Composer Darren Fung watched the weirdly stretched-out sea lions swimming across a screen and imagined the music that would best suit them. In mid-November, he’d signed on to work with filmmaker Adam Ravetch on a virtual-reality short, filmed underwater. Viewers would feel like they were swimming with the puppies of the sea–but for now, Fung was stuck with the flat, warped image on a regular video screen, trying to put himself in his audience’s shoes.

What would he feel, what did the filmmaker want the audience to feel, and what would the audience feel on their own? His music needed to nudge, and augment, those limbic responses.

Emotionally scoring the natural world, and human study of it, is something Fung has become expert in. Recently, Fung–who composed the Canadian Screen Award-winning soundtrack for the anthropological miniseries The Great Human Odyssey and is currently musicalizing Equus, a project about how horses have changed history–has somewhat accidentally found himself swimming in such science documentaries.

And although he at first didn’t know how his music could interact with this genre, he now hears the soundtracks that swell behind science films like any others. Scientific topics, like love triangles or bank heists, are all about drama, emotions, and humans–centuries of claims of dispassionate objectivity notwithstanding–and that’s what the chords and chromatics are all about.

It took a while for Fung’s love of music to crescendo into a career composing for films. At McGill University, Fung found that students and teachers tended toward “avant-garde, artsy-fartsy, academic music.” For a while he did, too. But he soon realized he wanted to write more accessible music for movies–big, soaring melodies that can make your chest feel like it’s full of fire while at the same time you hardly notice them.

After college, he offered his services to the film student artistes. He and his college buddies would go to the university’s concert hall at midnight and record the scores. “We were going and doing these short films with these big scores,” Fung says. “It got to the point where I went to a party one night and one of my friends said, ‘Oh shit, it’s Darren. He’s going to ask us to play for free again.’ I gave them pizza and beer.”