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Interview - Robert J. Kral

First off, describe your role and subsequent duties on “Superman/Doomsday” in as much detail as possible?

My role in the production of Superman Doomsday as music composer was to provide and create all the original music for the movie. First, we wanted to create a suitable and original Superman theme. Bruce (Timm) didn't want a John Williams movie rip-off. We were looking to create something slightly darker, and we wanted to somehow capture an element of the human struggle in the theme. The story outlines a massive challenge for Superman and obviously includes a battle that would lead to his death so we wanted it to be very serious and less upbeat / happy sounding than John Williams’ theme. It's a little more Lord of the Rings or Jurassic Park.

Once we had the main theme working, Bruce and I met to talk about the music in detail for each scene in the movie. We decided where the music would appear exactly and what moods it needed to convey etc. Before music is written, the possibilities are enormous as to what it might do, so the purpose of this meeting (called the "spotting session") is to narrow down the options, to creatively decide what is best for the story.

I then spent roughly six weeks composing the score. I work in what's known as a midi studio where I can perform all of the instrumentation via computers and the latest sound and sampling technology. For most of the brass instruments, I was using new technology that hadn't even been released yet, but is in my opinion the most powerful and expressive brass instruments available in the history of electronic music technology.

The movie is digitized into my computer, and I can record as many tracks as I wish. An action cue might feature two hundred tracks of sounds. I continued to collaborate with Bruce and would send him Quicktime files over the Internet or DVDs of completed scenes that he could watch and comment on.

While this isn’t your first animated project, this is your first DC project. How does it feel to score a movie adapted from “The Death of Superman.” Explain.

It was an absolute thrill to work on Superman Doomsday, creating themes for Lois and Clark and Superman, scoring Doomsday and these fantastic action sequences. It was a pure joy! My first memories of Superman were from my own comic books when I was perhaps about 5 years old. It's a character that you'll never forget, and back then none of us kids would have ever imagined there would be movies made from comic book stories! It’s a total privilege and honor to be selected as composer for this movie. The experience was exhilarating and Bruce was a pleasure to work for. Not only was I honored to work on a Superman movie, but to handle something as major as "The Death of Superman" was a fantastic experience.

What type of score can fans expect from this feature? Will the music be scored with a full orchestra, or using a keyboard? Can you explain the differences between the two, and any pros and cons that come from either?

(See also above). It’s a full orchestral sounding score, using the latest electronic technology. So I used a keyboard that is integrated with eight computers. The Mac drives the system with Digital Performer sequencing and recording software. There are seven PCs running Gigastudio software and the new WIVI Brass technology, which was brand new and hadn't even been released when I started using it on Superman. A real orchestra is always a better, more expressive and powerful sound. But not every film has the budget for a real orchestra. Using the correct techniques and the best technology, an electronic score can still be extremely powerful and expressive. One advantage of the electronically produced score is I have total control over every single instrument simply because I am performing every instrument that you hear.

Did you read comics as a kid, and have you watched any of the DC Animated Series. If so, what were your impressions of these comic and animated characters?

I did read Superman comics as a kid (see above....). I haven't watched the animated series however, so it will be interesting to hear from fans of the series how they feel about my score. I kind of like that I'm not influenced by that. However there is influence from John Williams, of course, even though we created a deliberately different feel in the main theme.

You have quite a following from your work on “Angel.” Can we expect any music cues or homages to your time on the popular Joss Whedon series?

No homages to Angel! Angel is dear to my heart, for certain. But this is a different universe. There is a sinister scene with Toy Man that may remind me of some of the moods featured in Angel, but there are no intentional similarities in the score.

Before I forget, a (very) belated congratulation on your Annie Award for your work on “Duck Dodgers.” Very well deserved!

That was a wonderful evening indeed, to receive the award at that event. A lot of very hard work went into Duck Dodgers and I absolutely loved that show and working for Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone.

What inspirations did you draw from for when it was time to score “Superman/Doomsday.” Did you look at classic Williams score for “Superman: The Movie,” or did you go elsewhere for inspiration? Explain.

We didn't want the theme to feel "corny". Not that John Williams theme is corny, but it's more peppy and happier in many ways. We wanted this to still feel serious in the Main Theme, not really dark but somehow more serious than the John Williams theme. I'm very happy with how it turned out. There's a point early in this new theme that kind of draws you into it and makes you feel the effort Superman is putting into his work of protecting our planet.

Can you describe your thought process when scoring a series or feature? How do you know what cues and notes to use for a particular scene, for example –Superman dying in Lois’ arms, or the dramatic reveal of Doomsday?

It's more of an emotional process than a thought process, I guess. Watching the movie, I am performing the movie, the roles, in my mind. I am there, feeling it all and "in" it all. As a composer, this is accompanied by musical sounds that I am in control of, shaping as if a potter would shape clay. It can be quite exhausting as I repeatedly "perform" scenes in my mind, composing and performing all the parts and instruments, layering the recordings etc. It's like I experience these scenes hundreds of times a day in order to complete the music soundtrack.

A lot of thought also goes into the bigger picture of the complete story and movie. If there is a fight I need to keep in mind the length of the fight, the magnitude of it compared to later fights or where it fits into the entire story. The same would go for a love scene or a rescue or a comedy cue. Its not just "anything goes" but carefully considered in regard to the rest of the story.

Overall, are you pleased with your work on “Superman/Doomsday”? Any highlights in particular?

I am very pleased with my score for Superman Doomsday. The process went very smoothly. For the first 15 minutes of the movie, I handed in the score to Bruce as my first assignment. He had absolutely NO changes to make to the score. This says to me that Bruce and I were very much on the same page as to what the music should do and how it should do it. Some highlights for me are Superman's sacrifice and then dying in Lois's arms, and the final battle. I also love the ending scenes. The themes really came together how I wanted them to and towards the end of the story, the last times you hear the themes being used, it feels the music is really part of the story and feel of the movie, which is one of my main goals in scoring.

The World’s Finest would like to thank Robert J. Kral for his participation in this Q & A.