Meet the Sheffield composer who scored upcoming film StarDog and TurboCat starring Nick Frost and Gemma Arterton

A Sheffield composer's music will be heard on a British animated film coming to cinemas soon.

Heather Fenoughty's work is featured in StarDog and TurboCat, which comes out on December 6 and boasts a voice cast including Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast), Nick Frost (Horrible Histories: The Movie, Hot Fuzz), Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans) and Bill Nighy (Love Actually).

Heather Fenoughty. Credit: BIG little LDN.

Heather Fenoughty. Credit: BIG little LDN.

She still lives in Sheffield and, as a child, always wanted to play in film orchestras but, being from a a working class family, felt it was an impossible dream.

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“When I was very little, my sister and I would make up songs and plays together,” Heather said.

“Which probably marked the start of my journey into writing and composing.”

Heather Fenoughty. Credit: BIG little LDN.

Heather Fenoughty. Credit: BIG little LDN.

Heather studied a degree in Music at Sheffield University, but spent a lot of her time crewing in the theatre, doing production, make-up, lighting or operating sound.

After graduating with a 2:1, she went to Bournemouth University to study for an MA in Music for the Moving Image.

On returning home, she joined the Sheffield Filmmakers Network (now the South Yorkshire Filmmakers Network), whose focus was nurturing grassroots film talent.

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She knew very few media composers, and even then they were mostly only online and the majority were men.

Former wedding performer Heather met StarDog and TurboCat, director Ben Smith in 2003, who at the time was already working in animation, but they did not cross paths again until 2011.

At that time, Ben and the Sheffield-based Red Star productions team animated Heather playing a violin into Sherlock Holmes.

The pair continued their relationship and for every subsequent animation which needed an orchestral, cinematic score Heather would write it.

StarDog and TurboCat is Red Star’s first feature film.

Heather said: “While there were no guarantees they would work with me on the feature, we had worked so well together for a long time.

"We like a lot of similar film scores, and we’ve developed a shorthand language over the years. For example, when he says ‘action adventure’, I’ve a pretty good idea what he means straight away.”

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They talked in depth about the tone, themes and the emotional journey they wanted the audience to take while watching the movie.

Heather was working alongside the animation team so had a long time to consider these elements and would work in the studio to create six or seven ideas, then send them to Ben to feedback further development.

After developing themes for some time, they would then try the music next to the pictures to see what worked.

“Ben wanted something so catchy and memorable that people would come out of the cinema humming it," Heather said.

"One of the themes we had that we thought would work had the opposite effect when we put it next to the picture - it revealed quite a melancholy, nostalgic, serious feeling rather than being exciting and fun.

"We realised we needed to make it much simpler and clearer and, hopefully, what we ended up with now works so much better."

In the film, StarDog and TurboCat do not get along at the start. Their individual musical themes are very different, but, as they learn to get along and help each other, their themes blend to create new and more exciting music to accompany the characters’ developing journey.

It took around two or three months to create the themes and in total the full film score took a year, including recording and mixing.

Heather said: “Up until ten years ago, I’d been working as a composer, but didn’t have enough work to live off, so I’d teach violin and play in string ensembles for weddings.

"I enjoyed doing it and met some wonderful people, but it wasn’t the end goal for me.

"Making the move into being a full time composer happened organically. More work started coming in and I found myself having to cancel gigs or find replacement teachers which is when I hoped I had enough to make a full time career out of it, and took the plunge.”

Alongside film work, Heather did a lot of composition work in theatre, and there without exception all of the technical crew were men.

“Some seemed surprised that I was a woman who, alongside the creative work, also had technical skills.” Heather said.

“Looking back on it, I suppose I was sometimes treated with less belief and initial trust than my male peers and at the time I felt like I had to be almost an ambassador for women composers. There was definitely a feeling that I had to be perfect and extremely well prepared. I hear that this is quite is common in many industries.”

Heather has now been a full time composer for ten years.

As a composer for film, TV, theatre, adverts, games and online media, previous credits are on BBC and ITV documentaries and feature films.

She has composed music for advertisements by CITV, Nissan and Land Rover among others.

Her production music has featured on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CNN Newsroom, CBS News, Channel 4 and Channel 5, and in games for XBox and iPad.

Heather's scores can also be heard in 4D theme park cinemas across the world in many of Red Star’s 3D CG animations.

When asked her about how she got to where she is, she said: “It’s about who you know. I’ve done loads of self promotion and marketing but all of my most high profile and rewarding work has been through word-of-mouth.

"I can trace a great deal of my film and theatre work back to people I met through Sheffield University’s Students Union, which is quite extraordinary when you think about it. It really is about who you know.”

Heather is represented by independent publisher May Music Limited.

Laura May, who founded May Music, said: “The are so few women writing film scores. We want this success to act as an inspiration to any budding composer whether they’re female or don’t believe they’ll make it because they’re not from London. With hard work and determination, anything is possible. I’m so excited about what 2020 holds for both of us.”