A reboot of Thomas and Friends is airing on Cartoon Network in the U.S. and Treehouse in Canada, called Thomas and Friends: All Engines Go!. This reboot is approved for 104 episodes and will also be available to stream on Netflix. From behind the scenes of the production, we are speaking with the Thomas and Friends: All Engines Go! composer, Erica Procunier. Erica has recently been Emmy-nominated for her compelling scoring in Apple’s Emmy award winning series Ghostwriter, an American children’s mystery series. She is also known for her work on critically acclaimed films such as the misfit comedy Don’t Talk to Irene directed by Pat Mills and Thyrone Tommy’s anxiety-ridden drama Mariner, both of which became official selections at the Toronto International Film Festival. Erica’s ability to combine passionate expressiveness, striking piano melodies, and comedic timing make her a leading composer in the world of film, television, theatre, advertisement and interactive productions.
Hi Erica! How have you been?
EP: I’ve been great! Thank you for asking!
What is it like working with a collaborator as successful as Nelvana? Tell us more about your working relationship and shorthand with them.
EP: It’s been a wonderful experience working with a company like Nelvana. I grew up watching Nelvana cartoons like The Care Bears and Babar, so to find myself working with them is literally a dream fulfilled. As for our working relationship, they are such pros after so many decades of experience, so working with them is like working with a well-oiled machine. Also, the directors of the series, Campbell Bryer and Jason Groh, are wonderful to work with—although working together has been entirely remote due to Covid, so we’ve never met face to face!
You brought a unique approach to Thomas and Friends. Can you take us behind one or two of your favorite episodes? Tell us more about your process and how you decide the right way to approach it.
EP: Because this show is quite a departure from the original Thomas and Friends (becoming a 2D cartoon instead of a 3D world), I had to come up with a new approach to the score for this series. The characters’ movement styles are quite different and the pacing is a lot quicker. We went with an adventurous orchestral soundscape for this show. I feel very fortunate to be trusted to compose some new musical themes for these legendary characters, as well as the brand-new characters too. At first there was a fast learning curve to get my musical ideas concise enough to match with the fast pace of this style of animation. After developing many new themes, I think the score has become a balance between bringing out the excitement of train life on the Isle of Sodor and digging down into the true friendship moments, which are the real heart and soul of this show.
Let’s talk about your Emmy nomination for Ghostwriter (congrats!) – how did it feel to get this recognition?
EP: Thank you. I’m so grateful for the recognition from the Television Academy and I wasn’t expecting it at all! The creatives in all departments on Ghostwriter really brought top- quality work to their craft, so I’m not surprised the show has had so many nominations overall.
Did you approach creating music for Thomas and Friends in a specific way at all?
EP: I don’t like to simplify the music I’m composing for children’s stories. For Thomas and Friends, when there is a scene with great musical opportunity, I really like to take full advantage of it –whether it be for the intense action sequences (there’s quite a few in this show!) or whether I am adding emotional complexity to the scenes. I remember all the great music in the film and TV productions from when I was a kid and how influential it was on me, so I treat the shows I work on like there is no target audience at all; just humans listening and feeling things.
What were some of the other challenges you encountered with Thomas and Friends? How did you overcome them?
EP: There is a new electric train character introduced in the series named Kana, and it was an interesting challenge to land the right sound for her theme. I needed to integrate her more synthetic-sounding instruments with the more traditional orchestral style on the show. She’s an electric train, so it was a fun process to come up with a great electric sound palette for her with some synthesizers and FX and then blend it in with the orchestra.
What are some of your other favorite past projects?
EP: I have gravitated to projects lately where the music is integral to the storytelling. I’ve recently worked on a horror fantasy film titled My Soul to Take with actress-turned-director Laura Vandervoort, and the score takes a leading role. In the story, the main character finds herself hypnotized by a phone app. I really had a great time exploring that fantastical dream-like atmosphere and almost literally scoring music to hypnotize the audience as well. I’m not sure about the release of this film yet but look out for it coming soon to a film festival near you!
What else is happening next in your world?
EP: I’m working in a genre that is entirely new for me and I’m really excited about it. It’s a nature docu-series about the Great Lakes Watershed. It has some spectacular footage of all four seasons on the Great Lakes, and I’m pumped because I grew up in a community right on Lake Huron, so the subject matter is very close to home for me. I feel like I can really capture the musical language of this landscape, if you know what I mean!
You can learn more about Erica and his companies at ericaprocunier.com. Thank you for reading!