How to Create an Epic Hans Zimmer-Style Film Score
The exact plugins, orchestration and processing to use to get a massive cinematic sound from virtually anywhere.
NOVEMBER 18TH, 2022
In this article you will find out what makes Hans Zimmer's epic film music so special and which great possibilities there are to create breathtaking and captivating film music just like Hans Zimmer yourself.
You can’t have an epic Hans score without his trademark massive brass hits and pads! To get the desired effect, you’ll have to go way into the low range of the keyboard — probably lower than you’d expect. Don’t be afraid to go ultra low and gritty, since that’s where the magic starts to happen. A single note is often enough; adding more chord tones and expanding the chord can work for lighter brass swells, but when you need power it’s often best to stick to root notes and octaves. In case you’re curious as to why: Introducing notes other than octaves and fifths muddies the harmonics of instruments and creates more frequency clashes. (Power comes from simplicity and harmonic coherence)
Brass pads are fun and all, but you can also have fun with some meaty stabs! By adding some short, punchy brass hits into the mix, you can get an explosive quality that cuts right through the mix when you need it most. While this is great for highlighting dramatic moments in a film score, it’s equally effective and commonly used in trap music and other subgenres of EDM, particularly to add a larger than life quality to drops.
If you want to get your hands on the real deal, Hans actually gave us access to his private brass library, which we pieced together into a highly playable and flexible plugin that does all the heavy lifting for you: Symphonic Elements BRAAASS! All the epic brass you could ever want can now be at your fingertips, complete with that unmistakable Hans flare. For glorious pads, the Dark Low Waves style option will do the trick in an instant; for massive stabs, Big Staccato will consistently get the job done. Every preset is separated into high and low brass, each with its own effects suite to color the sound exactly the way you want — with BRAAASS, your options are truly limitless!
The next piece on the list is the string section, and you needn’t look further than Symphonic Elements STRIIIINGS, which also comes complete with sounds from Hans’s personal library (noticing a theme yet?). When in doubt, staccato string ostinatos are the way to go! The Time Is Running preset will quickly get you acquainted with this idea, and from there you can add an effects you like using the Character FX and Motion FX settings (which are also available via BRAAASS’s UI). Use this anytime you need to add light movement, especially when the rest of your instruments are holding sustained notes. Proper use of motion is everything in film scoring, even more so when you want to achieve a truly epic sound.
On the other hand, sometimes you want warm, sustained string chords to set the mood or to help build the arrangement to a climax. The Heavenly Pattern preset is perfect for this and gives you warm, dramatic chords that instantly fill out the empty space in an epic film score. Try using this to transition into a new section and then switch over to a staccato pattern to stick the landing! Simple changes in articulations help distinguish different sections and make it easy to increase or decrease the energy level of your score at will.
A big aspect of our vision for BRAAASS was to make it play with STRIIIINGS as seamlessly as possible, which is why the keyboard mapping MIDI between them is identical — i.e. the MIDI phrases are exactly the same. This means you’re never stuck with competing rhythms, and the two plugins lock in together perfectly with no menu diving to bring everything into unison. When you’re scoring longer scenes, this allows you to seamlessly create gradual builds and have total control over the music’s dramatic arc (which is critical when you’re composing for any type of visual medium)!
Brass and strings are integral to Hans’s sound, but something would definitely be missing if we didn’t add drums into the mix! And in keeping with the theme of this article, you can even get access to Hans’s drums! Symphonic Elements DRUMS contains endless mountains of heavy-hitting drums that have helped define the modern cinematic sound over the past couple decades. Every epic score needs a combination of large and small drum ensembles, pairing the weighty oomph of large membrane percussion with faster, lighter patterns from the smaller drums. Generally speaking, the higher the frequency of the drums, the busier you can make them without the mix getting too cluttered.
With DRUMS, you can simply hold down a single note and call up one of more than 50 playing styles and hundreds of different rhythms — and to ensure it never gets repetitive, you can seamlessly switch between different rhythms by simply selecting a different note on the keyboard. For additional variety, try throwing on some Motion FX to chop up the drums and add a heavily produced, electronic component to your drums. Just be sure not to have drums playing all the time; letting them rest for longer periods (or at least choosing a light, subtle drum ensemble during those times) will help keep listeners’ ears fresh so the arrangement sounds massive when the time is right.
With the right sample libraries and careful processing, you can make epic Hans-style film scores from virtually anywhere. Of course, you’ll be able to get even closer to the real deal with Hans’s very own samples at your fingertips. Being able to drop in his private library of brass, strings and drums at will gives you the power to create a huge cinematic sound in minutes, eliminating the hours of careful processing it would take to do it from the ground up.
If you love epic film scores, then BRAAASS, STRIIIINGS and DRUMS are the perfect additions to your collection. Plus, you can get all 3 in the Symphonic Elements Bundle at a substantially lower price — for any type of hybrid orchestral scoring, this provides everything you need to execute the biggest sound imaginable.
About the Author
Harry Lodes is a copywriter, marketing consultant and content writer for audio and ecommerce brands. He lives in the Philadelphia area, releasing Eastern/Western hybrid EDM under the artist name KAIRI hearkening back to his roots in Berklee College of Music.
We develop software solutions that enable people to create, consume and interact with music.