When it comes to his ascent as a blockbuster film composer whose credits total close to $14 billion at the box office, Michael Giacchino has done it his way.

Typically, burgeoning film composers try to find their way into an established maestro’s studio, doing whatever they can from making tea to loading up cue tracks in the studio. But Giacchino’s entree into film music was quite different: As a graduate of the School of Visual Arts, the New Jersey-born Italian American soon found his way working for both Universal and then later Disney’s public relations department. His Disney PR boss at the time was well aware of Giacchino’s interest in film music and encouraged him to take classes at Juilliard. He segued to Los Angeles and ultimately took on a video game producer position at Disney, one which provided him the opportunity to write the scores of the games he had oversee on.

There would be several turning points for Giacchino throughout his career. The first, was being selected by Steven Spielberg to compose the score to the Playstation/Sega Saturn game of The Lost World:Jurassic Park — one of the first to use a live orchestral score. In 2001, Giacchino’s video game themes caught the attention of J.J. Abrams who hired the composer to score for his ABC TV series Alias, and then later on Lost. But Giacchino didn’t just write both shows’ main themes and back way like some other composers, rather he wrote every cue for all 222 episodes between both series. Then 13 years ago, there was Pixar’s The Incredibles which catapulted Giacchino to become one of the most in-demand composers for four-quad movies, not only at Pixar where he earned a best original score Oscar in 2010 for Up, but at Marvel (Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: Homecoming) and for such filmmakers as Abrams, Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes), Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World, The Book of Henry). One of Giacchino’s biggest feats last year? Churning out a sublime score for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in just hour-and-half weeks after Alexandre Desplat departed due to the pic’s production schedule being extended due to reshoots.

Pixar

This year, Giacchino delivers a heartwarming authentic Mexican score for Pixar’s Cocoa wall-to-wall musical about a young boy Miguel who yearns to be a legendary crooner of standards just like his late grandfather. However, music is forbidden in Miguel’s family due to the bad luck it’s brought upon them. Much like John Williams submerged himself into an Irish sound for 1992’s Far and Away, and David Byrne with Middle Kingdom themes for The Last Emperor, Giacchino outstrips both in their cultural symphonic authenticity as he goes all out with a score that canvasses all styles of Mexican music including banda, ranchero and mariachi. Giacchino talks with us about writing Coco as well as his career, his 50th birthday concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall and whether or not he’ll reprise his stormtrooper duties for Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode IX.