Exclusive Interview: Composer Kevin Riepl Discusses Aliens Colonial Marines and Resistance: Burning Skies
Resistance: Burning Skies is coming on May 29th for the PlayStation Vita, and with the highly anticipated release of Aliens: Colonial Marines later this year, we decided to bring you a special treat: the inside scoop from the composer of both releases, Kevin Riepl.
Kevin Riepl is an award-winning film composer and recording artist (aka Damage Vault) writing for multiple entertainment genres. His engaging and atmospheric scores have enhanced numerous indie films such as ABCs of Death, Clemency, The Aggression Scale and Henri. In video games Riepl is best known for composing the rousing signature score for Gears of War.
Dread Central: Every famous composer has a unique story to tell about how they eventually arrived in the music industry. How were you able to turn your passion for musical composition into a highly successful career?
Kevin Riepl: Not sure how unique mine is, but I guess everyone’s story is a bit different since there is no ‘one definitive’ path to getting where you’d like to be in your life. Prior to actually working in the industry—whether it be video games or film—I was always making connections with other creatives. Before Facebook and Twitter, it was contacting them by phone or through their websites. These connections led to friendships where we both enjoyed each other’s craft, music, art, design, writing, etc. Most weren’t even in the industry yet…we were all on the same level, just talking and inspiring each other. One artist who was then hired by Epic Games ended up placing my CD in the right place at the right time. This led to them bringing me on to Unreal Tournament 2003.
During this time, I was also searching and found an already successful composer in video games and film to work for, doing some assistant work which led to co-writing on a lot of television projects and video games. So I was building up a resume with a two-pronged approach, working my own leads/connections and working for this established composer. Prior to both of these I had just moved to LA from NJ. Once in LA while working in the video game industry, I was pursuing film leads; once again, not trying to shoot to the top or solicit existing studio projects, but making connections with film guys that were at the same level as I in the industry. Whether it be directors, producers, concept artists, creature designers…anyone. I just loved the creative interaction between everyone. This led to some indie shorts, some good, some really bad ones that I’ll never speak of again. But the good ones were with directors I got along with great and those connections are still solid today and I still do work with them on whatever they create. With both video games and the films…the more and more I worked, it led to more relationships.
Ever since the beginning I realized the goal here is not to succeed, but to be happy and surround yourself with other creatives with as much passion that you have for the craft. In my experience, it’s that which leads to success. Having Facebook, Twitter and other social networks now make keeping these relationships fresh.
Dread Central: One of your newest projects is an anthology film called ABCs of Death, and you have teased your work with director Kaare Andrews in the movie for your website. Could you give us a little preview of what ABCs of Death is, how you became involved with the film and what is was like working with the director?
Kevin Riepl: ABC’s of Death is a feature comprised of 26 chapters, each helmed by a different director assigned a letter of the alphabet. Kaare Andrews was one of the 26 directors chosen for this film. I connected with Kaare while he was in production of his first feature ‘Altitude’. He is a super passionate, creative guy. We stayed in contact and when I saw the ABC thing come up with his name on it, I thought this may be a great opportunity to see if we’d work well together. We chatted briefly about what he was doing for his ‘letter’ and the direction he was looking to go with the music, and we hit it off. I think what he accomplished with the small amount of budget that was provided came out insanely awesome.
Dread Central: In addition to your numerous musical credits in the film and television industries, you’ve enjoyed a lot of success in creating original compositions for video games. How does creating music for video games differ from composing for movies and television, and which is your favorite industry in which you have worked?
Kevin Riepl: When composing for films or television, a composer is scoring to support visuals and story in a linear fashion, from start, middle to the end supporting the emotional content. With video games, you still write to support visuals and story, but you have to think vertically when writing. Forgive me if I get too specific on this topic. When I say vertical, I don’t mean vertically as in voicing or orchestration, I mean how certain layers in the piece of music will work alone and in addition to layers stacked on top of or faded in and out of other layers of music. Before writing, you have to think how every piece you write will interact with every piece you write. As video games become more advanced with storytelling and technology a lot of developers want the music to become as interactive as possible, meaning the music needs to contour the path of the player, making it seem that it is scored like a film. In my opinion not any composer can do this. It is a GREAT asset to developers and publishers if the composer scoring their game is adept and experienced in approaching composing like this.
Dread Central: One of your newest projects is Alien: Colonial Marines which will act as a sequel to the highly popular film series. How did you approach your compositions within this game; did you draw on any certain inspirations, and did you feel any added pressure to please the loyal Aliens fans?
Kevin Riepl: Well, I’d like to call it my newest & oldest. The musical approach to this game was simple in my opinion. The story is canonical so why not have the music reflect this. The inspirations were definitely Jerry Goldsmith’s work in Alien and James Horner’s work in Aliens. Depending on where the story leads in the game is how I approach the music for that area. If it’s reminiscent of something from Alien, the music has more Goldsmith influence; if it’s a story point from Aliens, the music is influenced by Horner. New areas or story aspects are pieces I created using all the influences in the Aliens universe. I don’t feel any pressure. Being a HUGE fan of the franchise, I think I’m giving myself the most pressure. I know I won’t please everyone, but if I stay true to what Aliens is, fans will be happy…I think.
Dread Central: You also created 40 minutes worth of music for the upcoming PlayStation Vita game Resistance: Burning Skies. How did you come to be involved in this project, and what do you hope your lasting contribution to the game will be perceived as?
Kevin Riepl: I was working on another Vita title for Sony at the same time Resistance: Burning Skies was looking for composers. I was thrown in the mix because the team on Resistance: Burning Skies was checking out and liking my material for this other game. While I was creating a demo pitch, this other vita title was put on temporary hold. That freed me up to work on Resistance: Burning Skies at the time, and hoping they’d like my pitch. They did and due to the extreme turnaround time (30 days) they wanted to use 2 composers. It was me and fellow composer and friend, Jason Graves, an awesome composer. We had a blast working on the same title and our styles complemented each other well. I always want my lasting impression on any project to be perceived as a quality score that did its job working with the story and enhancing the experience of the viewer/gamer. With Resistance: Burning Skies it is no different. Jason and I were able to create a traditional orchestral score for this episode in the franchise, pulling influences from as far back as action films from the ‘50s. I think people will enjoy the music and find it to be an integral character in the game.
For more information you can visit Kevin Riepl Music Online.
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