other interview with Abominable and the Invisible City director Ruolin Li as well.

NEXT: DreamWorks: 10 Exciting Upcoming Projects To Look Out For After The Bad Guys

Abominable and the Invisible City is now available to stream on Peacock and Hulu.


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