Interview

[Interview - Robert Kral]

For those who came in late: when Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman decided they wanted to marry Lois and Clark before DC Comics did, the publisher decided to offer its readers an epic storyline of even more massive proportions: the death of the Last Son of Krypton. America's Boy Scout was not defeated by the dastardly evil intelligence of Lex Luthor but rather by the mindless fury of the creature known as Doomsday. In a cataclysmic confrontation that culminated in Superman #75, the Man of Steel and the homicidal creature kill each other in a double blow and the world is left to mourn its savior. An adaptation of The Death and Return of Superman storyline was recently released as an animated, direct-to-DVD feature, with a voice cast including Adam Baldwin and Anne Heche in the lead. The heroic and violent score was composed by Angel alumnus Robert Kral. SoundtrackNet had the opportunity to talk to the composer about how he scored the death of an icon.


First of all, where does this movie Superman Doomsday fall in terms of continuity? Was it made as a tie-in to the movie franchise or something completely independent of it?

Superman Doomsday is not connected to the continuity of previous shows. Bruce Timm [the co-director and co-writer] wanted this to feel like a new movie that stands on its own, something that works as a stand-alone presentation.

How were you brought onto the project?

Bruce Timm was familiar with my work on Angel and so I was chosen to be part of the short list of composers auditioning for the project. Warner Bros. provided each composer with two key scenes from the movie along with written directions from Bruce. The scenes were Superman getting pummeled by Doomsday and sacrificing himself, then the following scene of his last talk with Lois where he dies. The direction Bruce gave was extremely specific and detailed. I don't know who the other composers were on this short list, but Bruce loved my work and also pointed out that I took every direction he gave (which was quite a challenge due to the detail!).

How much time were you given to deliver the score?

About five weeks. However, Warner Bros. is very good at choosing and notifying composers very early on about their projects. So I had some extra time in the back of my mind to think about it also, though I didn't write anything until we officially began because I needed to be sure my ideas were in line with Bruce Timm's.

Was there talk at any point of bringing John Williams' themes in it or did they want something 100% distinct from the get-go?

Bruce was very sure about not bringing in Williams' theme, nor did he want it to be even in that style. I had originally been incorrectly told by Warner Bros. that they were looking for a John Williams style theme. So I did this, but Bruce pointed out right away that this isn't what he was looking for at all. He pointed out that this style reminded him of Korngold and very old-fashioned scoring. That's not to put down Williams' Superman Theme, but if you hear it in a certain way, it's very peppy and happy and Bruce was looking for a totally different theme with a different feel. So I tried again, thinking more along the lines of Lord of the Rings, a sense of deadly seriousness and less rousing heroics. Bruce absolutely loved it. It's such a different feel for Superman's Theme, but we both really believe it works for this story. I do get a kick out of the fact that it really is different for Superman, rather than a rehash with the usual musical triplet, over-the top-heroics. [Play "Superman Doomsday Main Title" MP3]

What made Williams' Superman Fanfare and March so pure and noble was his repetitive use of the tonic and dominant, keeping the melody really simple. Did you use any such trick in your Superman Theme or did you go with your instincts?

This was much more about instincts. Williams' style in Superman, as with Star Wars, is based on a musical technique that answers how to write a strong harmonic fanfare. This new theme is not a fanfare by intention. This is about emotion and the feeling of struggling against a force that could literally take your life away.

How did you tackle Doomsday musically?

Doomsday's fight and the Clone fight are the two major action sequences of the movie, so Bruce had the idea to intentionally differentiate between them. So for Doomsday we went with a more tribal, primitive musical approach with lots of percussion and very bombastic gestures. Superclone's fight is more grand and epic, like two gods fighting rather than the machine-like nature of Doomsday. [Play "Doomsday Rising" MP3]

A sequence I found particularly moving was your treatment of the death of Superman, the way you voiced Superman's Theme as he shoots up into space with Doomsday, only to come crashing back down into the ground in a last ditch effort to save Metropolis. How did you approach the scoring of that sequence?

This was one of the scenes I did as part of the audition process. I had Bruce's notes so I knew he wanted it heroic, but in a sacrificial way, like you kind of know what's coming. The key here is emotion. It's Superman's last effort, giving all he possibly can including all of himself. So the melody had to cry out with that emotion and the orchestra had to support the scale and size of the grand act he is undertaking. For the descent, I had originally tried some action, fast-paced material in the backing orchestra (the melody was still heroic/sad), but we later tried replacing it with pure emotion and no action and it worked so much better. [Play "Superman's Sacrifice" MP3]

The four impostor Supermen that came forth following Superman's death have been replaced in the movie by a single Superman clone whose moral sense is very black and white. How did you choose to represent him and is his theme related to the true Superman's theme?

His theme starts actually with Lex leaving him in the dark when we first realize he's not the real Superman. The theme came out of the emotion of that scene, this dark twistedness. I hadn't intended for Superclone to have a theme, but that figure just came to me and it worked so well over the shot of him in the darkness, being left alone like an animal. In a sense, it's like Superclone is Frankenstein's creation: a creature left alone with no guidance. It occurred to me that the brass figure would work for him, so I used it again and again. Each time it's stronger or darker as Superclone defines himself more and more as dangerous. It's an interesting type of evil because Superclone thinks he is doing the right thing! The theme is not related to Superman's theme in any way. At least I didn't intend it to be. But now, I compare the two in my head (only because of your question) and they do sound related because the first phrase of Superman's theme has a very similar shape. [Play "Clone Discovery" MP3]

Did you devise any new sound or technique specifically for this project?

For this story, the key is emotion and I was mostly focused on playing the right emotions and feelings. The orchestra is the palette, whereas with many of my other projects it's orchestra and synths and effects and/or contemporary percussion, etc. As much as possible, I wanted this to sound purely orchestral and organic without the myriad of unusual sounds I use on Angel and The Dresden Files, for example.

What kind of equipment and sample libraries did you use to generate the music for Superman Doomsday? Have your libraries grown since your time on Angel?

The newest sound source for Superman Doomsday was the Wallander Brass (WIVI) instruments. This hadn't even been released when I was in the middle of scoring and I asked for permission to use this new technology in the movie. Wallander offers extremely realistic brass-sounding instruments using modeling synthesis techniques. It really is a breakthrough product and I was able to write figures and gestures I normally wouldn't do with samples due to the usual limitations. I still also used orchestral sounds (including other brass) from Roland, Garritan, Advanced Orchestra, Vienna, etc. But the Wallander discovery was the biggest news for me and a joy to use on the project. My main software is Digital Performer from MOTU, and TASCAM's Gigastudio (seven machines).

I discovered your music while watching Angel and was pretty ecstatic to realize a soundtrack had finally been released. How did you manage to choose from five years worth of scores?

This, in some ways, was very tricky. Roughly 3000 minutes of music to choose from! I had started a poll through CityofAngel.com for fans to voice their opinions on what they would like on a soundtrack album. The content of the album was heavily based on what the fans asked for. We also knew it was a soundtrack album of score and not songs. However, with a lot of requests for several songs, I convinced Fox to include the ones that are on the album. Once I narrowed down the most popular requests, I created suites of scores from several cues. The "Hero" track, for example, is a compilation of highlights from that episode and cues that work well to make up the suite. It was a huge task to create the album in this way, but I had very little time to do it. Whilst we had thought of and discussed the possibility of an album for years, in the end, once I heard it was actually going ahead, there was only a couple of weeks to come up with the tracks. So much is missing from the album, so many other highlights, but the end result is based on the majority of fans' requests. If you feel something is missing, it is, but the majority vote from fans is the basis of the decisions as to what ended up in that album. [Play "The Trials for Darla" from Angel MP3]

Since the end of Angel, you have been involved with three more television series. Why don't you tell me a little about The Inside? What was your approach to scoring that show?

The Inside was lots of fun because I worked with the idea of including contemporary grooves and textures. Some of it is more "out there" than Angel, a bit more twisted and bizarre, and the groove and electronic element is a lot more present than in Angel. I never wanted to add grooves, though, just to purely "move it along"; it was part of the sound of the show which is established by the very opening scene of episode one. There's a lot of the city feel, mixed with orchestra and creepiness. Several demented souls on The Inside and the music generally reflects the interior of these minds.

Then there was Duck Dodgers! Quite a change of pace!

Yes! A crazy pace indeed but in some ways similar to some of my other work because Duck Dodgers, like Angel, was always about saving the world!! Many challenges there, we did episodes that ripped off The Love Boat, Godzilla, Zorro, Star Wars, The Six Million Dollar Man, James Bond, The Iron Giant  and the list goes on. So besides some "cartoon" music, there was plenty of big epic and very dramatic material too.

You won an Annie Award for your music on Duck Dodgers. What was the experience like?

That was a really wonderful experience. I had won some awards in Australia and student film scoring awards when I first got to the States. It had been some time before I received this recognition though, which was great after all the work that had gone into it. The scene the judges had looked at was a very Star Wars-esque scene with Star Wars-type scoring. When I wrote it I was thinking of using it as a submission for the awards because it was so much fun to do and I was thrilled with how it turned out.

Then recently came The Dresden Files. A preternaturally-gifted man who works as a private investigator... did you have problems detaching yourself from the sound you and Chris Beck had created for Angel?

The basic approach is quite different because Dresden is a "rough around the edges" guy that rarely seems to shave, he's funny, he's charming but not in a contrived way, he's simple and he's '70s-style funky! I was thinking, at the suggestion of the directors, more Rockford Files than Angel. There's plenty of horror and mystery and supernatural elements, where it's like Angel, but there's a lot of funk and character that isn't Angel at all.

How would you describe your style as a composer? Are there instruments, or structures, or certain keys that you find yourself going back to on many projects?

When I first started composing, I loved the key of G. For some reason, on my piano as a kid, low octave G's were very powerful, they reminded me of the original Battlestar Galactica, which I loved. Now, I never think about that. The key is whatever I happen to have heard in my head.

Kevin Manthei seems to be attached as the composer on the next DC Universe movie, Justice League: The New Frontier. Any early word on your possible involvement with Teen Titans: The Judas Contract?

Lolita Ritmanis was part of my inspiration for coming out to Los Angeles. She was very encouraging and introduced me to the concept of actually studying film music in the States, which could (and did) obviously lead to working in Hollywood. As such, out of respect for her and her team (and I've not told her this), I've never asked to work on anything related to Teen Titans, considering Lolita has scored the Titans for all these years. Warner Bros. hasn't asked me to score Teen Titans or Justice League, so the dilemma hasn't actually presented itself yet.

What's on the horizon for Rob Kral? Any interesting projects lined up?

Next up is Batman Anime. Kevin Manthei and Christopher Drake are also on board as composers. I believe Bruce Timm is interested in keeping the individual short stories quite separate and wants each composer not to coordinate too much with the others but rather for the composers to bring their own ideas to each separate story. I'm moving my studio right now so that's a big project in itself. Very excited to soon be working in a bigger space.

In closing and since you might never make it to James Lipton's Actors Studio, I will give you the opportunity to realize a fantasy of a great many people. I would like to ask you ten questions adapted from Bernard Pivot's questionnaire from Apostrophes and Bouillon de culture. Ready? What is your favorite melody?

"The Music of the Night" from The Phantom of the Opera. Though my daughter has now discovered it and has played it too many times... I'm becoming quite sick of it. So instead, I should mention one of my favorite songs: "My Immortal" by Evanescence. Music and lyrics just heartbreaking.

What is your least favorite melody?

"Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer.

What turns you on as a composer?

Emotional stuff. And those feel-good moments songwriters do in their music, the magic you feel, and you ask, "how'd they do that?!"

What turns you off?

When TV shows (especially) or movies insist on up-tempo, "exciting" music when the scene doesn't warrant it. What I mean is, when a producer or director feels like the scene needs more to move it along and it doesn't really, and the composer is asked to push the scene forward. It's so contrived and very off-putting. It shouts out that the producers don't trust their material and that irks me. I have no problem when it's warranted, those scenes where we want more excitement, when the music can really help keep moving it forward. I mean it irks me when it would be better not to do this and we're only doing it because the scene wasn't working or out of fear from the director that "someone might flip channels" if it's a TV show.

What is your favorite musical symbol?

Treble cleff.

What musical sound do you love?

Strings firstly. But more obscurely, there's a horn and synthesizer sound during the climax of "The Red Weed" section of Jeff Wayne's musical version of The War of the Worlds. What an absolutely fantastic sound. I hope one day to know how he did that, but he is not telling.

What musical sound do you hate?

Organs, electronics, warbly church organs.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Photography. I am constantly snapping pictures and have some good ones. It's another love of mine to be sure. I wish I could make movies too, be in charge of creating and telling stories in that way.

What profession would you not like to do?

Factory work.

And if Heaven exists, what cue from a score of yours would you like to hear when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Wow, that is a fantastic question! There's a series of videos I did for Panorama Australia, tons and tons of themes. There was an orchestral theme for a wonderful ending to one of those videos and I think I could swallow that one being played, if they had it lying around. I checked recently with Panorama trying to hunt down the title for this old piece of music, and we discovered it has the glorious title of "Closing Theme"!!


Those of you interested in watching Superman Doomsday, you'll be glad to know it is available from Warner Home Video on DVD. Being a comic book fan and a fan of Superman in general, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how good and entertaining the movie was, the first PG-13 animated Superman project ever released. Robert Kral's brassy score will be available from La-La Land Records on October 23rd. Red cape in tatters not included.

Special thanks to Robert Kral, Nate Givens, Matt Verboys and Dan Goldwasser.