As part of our upcoming magazine; I spoke with Composer Jeff Rona who has scored many great games from God of War 3 to Far Cry 4, and Devil May Cry 5. Here is a portion of the interview and the full one will be in our next magazine.
How did you get into composing and what are some of the past games and projects you have done?
I started off as a studio musician here in Los Angeles, programming synths and sampling for record producers and film composers. Eventually, some of the composers I worked with recommended me for projects to score on my own, and I’ve been doing that ever since (though I still collaborate with other composers on occasion). On the games side of my work, I’ve written music for Transformers, God of War 3, Far Cry 4, and Devil May Cry 5. I have a couple of others I can’t talk about yet. On the TV side, I started in TV with Homicide: Life On The Street, then worked on Chicago Hope, Profiler, Brotherhood, Powers, Dominion, Claws, and many others. On the film side, I’ve scored or contributed to movies like Generation Iron, The Mothman Prophecies, Traffic, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down, and numerous documentaries.
What lead you to composing for video games?
It was purely by accident really. I had done a handful of smaller games early on. I happened to be visiting a friend who was working at the Santa Monica Studios of PlayStation when God of War III was in production. The game was well underway, and the composing team had already started. But I met Stig Asmussen, the director of GoW3, and he was curious about my music. I sent some over and he wrote me back that he really enjoyed it, even though there wasn’t a spot for working on the game itself.
A couple of weeks later he reached out to me again and asked if I’d be interested in doing the trailer for the game, and I said “of course!” He sent it to me and I wrote the music, which had an original theme. He was incredibly happy and later asked if it would be possible to use that theme in the game itself. I said yes and thought that would be it. But a week or two later he reached out again and after reminding me there wasn’t a job working on the game itself, asked if I would be interested in doing a couple of variations of the theme I’d written for the trailer that could make it easier to use in the game. I wrote those additional variations of my theme, which is called “Anthem of the Dead” on the soundtrack, and once again he was very happy.
Sure enough a week or two later he called me back and said that there was still quite a lot more to do on the score for the game and invited me on board officially! And that was my first AAA game project.
What can you tell us about composing for Devil May Cry 5 and Resident Evil 2 in terms of the challenges you faced and the way you approached them?
My role on Resident Evil 2 was as a score producer. I put together the team of talent to compose, perform, record and mix it. I oversaw the whole thing to make sure that every step was done as perfectly as possible, and I’m so pleased with the results. I also produced parts of the Devil May Cry 5 soundtrack outside of my own writing.
For “Crimson Cloud” I wrote a track for one of the main characters, named “V.” It’s an intense battle track with deep, aggressive instrumentation and heavy vocals supplied by my collaborator Rachel Fannan, who was the vocalist. This was something very new for me, to write a video game track in the form of a song with lyrics. The creative team at Capcom are amazing and created a system that makes my track work for a whole number of fights and cutscenes throughout this whole section of the game. Very impressive.
I created a couple of sketches, and Capcom really liked the one that became the basis of “Crimson Cloud.” It only took a day or two to write the first sketch, but I spent weeks going over every aspect of it. It grew into dozens of sections with over 100 tracks of instrumentals as well as Rachel‘s lead and background vocals. I did an insane amount of audio processing to create different levels of distortion, glitching, and giving the whole track a very aggressive sound. Rachel wrote the lyrics with some input from me as well as from Capcom.
How much leeway did you have with the creation of the score or did the game’s producers give you the framework that you had to work in or was it more of a collaboration?
Once we settled on a style and tempo for V’s theme, Capcom gave me a lot of creative freedom to experiment and try as many ideas as I wanted. Some stayed, some did not. It went from very general concepts to discussions of every minor detail. With a piece this complex it got heavy. However, they never pushed me in the wrong direction and always allowed me to own my creative and technical process. We got along really well in that regard. They are incredibly smart and professional, but also willing to take chances.
How many hours of music did you compose for the game and how much made it into the final build?
The entire V theme was created and derived from the one track I wrote. This is really different than other games I’ve done where I had written hours of score. But the “Crimson Cloud” track is so dense and complex, it was fairly easy to get a lot of new sounding material.
How long was the scoring process as I am sure you went through numerous
In all, I worked with Capcom for over six months. Like most games, the work is done in intense bursts of work followed by stretches of waiting for feedback and instructions for the next phase.