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No GravatarI recently got the chance to speak with composer Anthony Willis about his work in cinema as well as discuss his work on the Knack 2 soundtrack. Please take a look below.

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JB: How did you first get into composing? Was there any specific thing that inspired you?

AW: I actually grew up singing music as a chorister of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle in England, which was a very inspiring time in my life. Windsor Castle is a popular residence for the British Royal Family, and so I was constantly surrounded by some of the world’s greatest choral music.

That experience at Windsor taught me to understand how music in built, and definitely instilled the desire to write my own music! That early training has been of immense value to my life as a composer.

 

JB:  Who are some of your influences as a composer?

AW: There are probably many more than I even realise..I suppose that potentially anything and everything that’s I’ve loved hearing has rubbed off in me in some way..and I have a pretty broad taste for what I like! Alongside my classical background, I’ve always been wowed by artists like Bjork, Sigur Ross, Radiohead, and then of course there’s Eminem.. In terms of film music, I grew up loving the scores of my childhood, Hans Zimmer’s The Lion King and Gladiator. James Horner’s American TaleBraveheart and Titanic. Patrick Doyle’s Henry V & Basil Poledouris’s Free Willy,  Harry Gregson Williams & John Powells Shrek- It seems obvious, but the biggest influencer of a given score is the story for which it’s created. No matter our desires as a composers, we must search to find the best way to bring that to life.

 

JB:  You have composed music for a wide variety of movies, including Despicable Me 2, Rio 2, How to Train Your Dragon 2, as well as The Martian, The Birth of a Nation, and Jason Bourne just to name a few. These are very different films requiring a very different style, so how do you find that different sound needed for each film? Where do you begin the process of composing?

AW: I think most composers really enjoy the variety that each project brings. It’s a chance to turn our hand to something that calls for different musical colours and devices, and the best composers are able to bind these together for each project with a consistent dramatic and musical instinct.

In the case of some of the films you’ve mentioned, because they are sequels, a lot of my involvement has been supporting the lead composer in creating variations and additional material, helping them to produce each cue in the score to the best standard possible. While the overall tone has been established, most sequels will introduce an exciting new element and or characters to the story. And so the challenge is to bring something fresh to the score to support those new elements musically, while making sure that it it feels part of the whole.

Finding the right tone for a new project is always a challenge, and that moment in the film’s creation is a very definitive one. In my experience the director has always had a critical role in that process, helping to steer the score towards it’s target. As a starting point, I’ve always been taught that a great tune, and an interesting set of chords to go with it, is the most impactful way to reach your audience.

 

JB:  What are some of your favourite films to compose for?

AW: I’ve really loved the experiences I’ve had in animation and adventure films. They allow you to really wear your heart on your sleeve in supporting the emotions of the film. The sky is very much the limit. I also love period dramas. They often have such important and timeless messages, and an intriguing sense of location. From a musical point of view, they have a wonderful way of focusing you stylistically, and the results can be very pure and honest.

 

JB:  What is a movie series you would love to work on?

AW: I absolutely love fantasy, adventure and magic, and so I’d love to compose on something like the Chronicles of Narnia. Those stories were so inspiring to me when I was growing up, and as a composer, the musical and dramatic opportunities are as good as they come.

I would also love to score more contemporary dramas. These can offer the opportunity to be quite musically minimal, but incredibly focused emotionally. I saw Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River at Sundance last year and was blown away by his command of that genre.

 

JB:  Moving to your work on Knack 2, I have to ask what interested you in this project?

AW: I was definitely looking for an opportunity to compose on a video game! Knack presented such a great wealth of musical possibilities that it seemed like the perfect project to enter the gaming world. There are adventures, heroics, great locations and environments, mystery.. the kitchen sink!

The developers were looking for a new sound for this second installment, something more akin to an animated movie experience, and so I was delighted to come on board.

 

JB:  How have you found working on composing for video games to be? Its obviously very different from movies, but what has stood out to you the most?

AW; In the case of Knack 2 specifically, the needs of the ‘in game’ music itself, were quite different to a typical film score. The music’s function is largely designed to energize the player, while adapting to their environment as they progress through the levels. The music is therefore very modular in design, there’s no definitive arrangement or sequence in which the music will unfold, and not really an opportunity for extended melodies. However, I really enjoyed this more minimal and percussive approach, which I think brought a more contemporary flare to the score.

That said, in many ways writing the music to Knack 2 was very similar to an animated movie, especially in the creation of themes and scoring of cinematic sequences.

Overall, you want to approach every varying project with your best work, which hopefully will resonate with an audience. In most games, there are upwards of 10 hours of game play experience, and so that offers an even greater opportunity for the audience, in this case player, to interact with the score. There’s a huge support for Video Game music by the gaming community, and perhaps even more pressure to live up to their expectations!

 

JB:  What goes into your process specifically for how you approached the video game music? Any specific influences that you wanted to pay tribute to?

AW: The music team and I started by trying to find some strong musical themes to support Knack and his world. I tend to write themes at the piano, in my head on a walk, or even at the sequencer itself, it depends very much on the situation. It’s so helpful to have these themes established as I approach the cinematic and game play cues. I’ll then try to find the best possible structure and appropriate arrangement for each moment in the game. It’s hard to pin down specific influences as it all gets put in the washing machine, but I grew up loving the music for Zelda, the use of themes, and the way the music supports the mystery and problem solving throughout the game. The Knack 2 score also has a definite nod in places to the classic adventure feel of John Barry.

 

JB:  What are some other video games you would like to work on in terms of composing?

AW: There is such a wealth of video games being developed at the moment we live in an amazing time of innovation. Being able to wake up every day and have a game to work on is a real privilege. I would love to lend my hand to a VR experience, with a lot of space to draw the player in and immerse them emotionally. I would love to work on something like Ori and the Blind Forest. The developers did such an amazing job, together with their composer Gareth Coker, at bringing that world to life. So it might have to be Ori’s distant cousin for me!

 

JB:  Did you enjoy the experience of working on Knack 2?

AW: Absolutely! Like any project it had it’s challenges, but I’m so proud to be attached to the game, and to have been able to make a musical contribution to support Knack. I’d like to make special mention of my producers at Sony Playstation, Peter Scaturro and Keith Leary, who brought me on to the project, expertly guided me through the process, and supported my vision for the score. The whole music team at Playstation and JStudio were wonderful collaborators.

 

JB:  Is there anything you would like to say to the readers of Real Otaku Gamer?

AW: Well first of all, thank you for reading and for taking an interest in the Knack 2 score!

If you’d like to hear the score, the full album is available on the PlayStation Network- and will soon be available on itunes!

 

There are some preview tracks available here

 

JB: Thank you again