Composer Spotlight - Winifred Phillips
Written by Damien Walsh
This week I had the pleasure of chatting with game music composer and author Winifred Phillips.
For the past twelve years Winifred has written music for some of the largest franchises in gaming, Assassin's Creed, Total War, God of War, LittleBigPlanet and The Sims. In addition to this Winifred is the author of the bestselling book "A Composer's Guide To Game Music".
It is always great to get an insight into the process both creatively and logistically when it comes to creating music for a TripleA game so I asked Winifred for some insight.
"I'm a big fan of your music for Assassins Creed 3: Liberation, and I'm very interested in the compositional process involved, particularly for the in-game music. How did this work? Were you given images, scripts etc and had to work from there?"
I worked closely with the Ubisoft team, and they were very interested in the idea of “contrast” for the overall game. 18th century New Orleans was a world of sharp contrasts, from the affluent neighborhoods and the famous citizens of New Orleans high society, to the poverty of the shanty towns and the shady dealings of the docks, to the natural beauty and unique character of the Bayou. I wanted my music for Assassin’s Creed Liberation to bring that idea of sharp contrasts into focus. The main character of the game is also defined by cultural contrasts, as the daughter of a French aristocrat and an African slave. With that in mind, I focused on the styles of traditional African and French Baroque music of the time period. Exploring the ways in which these two musical genres could be best combined and contrasted against each other was creatively satisfying for me. Composing video game music for such a popular franchise as Assassin’s Creed was an awesome experience.
"Having read "A Composer's Guide to Game Music" through a few times now, I found your different approaches to loop composition very interesting, perpetual development, compositional dynamics etc. What would you say has been the biggest challenge you've faced so far with regards writing a cue for a game?"
As a game composer, working in game development is really about participating in the collaborative process and working well within a team of game experts. Video game developers are amazingly interesting people, and I have a great time working with them. The biggest challenge for me is making sure that my music is always serving their creative vision, helping their games be as fully realized as possible. Good communication is vital. Early conversations about artistic vision can really shape the musical direction of the entire project, so I’m always keenly focused on making sure that I fully understand their top goals for their projects and their aspirations for their games.
"And finally, a tech/workflow question now, when writing for a game, do you start by creating DAW templates that you will stick with as your instrument pallet, or is it a case of mixing and matching based on the specific cue?"
I don’t really create DAW templates for whole projects, but I will sometimes pull up instrument configurations from previous individual compositions, with the idea that the track I’m about to compose may have some common instrumental needs. However, by the time I’m done with the new track, I’ve invariably changed most of the instrumental make-up in a pretty comprehensive way. I do like mixing and matching my instrumental choices based on the cue I’m writing, partly because my projects tend to be pretty eclectic in their musical styles and cultural influences. I’m always adding new instrumental palettes to my toolset, because upcoming projects require them.
Written by Damien Walsh
Damien is the editor, software reviewer and founding member of Audio Dexterous. He also composes music for Film, TV, Advertising and Games.