We had the pleasure of speaking with Emmy-nominated composer David Ari Leon whose work can be heard on many super hero cartoons and specials such as Spider-Man Unlimited (1999-2001), Ultimate Avengers (2006), Planet Hulk (2010), and The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2011). He most recently scored for a new ABC show with Sea World called Sea Rescue that is a part of Litton’s Weekend Adventure Block premiering Saturday morning, April 7. We also talked about all of the video game composing he’s done and how that’s given him a large variety of work to create.
David, what musically is different in the two seasons of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes?
David Ari Leon: Musically they’re very consistent, there wasn’t a change from seasons other than it was just an evolution of the story. So it was continued forward from what was done already. For me it’s a long finished project that’s just currently airing.
What else do you have lined up?
DAL: I’m scoring a new show for ABC with Sam Champion called Sea Rescue. It premieres on April 7th, and it is very different from Avengers. It’s very heartfelt real-life stories about rescuing sea animals, their rehabilitation and release back into the ocean. The approach is much more different, much more pop pulling more influence from a song you’d hear as opposed to the more orchestral, dramatic kind of score.
Now you’ve also done some video games where you’ve been able to contrast your Avengers work, is that correct?
DAL: I’m doing a lot of composing for EA for example I did a Woody Woodpecker game for Universal and that was like a swing band, 1940’s style kind of music. Another one I did was Contre Jour that iTunes awarded best iPad Game of The Year and that was very subtle, classical, solo piano, light orchestra pulling from French composers like Debussy very nuanced, relaxed music, totally opposite from the Avengers.
Listen to this clip of David’s wonderful music from Contre Jour
And now see the music put to the gameplay
How much has the world of video games opened up to you?
DAL: I’m doing a lot of composing for the Chillingo Division of EA Games where everyone of these games has its own creative, quirky style that can be explored. The box of what is more predictable you would do is much more wide open. If you’re scoring a lot of genres like horror or a romantic comedy the music is going to fit in somewhat of a box that’s familiar, whereas I just scored this game called Coco Loco that’s a best-selling iPad game where these marshmallows get flung around and land in hot chocolate. You’re in the jungle and there’s this tribal chocolate guys trying to get the marshmallows. So they wanted this jungle Aztec kind of drum feel, but also have this South American Brazilian bossa nova samba sound infused together. So I enjoy the creative freedom I have with these games.
Here’s a video clip of Coco Loco with David’s music
Do you already have those styles in your head, or do these different jobs allow you the opportunity to venture out and soak some different styles of music and create something influenced by your findings?
DAL: When I have an assignment like that I will look for references in the style to soak up and be inspired by and at the same time I’m fascinated by music in the broadest sense. There’s something about the style, the culture and the history of it, there’s something about the music that’s interesting. A friend of mine calls me a music archeologist because I’ll just unravel and unearth what is it about that music and culture, and put myself in the place of that. I try to absorb the mood and feel of it, and then I’ll analyze the components of the music. That’s a combination of the thought process and emotional exploration fused together. It’s fun, I believe in that saying that variety is the spice of life. I can do a video game, a TV show, then a record album and then go back and say, “Cool, I get to do this again!”
What are the timelines like for each industry you’ve worked in?
DAL: On the music side, you have a very, very tight deadline with television because of the physical process that happens where you are restricted in how much you can do with the music until you get the locked cut of the picture to work with. Generally the production schedule has a delivery date that has to go out to air, then there’s a process of pre-production, production, and post-production within that schedule that by the time I get a locked cut, schedules usually slip back and forth, and delays happen that I get less-and-less time, but there’s no time to push the delivery date of the episode. If an episode is half an hour, you might have 15-20 minutes of music to do in four days. It’s a lot of work in a short time.
And in the gaming industry?
DAL: In videogames, because you’re not tied to the picture, you can start making music way earlier in the process and the development and production process in video games is a longer arc. Not only do they have to conceptualize it, and come out with the visuals but then program it. I’m not a programmer but that takes a long time and it’s a cumbersome process. Meanwhile they can say here’s some images of what it looks like and start making music. I like that about video games.
At what point do people get to first year your work, is it at the beta stage or is it unveiled at the very end?
DAL: Sometimes it’s in the beta, but it’s up to the developer and depends also on when I’m brought into that particular game. Sometimes they’re not sure what they want or maybe they put something in they thought might work and weren’t happy with it. So if they bring me into the process relatively late, my music doesn’t end up in the game until the final release of it. Sometimes they’ll bring me early enough to make the music–my preference–to give to the developers to sit with for a while and play the game.
What I find is the developers will, after sitting and playing the game with my music for a month or two, they’ll come back and say, “You know what would be even cooler? Is this, this and this.” And that’s awesome, that’s the feedback I want. Then I can really cater the music to the game experience. At the end of the day you want a game experience to be immersive and really engaging. I love that kind of feedback of let’s make it that way.