The brand new Disney CGI film Wreck-It Ralph follows a villainous video game character who tries to escape his past and transform into a hero. ASCAP composer Henry Jackman utilized a wide range of techniques to capture Ralph's unique sound world, from eight-bit to hi-fi. Fresh from his appearance on our EDM Invades Hollywood panel at the Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference, Jackman gave us the lowdown on Wreck-It Ralph's entertaining score.
How early on in the production were you brought on board?
I was on very early, before I saw any footage. I went and hung out with Rich [Moore] the director and there was a Minority Report-style ideas cube which had story boards, and Rich told the story very effectively. It was me, Rich, [Executive Music Producer] Chris Montan and [Music Supervisor] Tom MacDougall there. Rich wandered around the room with all the story boards and told the entire story so I had a really good feel for all the different worlds they had created. They had Sugar Rush, Heroes Duty and the Wreck-It Ralph world. As he walked around and told the story, it was really obvious that the movie was a complete winner. And that was before any animated footage at all. In fact, we had quite an in-depth musical conversation at that point, when we decided that even with all of these the different worlds we could get excited about, we needed themes that could glue everything together.
Was your score informed at all by the sound effects and music of classic video games?
Yes. Back in the day my first ever paid gig, I had to convert a game called MC Kids, which was an arcade game for the Commodore 64 - I had to type in like 10 lines of machine code for it to make a lot of beeps and boops. Lots of research was done - I even bought a big old Donkey Kong game console! I studied those old Namco chips to learn about their frequency response and how many simultaneous noises those things could make. Even when you get to the mid '90s, it could only make like four simultaneous sounds, same with the Atari. I wanted the eight-bit music to be as authentic as possible.
The film switched among several different types of animation as Ralph moves from game to game. How does the music to Wreck-It Ralph help navigate all that?
By having a different sonic culture for the different games. The beginning of the movie is really strictly eight-bit, when you don't even see Ralph as a 3D character. Then it opens up. By the time you get to reel four there are these heavy emotional cues because his relationship with Vanellope has gotten more serious. And then Heroes Duty has this intense action feel to it. Sugar Rush has a J-pop vibe in there, and then Vanellope has her own sound. So there is musical specificity for different worlds, but on top of that there's the rejection of musical specificity because when you get to character moments, there are orchestral cues that aren't video game, eight-bit related at all. What ties it all together are the character's themes, which appear throughout the story, but with different orchestrational colors in the different worlds.
Did you coordinate with Skrillex, Owl City or any of the other musical contributors to the film?
No, actually we all worked separately. Skrillex and Owl City are both awesome at what they do so they unleashed their own sounds and totally nailed it.
You've scored plenty of animated films over the last few years. Do you find you approach changes at all when you're not working on live action characters?
The big mistake that people make is that they think it's just a cartoon so they don't commit fully to it. It's to do with story - it doesn't matter if it's William Hurt betraying Sigourney Weaver, or if it's Ralph betraying Vanellope. The feelings are the same, so you should take it just as seriously in scoring. What is different in animation is that you need to be more flexible and able to turn on a dime. In a live action movie you have more space, whereas in an animated film you may have five or six different musical ideas in a minute-long piece of music. But those ideas need to be just as real and full on as they would be in a live-action film.
Has the Wreck-It Ralph experience inspired you to work on a video game in the future?
I'd love to if I had the time!
What's your favorite video game music of all time?
It might have to be Mario Kart - the Nintendo 64 version.
You've been an ASCAP member for nearly a decade. How would you say ASCAP has impacted your music career?
They are a vital part of any composer's career. ASCAP helps to guard our intellectual property and make sure we're protected. Plus they put on these really interesting and stimulating events that I love to attend. I was just on ASCAP's panel at the Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Film and TV Music event about a week ago, and I was really impressed by everything they had going on there. If you're not a member, you need to be.
Wreck-It Ralph is now in theaters. Find out more at disney.go.com/wreck-it-ralph.
Check out Henry Jackman's CV at IMDB.