A Massing A Soundtrack
Due out December 28 on DVD and Blu-ray, Mass Effect: Paragon Lost is an anime from FUNimation that serves as a prequel to Mass Effect 3. We spoke to composers Joshua Mosley and David Kates — the latter of whom worked on the first two Mass Effect games — about doing the music for this animated sci-fi epic.
EGM: How did it come that the two of you worked on the score for Mass Effect: Paragon Lost?
Joshua Mosley: I was originally hired by Chris Moujaes, Executive Producer at FUNimation. During this time, I was also becoming familiar with David’s work on the Mass Effect video game series. I really admired the music he composed on those titles and his approach to scoring, and thought he would be a great collaborator for this film. At that time, we were connected through social networking, and I was not aware we shared the same agent. When we finally met in person, we totally hit it off and I invited him to join this project. He accepted and it’s been a great experience working with David on this film.
David Kates: When Joshua asked me to join him for this project, it was very exciting because, at the time, no one knew that an animated version of the movie was even in the planning.
EGM: Did you guys collaborate?
DK: Early on, we both developed themes and, as we went through the movie, we decided who would be best suited to compose for certain scenes. As the music developed dramatically, we found that each of our themes needed to be used in each other’s cues, which was very creative. We also borrowed from one another’s ideas and, as a result, the score really is an integrated body of work that represents us both quite respectably.
JM: It was a great collaboration.
EGM: What did the other guy bring out of you that might not have come out had you done this anime’s score alone?
JM: I would say that David brought more of a sense of the dramatic understanding of a scene. He really helped me to approach cues with a deeper perspective.
DK: For me, it’s Joshua’s sense of pulse and digital rhythm effects. Previously, that was not my strong suit, but it is now. But I also think that the best part of collaborating is that we had the time to sit and discuss our thoughts about how to dramatize the movie, and how we were going to comment on specific situations. The idea of “the result is greater than the sum of its parts” is quite true in this case.
EGM: What was the thing you guys disagreed on the most?
DK: Rarely was there disagreement. Our debates were mostly about how to dramatize a scene and how to best serve the picture. The ego factor really didn’t exist with us, and I think that’s because we had established a mutual respect and trust for what each person was going to do. If one of us disagreed on an approach we sat down and discussed it, and invariably the best choices made it to the screen.
JM: We were on the same page through most of the score. We had a mutual respect for each other’s approach and took account of both points of view.
EGM: Given that this anime is a prequel to the third Mass Effect game, which neither of you worked on, how beholden did you feel you had to be to that game’s music, if at all?
JM: When approaching the score, we definitely wanted the music to live in harmony with the games. That said, this score has a fresh perspective and carries you to new places that the games don’t necessarily go to. I really feel it will segue well into Mass Effect 3.
EGM: Now David, forgive me if this is an insensitive question, but while you didn’t do the music for Mass Effect 3, you did do it for the first two games. Did that make working on music for Paragon Lost an awkward situation? A happy bit of revenge? Something you’d rather not talk about in an interview?
DK: Jack Wall and the rest of the guys were really thrilled for me, in the same way that we were happy for Sam Hulick participating in Mass Effect 3. It was a time for changes, and that’s what was going on. Jack has gone on to do brilliant work, and I believe Jimmy Hinson participated in that also. In our business, we have little control over these things, and one of the best lessons I learned from Jack was that there really is abundance in this world, and there’s room for everyone to have success in what they do. Support one another, and what’s supposed to come to you is going to.
EGM: How far along was Paragon Lost when you started writing the music? Was it fully drawn, in a rough sketch-like version? And how did this impact the way you wrote the music?
JM: When we received the rough animatics, we began writing some sketches and compelling themes and textures. It was nice to establish those before we got the final animation. It really streamlined the writing process.
DK: The early sketches and animatics were dubbed in Japanese without subtitles, which didn’t make it easy. I couldn’t follow any of it, but it turns out that Joshua understands some Japanese, so he could follow along somewhat. Once they completed the animated version, Joshua lobbied for an audio track in English, and it really made a difference when FUNimation provided that for us.
EGM: While you’ve both worked in animation, Joshua, you’ve never done an anime before, and David, you’ve only done one, Tales From The Ramayana, but that was back in the early ’90s. Did this being an anime — as opposed to a Western-style animated movie — impact how you made the music for Paragon Lost?
JM: Not at all. Mass Effect: Paragon Lost takes place in a huge epic universe and is part of a very big storyline. From the beginning we wanted to give the score the big Hollywood treatment.
DK: Yeah, Joshua and I decided early on that we would intentionally approach this movie like it was a Hollywood film. The animation on Paragon Lost is not so anime stylized that it demanded we treat it in the traditional Japanese way, and we wanted to remain true to the previous Mass Effect scores. Had the animation been different, it may have added an additional challenge that would have required another solution, but fortunately that was not the case. We feel though that the score sits seamlessly with the picture, and feels like it simply belongs. It’s all good.