Upon graduating from Berklee with a degree in Electronic Production and Design, Harsha Thangirala moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in audio post-production for film and television. He scored a position at Hans Zimmer’s prestigious music company Bleeding Fingers Music, where he now works as a Music Editor, helping realize scores for titles like Growing Up Animal, Eden: Untamed Planted, and Island of the Sea Wolves. 

Recently, Thangirala assisted Zimmer on Frozen Planet II for the BBC. The breathtaking series offers never-before-seen footage of the hunting patterns of orca whales and demonstrates the ingenuity of wildlife, and the need to protect it. Thangirala worked to realize the score for the series alongside Zimmer, adding to the intensity, tension, and excitement of the footage featuring orcas on the hunt.

We spoke with Thangirala about orcas whales—and also his involvement in the heart-racing documentary Frozen Planet II, and how he aided in finding the right sounds for the miniseries.

Which scene was your favorite to work on in Frozen Planet II?
There are plenty of amazing, breathtaking scenes in Frozen Planet II, but interestingly enough, some of my favourite scenes to work on were the behind-the-scenes clips, specifically the wave-washing sequence with the orcas. While the main sequence of this hunting method in the series is a spectacle in and of itself, being able to underline the trials that the camera crew had to go through to actually get this groundbreaking footage and spotlight the hard work that went into the capturing of this sequence was a delight.

Describe this scene and the significance it has to the rest of Frozen Planet II.
This scene shows how the camera crew for Frozen Planet II captured a hunting method used by a specific group of orcas to wash crabeater seals off floating icebergs by using their tails to generate waves that knocked the seals into the water. Until Frozen Planet II, this behaviour had never been caught before on camera, and the lengths to which the camera crew went to film it was something that really inspired me. This scene is amongst a few in Frozen Planet II which show us new and incredibly clever behaviours that had never previously been caught on camera. I believe it contributes greatly to the overall message of Frozen Planet II, which is to see and appreciate the wonder of nature as well as to show us the brilliant creatures and ecosystems climate change could wreck.

What tools, plugins, or instruments did you use in your production of this scene?
I used the software Pro Tools to edit the music for this sequence, taking the audio files from various other cues and shifting and manipulating them to match the footage of the camera crew as they attempted to capture this never-before-seen hunting method. I used Serato's Pitch 'n Time Pro to do any pitch shifting and tempo changing with the audio files as I find that the algorithms it uses to perform these operations seem to sound the best out of any software.

What technical challenges did you encounter while working on this scene?
One of the biggest technical challenges in working on this scene was the disparity between the action and excitement of the wave washing and the disappointment when it fails and the camera crew has to wait before they try again. To strike the perfect balance of tension and release and figuring out where to actually let the tension go was a particular challenge.

What was the dialogue like between you and Frozen Planet II director regarding this scene?
Fortunately for this scene, there didn't end up being too much back-and-forth regarding this sequence as I was particularly inspired by it and spent a good amount of time dialing the music in so that it fit the scene perfectly. Almost immediately after sending it off the director approved of the cue and we moved forward with the edits for other sequences.

How did this scene advance the story or reveal something important about the character/storytelling?
This scene shows a behaviour that had never been seen before on film and reveals how quickly animals might adapt to new challenges in nature, but also how important it is that if we enjoy watching and learning about the beauty and brilliance of the wild, we must also do our very best to protect it. I think that this is the fundamental story behind Frozen Planet II and this scene illustrates that narrative perfectly.

Did this scene come together on screen the way it was creatively envisioned initially, or did you make creative changes to have it flow with the film better?
This scene ended up coming together exactly as planned, which is definitely not always the way things go in this industry. However, the teams behind Frozen Planet II were absolutely fantastic, dedicated to the project, and singular in their vision, allowing us to work efficiently to help the product come together exactly as necessary with only minor changes from the initial versions to the final product. 

To learn more about Harsha Thangirala, check him out on IMDb.