Surreal Worlds – Interview with Austin Wintory

This time we asked Austin Wintory who scored the succesful game music, called Journey. He's work receiwed many positive feedbacks, awards, and this is the first video game score in history to be nominated for a Grammy Award. Wintory spoke about this work, the differences between short film musics and movie soundtracks, and his current projects.

The most successful video game music in 2012 is yours for the video game Journey. How did you get this assignment?

I had previously collaborated with thatgamecompany on flOw, and so I already knew them. I had playtested Flower even, and been able to see that development first-hand, even though I didn't actually work on it. So when it was finished, and they were getting ready to start on Journey, we started talking and I really connected with the material. Almost immediately we were off and running and I worked on it the full 3 years of its development.

Video game music has gone through a great evolution in the last few years. In what way is the process of composing different in video games when compared to movies?

From a technological standpoint, they're pretty different. But at the end of the day, the core of each is the same: write meaningful music. And enjoy the collaboration with talented people (be they game developers or filmmakers). So what I love most about both is what they have in common.

How did you start working on the Journey? How did you decide on the instrummentation and the mood?

I started after that initial meeting with Jenova, long before any prototypes or concept art or anything. The instrumentation decisions just sort of 'happened'. I didn't articulate them or intellectualize them. Just felt like solo cello was the way to go and it seemed to stick.

How much music did you write and which was the procedure of the recording sessions? 

The score clocks in just over an hour, except it's hard to say for sure since it's so interactive and often a given cue might run 1 minute or might run 5 minutes, and be pretty different each time. And the recording technique was largely not different from any other game. I started with soloists (cello, flute, harp, viola and serpent), and then we recorded the orchestra at the end. Also the very last session was with Lisbeth Scott, the singer for "I Was Born for This".

Journey won Best Original Score at the Spike Video Games Awards, furthermore this is the first video game score in history to be nominated for a Grammy Award. In your opinion, what's the secret of the successful music?

I wish I knew! I've written tons of music before Journey that got no such recognition, so honestly it can't be about that. It has been a wonderful ride, and the Grammys pushed it heavily into surreal territory. But there is no secret. It's all about it being an inward process. If the music doesn't come from within it's probably decent craftsmanship at best, or total crap. In the case of Journey, it helps to have a game be so absurdly inspiring!

You wrote many musics for shorts. What did you first think of in terms of the music when you watched the shorts for the first time?

They're no different than feature films or games or anything else. You react to the emotions and the psychology and try to make something that feels right. It's pretty simple!

What are the differences between short film musics and movie soundtracks besides the obvious features (e.g. the length)? How much harder is it to score a feature film, compared to a short or a video game?

It's actually easier to do a feature, in general, than a short I think. It's a larger canvas, and you can really explore in more depth. Shorts are sometimes quite difficult because they often try to say a lot in a small span. Games and films tend to be larger canvases so you get to really stretch out and explore.

You've already written music for shorts, documentarys, dramas, romances, thrillers, TV series, and video games. Which was your favorite genre of these, the one in which you felt most confident?

They're all different and that's what I love most about them. The three main areas I work in are games, feature films and concert music, and I really love all 3 equally. They're very difficult challenges but have fantastic rewards too.

Can you tell us about your current projects?

I am currently deep in a game called The Banner Saga, and wrapping an indie called Monaco. Both are absolute joys. I'm also thrilled to say that I'll be doing the score for the upcoming remake of Leisure Suit Larry, which is a dream job. Radically different genre of music from Journey, which is important to me. My goal is to always be moving around different genres and exploring different vocabularies, and I feel so blessed to be able to do that.

To know more about Austin Wintory's work, please visit the composer's official website.



Special thanks to Alex May
January 10th, 2013

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