Zimmer was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany and moved to London as a teenager, where he went to the Hurtwood House school. While he lived in London, Zimmer wrote advertising jingles for Air-Edel Associates. Zimmer began his musical career playing keyboards and synthesizers. In 1980, Zimmer worked with The Buggles, a New Wave band formed in 1977 with Trevor Horn, Geoff Downs, and Bruce Woolley. Zimmer can be briefly seen in The Buggles' music video for Video Killed the Radio Star (1979). After working with The Buggles, he started to work for the Italian group Krisma, a New Wave band formed in 1976 with Maurizio Arcieri and Christina Moser. He was a featured synthesizer for Krisma?s third album, Cathode Mamma. He has also worked with the band Helden (with Warren Cann from Ultravox).
In the 1980s, Zimmer partnered with film composer Stanley Myers, a prolific film composer who composed scores for over sixty films. Zimmer and Myers co?founded the London?based Lillie Yard recording studio. Together, Myers and Zimmer worked on fusing the traditional orchestral sound with state-of-the-art electronics. Some of their first films with this new sound include Moonlighting (1982), Success is the Best Revenge (1984), Insignificance (1985), and My Beautiful Launderette (1985). His first solo score was for the low budget feature "Terminal Exposure" for director Nico Mastorakis, where Zimmer also composed all songs. In 1986 and again in 2005, Hans Zimmer joined David Byrne, a Scottish?American musician and artist, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, a Japanese musician, composer, producer, and actor, on their Oscar?winning score for The Last Emperor (1988).
Soon after The Last Emperor, Hans Zimmer began working on his own solo projects. During his solo career years, Zimmer experimented and combined the use of old and new musical technologies. His first solo work for composing a score was for Chris Menges?s film A World Apart (1988). However, Zimmer?s turning point in his career came later in that year, when he was asked to compose a score for Barry Levinson?s film Rain Man (1988). In the score, Zimmer uses synthesizers (mostly a Fairlight CMI) mixed with steel drums. In a reflection on his greatest scores, Zimmer said that Rain Man was a road movie, so the music is full of guitars strings. Zimmer did not want the music to be bigger than the characters, so he kept the music contained and not overbearing. Since the Raymond character saw the world as different from everyone else, Zimmer wanted to compose his own music for a world that does not exist, like in Raymond?s mind. Zimmer?s score was nominated for an Academy Award for Rain Man in 1989.
A year after composing Rain Man, Zimmer was asked to compose a score for Bruce Beresford's Driving Miss Daisy (1989), which won an Oscar for Best Picture. Driving Miss Daisy?s instrumentation consisted only of synthesizers and samplers, which were all done electronically by Hans Zimmer. According to an interview with Sound On Sound magazine, the piano sounds heard within the score come from the Roland MKS?20, a rackmount synthesizer. Zimmer joked, "it didn't sound anything like a piano, but it behaved like a piano."
1991's Thelma & Louise soundtrack by Zimmer featured the trademark slide guitar performance by guitarist Pete Haycock on the "Thunderbird" theme from that motion picture. This began a multi?picture collaboration between Zimmer and Pete Haycock, which would include K2 and Drop Zone, among others.
In 1994, Zimmer won his biggest commercial hit for Disney?s The Lion King (1994). Zimmer wanted to go to South Africa himself to record the soundtrack for The Lion King but could not because he had a police record in South Africa for doing 'subversive' movies. Zimmer used African choirs, which was inspired by his previous film score for The Power of One (1992), which he used African choirs and drums. The Lion King soundtrack won numerous awards, including an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and two Grammys. His soundtrack was then adapted for the Broadway Musical, which won the Tony for Best Musical in 1998.
After the success of The Lion King, Hans Zimmer wrote numerous film scores. His score in Crimson Tide (1995) won a Grammy Award for the main theme, which makes heavy use of synthesizers in place of traditional orchestral instruments. One of his hardest compositions was for The Thin Red Line (1998). In an interview, Zimmer said that Terrence Malick, the director, wanted the music before he started filming, so Zimmer had recorded six and a half hours of music. Even though Hans Zimmer had a hard time composing for The Thin Red Line, he was very excited to work on his next film, The Prince of Egypt (1998). In an interview, Zimmer said that he was able to work with Ofra Haza, an Israeli Yemenite singer. He introduced her to the directors, and they thought she was so beautiful that they designed one of the characters in the movie to look like her.
The 21st century was the biggest mark on Hans Zimmer?s career. He composed film scores for blockbuster hits, such as Gladiator (2000), Hannibal (2001), The Last Samurai (2003), King Arthur (2004), and collaborated with Robbie Williams on the song "A Man For All Seasons", which is played during the main title sequence of the 2003 film starring Rowan Atkinson, Johnny English. Also, Batman Begins (2005), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man?s Chest (2006), The Da Vinci Code (2006), The Dark Knight (2008) and most recently Angels and Demons (2009). Zimmer?s 100th film score composition was The Last Samurai (2003), for which Zimmer won both a Golden Globe and a Broadcast Film Critics nomination in 2004. While writing the score for "The Last Samurai", Zimmer felt his knowledge of Japanese music was extremely limited. He began doing extensive research, but the more he studied, the less he felt he knew. Finally, Zimmer took what he had written to Japan for feedback and was shocked when he was asked how he knew so much about Japanese music.
After composing over 100 film scores, Zimmer finally performed live for the first time in concert with a 100?piece orchestra and a 100?piece choir at the 27th Annual Flanders International Film Festival. Zimmer has received numerous honors and awards, some of which include Prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award in film Composition from the National Board of Review, Frederick Loewe Award in 2003 at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, ASCAP?s Henry Mancini Award for Lifetime Achievement, and BMI's prestigious Richard Kirk Award for lifetime achievement in 1996. Today, Hans Zimmer is considered to be the father of integrating the electronic musical world with traditional orchestral arrangements.
He composed the theme for the boxing series The Contender, and also produced the soundtracks for the 2005 anime series Blood+. Other composers like Steve Jablonsky, James Dooley, Heitor Pereira, and Geoff Zanelli work in Zimmer's studio, Remote Control Productions (formerly known as Media Ventures). Accomplished composers including Harry Gregson-Williams, Mark Mancina, John Van Tongeren, Steve Jablonsky, Geoff Zanelli, John Powell and Klaus Badelt are also all former members of the studio.