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Composer Michael Giacchino brings a sense of motion to Disney's Incredicoaster

Composer Michael Giacchino brings a sense of motion to Disney's Incredicoaster
A view of the Incredicoaster at Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Michael Giacchino has won Oscar, Emmy and Grammy statuettes throughout his career, but there’s one brag-worthy feat that likely won’t be found on his resume: The composer has the ability to ride roller coasters nearly a dozen times back to back without getting motion sickness.

“I've always been OK with riding things like that or being at amusement parks and doing things over and over,” said Giacchino, who has recently scored multiple Incredibles-related projects for Disney/Pixar.

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His music is once again heard on this summer’s box office smash “Incredibles 2,” and those who visit the Disneyland Resort will hear Giacchino’s flashy, vintage spy-music flourishes throughout Pixar Pier at California Adventure.

One section of the latter is themed entirely to the Incredibles, and it’s Giacchino’s music that graces the Incredicoaster, the roller coaster formerly known as California Screamin’. And over the past few weeks, Giacchino has ridden it dozens of times.

Such work sacrifices were necessary, as the Incredicoaster had some peculiar requirements. This isn’t the first coaster Giacchino has scored for Disney — Space Mountain boasts his weirdly retro mix of orchestral and synthetic sounds — but with the Incredicoaster incorporating more overt story elements, Giacchino’s fast-paced, ’60s-inspired orchestral jazz soundtrack is called upon to bring a sense of life to the large-scale static figures.

Throughout the attraction guests will encounter multiple Incredibles figures, including a 53-foot Elastigirl, but only one — a gooey interpretation of the superhero baby Jack-Jack — possesses lifelike movement. Yet throughout, Giacchino’s score oozes with cartoonish sound effects, perfectly timed as the coaster zooms past each statue to help lend an additional sense of motion.

Telling a story at 50-or-so mph is no easy feat, and the task is even more difficult when the characters themselves are stationary. But Giacchino brings a tinge of improvisation to the Incredicoaster.

“It’s pretty breakneck,” he said of his approach to the music, which incorporates bits from each “Incredibles” film as well as some original touches, all in about two minutes.

Pixar Pier at dusk.
Pixar Pier at dusk. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

This may be the rare thrill ride in which a middle or rear seat is better. Since the story of the Incredicoaster is the frantic quest to rescue Jack-Jack, a seat near the back allows the figures to emerge as something of a surprise.

Plus there’s another advantage.

“When you're right up front, that wind is blasting in your face, so you lose a lot of that sound of what's going on,” he said. “The further back you move the better it gets.”

Like Space Mountain, Giacchino said his score for the Incredicoaster is split into multiple parts, each one digitally integrated as the ride progresses.

“That's because it could be full of people. It could be half full. Or it could have a football team in it or a ballerina group in it,” he said. “So you don't know how heavy it is, and how heavy it is [determines] how fast it goes. Those minute timing changes mean everything when you're trying to make sure the music does a certain thing when you're up on a hill or going down something.

“If you don't break up the music to adjust to the weight of the coaster, then you may not hit the right things,” he said. “They do quick cross-fades and the computer on-board calculates how close the coaster is to the next trigger.”

With Pixar Pier still a work in progress and sections themed to other films that feature Giacchino’s music still to come — an area saluting “Inside Out” will start opening later this summer — the composer’s work will continue to be spread throughout the boardwalk. That’s fine with him, he said, as he’s always happy to procrastinate on another film project in favor of theme park work.

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“I think a lot of people, once they finish a film, and if something like this comes up, they would hand this off to someone else to do,” said. “I'm really interested in architecture and design, and the idea of creating something that will be there for a very long time for people to enjoy is very appealing.

“I love going to the parks,” he continued, “and one of my favorite things is going into the Enchanted Tiki Room and just being in there and seeing those birds and listening to the Sherman Brothers songs. There's nothing like that. So there's a part of me that somehow wants to be a part of that.”

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