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Speed Racer Interview with Composer Winifred Phillips

DreamStation.cc has been lucky enough to speak to the multiple award winning composer, Winifred Phillips about her latest work on SPEED RACER: THE VIDEOGAME out now for the Wii and Nintendo DS. Winifred Phillips has worked on numerous games before including The Da Vinci Code, Shrek the Third, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and last, but certainly not least the original God of War, for which she won several awards. The up-tempo music in SPEED RACER: THE VIDEOGAME is a departure of sorts for her, but it does a wonderful job of matching the fast paced racing action of the game and might even make you break out your glow sticks and dance a little.

DreamStation.cc: SPEED RACER: THE VIDEOGAME is based on the summer blockbuster film, how do you begin work on a project like this? Do you collaborate with the composer for the film soundtrack at all, in this case, Michael Giacchino, or do you just begin from scratch working with the developers of the game? The music and the game work together seamlessly, at what point does the developer bring you in to work your magic?

Winifred Phillips: I’ve done four movie tie-in games now - CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, THE DA VINCI CODE, SHREK THE THIRD, and now SPEED RACER: THE VIDEOGAME. In my experience, game development and film development operate in fundamentally different ways. On all my movie tie-in projects, the music had to be complete for the tie-in game long before it needed to be complete for the film. That means I’ve written and recorded all the music for the game long before the movie composer has even begun work on the film score… which makes it impossible for my music to incorporate elements of the film soundtrack. I’ve always had the same freedom as the film composer to create a unique interpretation, and I really enjoy exploring all the musical possibilities. The game developer usually brings me and my music producer into the project when production is in full swing, so they generally have a clear idea of how the game is shaping up, and where music might best be placed to enhance the overall gameplay. For this project, the game’s producer Andy Satterthwaite and I developed a music design document together, and then I started working on the tracks with my music producer, Winnie Waldron. Winnie makes sure that deadlines are met, offers creative suggestions and advice throughout the project, and ensures that the finished work lives up to the high standards that the game developers demand.

DreamStation.cc: Speed Racer is a fascinating project for you, when last we interviewed you we discussed your work on God of War, but this is a complete departure from that all together. What drew you to SPEED RACER: THE VIDEOGAME in the first place?

Winifred Phillips: I’d been looking for an opportunity to do something radically different. While my other projects have been mostly orchestral in nature, I’ve always enjoyed working in popular music genres, and I wanted the chance to show what I could do with a harder-edged musical style. The game’s developer, Sidhe Interactive, gave me a very wide latitude to put a unique spin on the edgy, aggressive music that a futuristic racing game demands. The trippy, neon visual palette and all the retro elements of the Wachowski brothers film were a strong influence on the music I wrote for the game. In the end, the game score became an amalgam of the hard-core momentum of a future-racer soundtrack with the eclectic, Pop-Art sensibilities of the Speed Racer fantasy world.

DreamStation.cc: What’s the biggest difference when writing music for an epic game like God of War versus something more up tempo like SPEED RACER: THE VIDEOGAME? Would you say that one is more difficult than the other based solely on your background or personal musical preference or is making music difficult regardless of what style it is?

Winifred Phillips: Well, the biggest difference was the breadth and diversity of musical instruments available to me for the projects. For GOD OF WAR, I worked primarily with orchestral and choral instrumentation, with some world-music soloists and a little smattering of atmospheric synth. On SPEED RACER: THE VIDEOGAME, I was able to use a huge array of instruments, from the entire orchestral and choral sound palette, to a plethora of synthetic sounds rising out of both an extremely rich retro tradition and the current sonic vocabulary of modern electronica, to the driving drums and distortion guitars of contemporary rock, and a lot more. You can hear the whole complement of a big band doing its jazzy thing in some of the tracks in this game. One track is built entirely around beatboxing. The nature of this game allowed me to experiment sonically with greater freedom than any other project. Regarding the comparative difficulty… that’s a more complex issue. Generally speaking, I think that music for a video game has specific responsibilities, regardless of its musical genre. I think that the music needs to capture the energy and momentum of the game and enhance that kinetic energy in a way that draws the gamer further into the experience. Also, in my opinion, the music needs to establish an atmosphere which works in tandem with the game’s setting and art direction, to make exploration of the game world more satisfying. Creating music that achieves these goals can be a challenge, but I don’t find working in divergent musical styles to be that difficult. I think that every composer should try to switch gears musically as often as possible. It can help to develop a more flexible skill set, and in my experience it has opened up lots of creative possibilities. Switching from one style of music to another helps me to think “outside the box”.

DreamStation.cc: What sort of research did you do for SPEED RACER: THE VIDEOGAME; did you go back and watch the classic animated series, did you go out and listen to other futuristic racing games (F-Zero or WipEout come to mind) or do they let you preview the movie to help you with the creation of the music?

Winifred Phillips: I watched the cartoon, but the pacing and mood of that show was much too different from what a futuristic racing game would need. I ended up spending more time reading the original manga by Tatsuo Yoshida. That way, I could absorb all the attitude and humor of the source material, while applying my own internal pacing and energy to the experience. Reading the manga really helped me when I was creating the music. In terms of the music of other futuristic racing games, I was fortunate that the development team had so many members who are distinguished veterans of that genre. The project leader, Andy Satterthwaite, worked on WipEout 64, Quantum RedShift and the more recent GripShift, so his advice was invaluable. When my music producer Winnie Waldron and I were brought into the development of the game, we got to see a short video that the Wachowskis made at the beginning of the film project, to demonstrate their vision for the picture. It was a previsualization movie, or a previz, and it showed a single race in CGI, including the wild rollercoaster tracks and the ‘car-fu’. The Wachowskis defined their original visual style for their film very well in that previz, so it helped a lot in defining the musical style for the game.

DreamStation.cc: What do you like most about creating music? When last we spoke you were very much involved in the creation of music for various formats whether that was for radio, television, or otherwise? Lately, from what I gather you seem to be heavily involved in the video game industry, is this going to be a continuing trend because the video game business has surpassed the film industry in annual revenue and music piracy seems to be the order of the day?

Winifred Phillips: I really enjoy creating music for videogames. It’s a privilege to be a part of this industry, which I think is where the future of media entertainment will be defined. Music piracy is a symptom of a larger issue rising out of the digital distribution model as a whole, and I think these issues will probably have an impact on every form of entertainment, given how quickly broadband access is spreading. In the end, we all want a digital delivery system that’s fair to everyone involved.

DreamStation.cc: What’s the one project that regardless of what you were working on or how little they could pay you that you just couldn’t turn down, whether that’s film, television, or a video game?

Winifred Phillips: Ooh, tough question! So far the projects that have come my way have all been much more interesting than anything I could have predicted. I suppose I could do some deep soul searching and come up with that dream project that I’d willingly score for next to nothing… but if I said so here, then if that dream job ever did come along, the developers would know from the start that I’d work for peanuts! So I’d better not say.

DreamStation.cc: I’m going to guess that by now you’ve had a chance to play any of the numerously successful rhythm games that have come out recently such as Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Karaoke Revolution, SingStar, etc. What’s your opinion of them and how do you think they may potentially affect the musicians of tomorrow?

Winifred Phillips: I’ve played my share of Guitar Hero and similar games. I think the games are great fun, cleverly designed and very appealing. In terms of how they might impact future musicians - I’d say that they function in much the same way that top 40 radio functions. Musical artists and bands creating albums can reach an enormous audience through music games like these. But since the music featured in these types of games is mostly licensed from pre-existing albums, original score composers aren’t typically involved.

DreamStation.cc: If you were creating a rhythm game, what sort of direction would you take it in? In other words, what’s the next step for the genre, do we just keep adding more instruments until we’ve got Symphony - The Game, or are we reaching the peak of innovation in the genre?

Winifred Phillips: Personally I’m intrigued by games like Patapon, which employ rhythm elements as a gameplay mechanic without setting the game in a musically-oriented environment (like a rock concert). Patapon allows the player to command a highly stylized tribe of warriors using button combinations entered rhythmically, and those rhythms are woven into the game score as the warriors chant while acting on the player’s commands. I like the idea of music and rhythm being used as a gameplay device, without limiting it to a game focusing on a dancing competition or a music concert. I’d be very interested in seeing more of that.

DreamStation.cc: What’s next in the cards for Winifred Phillips, have you already begun your next project, which I’m sure you won’t be allowed to discuss with us just yet?

Winifred Phillips: I just finished a project, which I can’t talk about just yet, and I’m about to start work on another. I wish I could tell you about it! It’s very exciting and quite epic in scope. At the moment, I can’t say anything more.

DreamStation.cc: Anything else you would like to tell our readers about SPEED RACER: THE VIDEOGAME?

Winifred Phillips: I had a great time creating the music for the game, and I think it’s a fun game to play. If you’ve seen the movie, you really have to play the game. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, the game is a great ride.

Bonus Questions:

DreamStation.cc: On a set of neutral tracks who would win in a race: Speed Racer or Super Mario in his Kart racer?

Winifred Phillips: Wow, that’s a hard one to call. Sure, Speed could slam Mario with a car-fu move like Smack Down or Torpedo and send the little plumber to the back of the pack… but then Mario would get the unbeatable purple shell! No, I can’t imagine who would win in a race like that.

DreamStation.cc: If a cake and a pie were on your kitchen table which would be eaten first?

Winifred Phillips: The cake. Particularly if it were chocolate. And small. And crème-filled. Actually, I’m not really a cake or a pie person, I’m much more into cupcakes.

DreamStation.cc would like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions for us. We wish you continued success and the best of luck in all your future endeavors.

Winifred Phillips: Thanks very much! This was fun.

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Speed Racer Interview with Composer Winifred Phillips

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Posted by: cnc137
Date: May 28, 2008
Website: SpeedRacerTheVideoGame.WarnerBros.com

Categories: Wii Features, Nintendo DS Features, Wii, Nintendo DS, Features

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