Celebrated Hollywood film composer Harry Gregson-Williams spoke with the New American Filmmakers program in a fascinating YouTube interview that included a fairly lengthy discussion of video game music. I thought I’d share this interview, because it’s particularly interesting to those of us who create game music.
As the composer of music for numerous blockbuster films, including the Shrek and Narnia movies, Harry Gregson-Williams has a unique perspective on the process of creating game music (having composed for multiple entries in the Metal Gear Solid series).
I’ve embedded the YouTube video at the end of this blog entry – and I’ve also transcribed the portion about game music below. Harry Gregson-Williams’ perspective allows us to see what the game composition process is like for a Hollywood composer, including the fundamental differences in the mediums and how this alters the composer’s creative process:
“I’ve composed the music for a couple of video games, mainly a series called the Metal Gear Solid series – which probably sounds very weird if you don’t know anything about the gaming world, which (by the way) I don’t really. However, I was asked to do this series. Over the course of about eight years I’ve done three of these games and to begin with, it was quite a primitive process. I think I was one of the first Hollywood film composers to do the music for a game – and that was what the director of the game really wanted – his game to sound like it was a Hollywood movie, an action movie. And that’s why he came to me, but to begin with it was quite primitive. Because it’s not a film, he wasn’t able to send me the film, and that’s my normal working process, would be to start with… hello!… the film. So, if ever I’m stuck with my work, I go to look up at the screen and learn something, and bounce off that.
“But with a video game, they weren’t able to give me footage, per se. So, more than that, when I first started doing video games, I would be sent little descriptions – adjectives – by the director. You know. Sneaky. (laughs) Thrilling. Nerve-wracking. Something like that. And I’d have to write 30 seconds or a minute of music in that vein, but without any guidance from pictures, so it was kind of difficult for me, and different. But I liked it. And actually, as things have progressed, more and more film composers have become involved in making music for games, I think the game makers themselves have developed better methods of getting the best out of us. So they’ll send us, for instance, what’s known as Cut Scenes. So the actual scenes that, however you play the game, do happen. They know they’re going to happen like that. Doesn’t matter whether you’re very good at playing the game or very bad, there are various cut scenes that are going to happen. So they’re like a scene in a movie, so that they’re presented as that. And those can be sent to the composer, and he can compose the music very much like he would to a film in that case. But, at the end of the day, one’s just making music, so it’s pretty much the same thing.”
Here’s the YouTube video of that interview with Harry Gregson-Williams, conducted by the New American Filmmakers program and the Vilcek Foundation. The portion about video game music begins at the 6 minute 30 second mark: