This interview took place in March 2010, however due to many misfortunate events, it stayed as a draft until now. The stars finally aligned and Greg and I got together to finish this, so without further adieu, here’s the interview!
If you’re not familiar with Greg Edmonson, he’s the man behind the music for both UNCHARTED: Drake’s Fortune and UNCHARTED 2 Among Thieves, in addition to Fox’s King of the Hill and their short-lived but critically-acclaimed series Firefly (starring Nathan Fillion if it rings a bell). Greg took some time to talk with me about the differences between scoring for TV/films and video games and why he thinks he might have a different scoring experience than the other composers in the industry.
Chris: Can you describe the collaboration during the production of the UNCHARTED: Among Thieves soundtrack with (Naughty Dog’s Creative Director) Amy Hennig or any other key team members?
Greg: Well, it was a little different with UNCHARTED 2: Among Thieves than with UNCHARTED: Drake’s Fortune—-and remember my whole video game scoring experience thus far is just these two amazing games. On the first one, Drake’s Fortune, I came in somewhat later in the process and that made finishing the score the first priority. For Among Thieves, however, they brought me in earlier, and because we had worked together before, we were all more comfortable with each other and with the process. You don’t do a whole lot of consistent work in the early stages because the game is still being developed and is changing every day, but I did do research on Chinese and Tibetan music and got to watch many wonderful Chinese films, such as House of the Flying Daggers and Hero for homework.
It’s a little bit hard to exactly describe the process, and honestly I’m not sure that my experience is typical of other game composers – but Amy is absolutely the most wonderful person to work with. She is smart, she cares deeply about what she does, and she’s magnificent at giving you a lot of story background so that you can try to make the music interesting and unique. In addition to Amy, I also work closely with Jonathan Mayer at Sony (who also wrote the music for last year’s inFAMOUS). He and the SCEA team (Chuck Doud, Clint Bajakian, Scott Hanau, Joel Yarger, Marc Senasac and Jonathan) are just spectacular. They help to smooth the whole process from beginning to end and it also is their job to implement the music into the game after it is all recorded and mixed. So, Amy might say “we are going to need a combat piece for this area,” but Jonathan might also add “Greg, we already have a lot of high-energy pieces, so we could use a medium-intensity piece for this,” and between the two of them, they have my back and point me in the right direction. The wonderful folks at Naughty Dog give me whatever rough video they have and Amy fills in the details with concept art, story arcs, and character motivation etc. Then you are off and running! It really is quite astonishing to see how the picture changes as the team adds in the new layers on a daily basis!
Games are still mostly a “work in progress” by the time you must start writing the music— unlike TV and film where the final footage is finished and usually does not change. Many times you might write a piece of music for a certain game level and it ultimately turns out that it ends up working, as well or better, in another section of the game. So allow me to give the SCEA team full and complete credit. They work long and hard to implement the music into the game in a creative and innovative way that serves the gaming experience while preserving the integrity of the music! Not an easy task.
For the readers, can you explain what Jonathan’s team at Sony does?
Jonathan and his team interface with the composer on anything that is music and game related. For instance, we recorded UNCHARTED 2 at Skywalker Sound in San Francisco, and the Sony team made all of the arrangements with the orchestra and the studio and then they interfaced with all of the other team members to make it all seamless. They just made the experience fun, and when you can have fun and get to work with a great orchestra – how lucky is that? So back to George Lucas’s Skywalker Studio, we were able to record the soundtrack in this amazing facility located way out in Marin County with the ever wonderful musicians from the San Francisco/Bay area. It is a most unusual situation– you are staying (for a few days) at this beautiful and luxurious ranch—so you never see traffic–just deer and ducks and gorgeous scenery. That experience could never be replicated in London or LA. I will head back to Skywalker every chance I get!
On the next page, we’ll discuss the difference between scoring for video games and TV/film, developing themes for characters and locations, and his thoughts on [if there is an] UNCHARTED 3. Read on »