For the last few years, we’ve seen a bunch of animated features produced by both Lionsgate and Warner Bros. Last year saw the release of Superman: Domsday, which was a seminal story in the DC Comics Universe of Superman because, like the comic that inspired it, the story portrayed the death of the ‘Man Of Steel’.
Obviously, to help tell such a dramatic story they needed a composer and the job of doing the music for this visual drama fell on the shoulders of Robert J. Kral. Recently, SciFi Pulse was lucky enough to catch up with him and we asked a number of questions ranging from how he got his start to his work on The Dresden Files and, of course, Superman: Doomsday.
SciFi Pulse: My first question is pretty obvious really. How did you get into composing music?
Robert J. Kral: When I was 13 I started hearing original music in my head. I hadn’t intended on following music as a career until that happened, though my piano lessons started at age 5.
SciFi Pulse: Was it something you discovered you were good at early on in childhood or did it take you awhile to discover your talent for it?
Robert: I’d always been interested in film-making, and once I discovered I could compose I naturally wanted to write music for film and television. I wasn’t a stellar music performer, but I really took to the composing and won some very encouraging awards in composition early on.
SciFi Pulse: You have an impressive resume, which includes quite a few genre and fantasy projects such as Angel and the ill-fated The Dresden Files TV show. What is the process that you will typically go through in order to secure work?
Robert: Many of the projects have come about in different ways. Someitmes I have needed to audition as a composer by first submitting CDs of my music, going to interviews and then submitting some original score for scenes from the actual project. For other projects sometimes the director might have been a fan of my work on Angel and hired me almost right away.
Typically I’ll need to browse my previous material, having read a script or seen an episode of the new show, and submit this for consideration.
Sometimes they bring it down to two or three names of composers they like and then select after an interview or audition of an actual scene as mentioned.
SciFi Pulse: On the inlay card of Superman: Doomsday you say that the brief was to do a slightly darker and edgier soundtrack and put more emphasis on the ‘Man’ and less emphasis on the ‘Super’. Yet I’m sure I detected the familiar opening few bars to the John Williams movie soundtrack right at the very start of your soundtrack. Was that a deliberate nod to John or were you asked by Warner to tip your hat a little to the movie score?
Robert: It wasn’t actually deliberate. I was asked for the main theme to not go the John Williams direction. So the actual theme doesn’t, but they were going to open with a shot of the clouds and it was literally just the first idea that came into my head. I hadn’t actually seen the Superman movie for a very long time and so I checked just now and there it is, those first two notes!
The funny thing is using two hits like that is something I often do, and many movie composers don’t so I nearly used only one note. But I preferred the defining sound of the two hits to start off the film. So it was a compositional process with choices, and it wasn’t until I was interviewed about my score did I realize it was the same musical moment as John Williams opening.
SciFi Pulse: Who are your musical influences, and what from them do you take onboard when you compose or score for TV, Games or Film?
Robert: I really admire the scores of James Newton Howard, John Williams, Chris Young and, in fact ,many others. I don’t always enjoy what they do 100 per cent of the time, but more often than not I am very impressed with most film scores that I experience hearing. So much work goes into composing and recording these soundtracks that I think it’s easy to appreciate the talent and artistry that is out there.
SciFi Pulse: The Dresden files was a favourite show of mine, and I must confess that the show got me into the books. What was the brief of the inspiration behind the music for the show? I really enjoyed it,
Robert: For the theme we were thinking along the lines of The Rockford Files, because Dresden is in many ways a happy-go-lucky, rough around the edges type of guy. We wanted to capture that attitude in some way for his main theme, and use it in various places in the show where the light heartedness that comes across could be supported. Added to this though is of course the dark and scary material.
What I love about the show is the mix of these two elements. There’s the supernatural, larger than life darkness but also this guy who is very human working his way through it. It’s what I also liked about the original Night Stalker with Darren McGavin, which I watched as a kid and really loved.
SciFi Pulse: From reading the inlay of your Superman: Doomsday soundtrack I get the impression that you are a massive fan of the comic book series. Are there any other comic books that you like, and any other comic book characters that you’d like to do the music for in a movie or TV show?
Robert: I’d like to do them all!! It’s amazing to see the rise of the comic book super hero in the film industry. I don’t know what the reaction was here, but when I was a kid in Australia and we first heard Superman was coming out as a movie, a lot of people laughed. “Isn’t that a COMIC BOOK?” they would ask. There can be this attitude that comics are for just for kids. But now, here in 2008, the idea of turning a comic book hero into a major motion picture is almost a guarantee of success or at least serious major audience interest.
I think Superman was probably my favorite character as far as superheroes go, but for comics themselves I was a fan of the darker, short horror stories. I sometimes wonder if there might be a market for short story compendiums, like a Twilight Zone type of format of well written short stories.
SciFi Pulse: I’ve just noticed that you have completed work for the music on the new animated feature Batman Gotham Knight. What can you tell us about this project and what sort of mood have you gone for musically with this project?
Robert: It’s a compendium of short stories, but I’ve tried to retain some of the darker moods from recent movies. Batman Begins is by far my favourite but there are hints of Danny Elfman’s moods as well when it comes to the grander moments. Each short story has its own look and style, so the musical styles change somewhat throughout the collection. I composed two of the six segments using different themes though both are orchestral in style.
It was a challenge to come up with a new theme for Batman, after the movies that have been released in the past, and then on top of that to come up with yet another theme for the final segment to give it a unique feel from the other stories.
SciFi Pulse: Robert, thank you very much for your time.
Written By Ian M. Cullen