When Peter Lam was a child, he, like most other children, loved movies. He would sneak into his parents’ movie collection, eager at any opportunity to experience a new film. However, unlike most children, who would be enthralled by what they saw on the screen, Lam was captivated by what he heard through the speakers.
Now, Lam is an internationally sought-after film composer. He has worked on countless successful projects, including the award-winning films The Ballerina, The Shoemaker, & His Apprentice, and (le) Rebound. He recently worked on the score for the TV movie Menendez: Blood Brothers, which premiered on Lifetime earlier this month, with over a million people tuning in to hear what he is capable of. However, what is perhaps the most celebrated film of his career is Lovebites, a 2015 animated film that catapulted Lam to the top of his field, being recognized as one of the best film composers to come out of Hong Kong in recent memory.
“I am always excited to work on animations. It’s a very imaginative genre and music often plays a big part in shaping the ‘sound world’ of the animated world. A composer often doesn’t come on board on a live-action film until the film has been shot. But in animation, I often start composing while the animation is still being developed or rendered alongside. The whole creative process feels very organic, hence it’s always fun to work on animations,” Lam described.
Lovebites is about the praying mantis Cecil, and tells the story of his first date. Lam’s music is vital for Lovebites, as the story is essentially told through music. It is an animated film with no dialogue and minimal sound effects, and the score runs continuously through the film from start to finish. Lam’s ability to capture the emotions of the two mantises is what makes the film so engaging.
“We bounced back and forth about musical ideas and the storyline, and when I started working on the project, I was presented with the initial character sketches and concept art. I scored the entire film based on the animatics (pre-rendered animation). In a way, the material I was working with then was not as detailed or delicate as the final product, but on the other hand, it offered me a bit more freedom for imagination, and encouraged me to be creative,” he described.
Stuck Truck Studios, the production company of Lovebites, had total trust in Lam’s creative decisions. Knowing they needed the best for a film that relies so heavily on the score, the team quickly invited Lam to be a part of the project after hearing samples of his work. Lam decided to create a score that only featured percussion and plucked instruments to create the quirky world of insects.
“Stuck Truck Studio encouraged me to think outside the box in order to create a colorful and quirky palette for this cute animation. It’s always fun to break away from conventions and experiment with new sounds,” said Lam. “I think the approach I used for the music gave the film a unique character, and I had a lot of fun experimenting with wild percussion sounds that, if not for this film, I would never have thought of using.”
This musical approach proved fruitful. After its premiere at the Original Narrative Festival in Dubai in February 2015, the film went on to see enormous success at film festivals around the world. That same year, it was an Official Selection at BFI Future Film Festival, Chile Monos International Animation Festival 2015, Athens Animfest, Tiltshift Festvial, 9th River Film Festival, Original Narrative Dubai, Reel Teal Film Festival, MICE Valencia, and the Vancouver International Film Festival. It went on to win the Audience Choice Award at the Melbourne International Animation Festival, and the Character Animation Award at the ANIMEX International Festival of Animation and Computer Games. Lam was personally recognized at the Short Sharp Film Festival Australia that year, winning the award for Best Score.
“Given that this was one of my first experiences in working with animations, I was very delighted to know that the film did so well in so many film festivals. Lovebites has been screened around the world and has set foot on almost every continent. I guess winning the Audience Choice Award at the Melbourne International Animation Festival and Best Score in Short Sharp Film Festival in Australia shows how effective my music can be,” said Lam.
After its success at so many film festivals, the film was later featured in the acclaimed animation website and channel CG Bros. It has amassed more than 4.2 million views (on YouTube since that time), making it a viral animation. None of this success would have been possible without Lam’s creative ear for the score, knowing its importance in telling the story. Agaki Bautista, the Art Director for Lovebites, believes Lam is one of the best film composers he has ever worked with.
“Peter was always punctual in responding and we always felt comfortable having a dialogue with him. Communication was clear across all fronts. Peter is super receptive towards creative collaboration. We started off by sharing references and bouncing off ideas with each other and he was open throughout the process. It is rare to have the level of creative cooperation that we had with Peter,” said Bautista.
Lam’s talent is evident in everything he does. His work on Lovebites shows the world that his creative instincts are spot on, and he is exceptionally versatile. Be sure to check out his work in the upcoming animation film Slippages – Grace in IMAX later this year.
In the meantime, watch Lovebites here and let your eyes, and ears, capture the essence of the story with Lam’s work.