Composer Chance Thomas has the gig of a lifetime. He writes scores for video games, and he's got some pretty hefty clients.
His last project was creating the score for "Peter Jackson's 'King Kong' " game.
"When I was called on to do that game," Thomas said by phone from his Northern California studio, "it was before James Newton Howard was assigned to do the movie soundtrack. I thought the game creators would shoot me off sections from (the movie score) and have me rework them. But that wasn't the case. I was informed that the score for the video game was to be an all-original work."
Thomas, a former Utah resident and Brigham Young University graduate, said he had to get into the feel of the project before he started. "I went to France and met with the game-design team. I came home with a load of drawings and designs from the game. So I put up the drawings of the Skull Island in my studio. Skull Island is a pretty scary place and having those pictures up made the studio a different world."
Thomas was a young man when he first heard Max Steiner's original soundtrack for the 1933 version of "King Kong," with Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong. "It was one of the first modern film scores in the history of film," said Thomas, who graduated cum laude in music from BYU in 1987. "I felt a lot of pressure going into the project because Kong is such an icon. It was intimidating."
In fact, the descending notes of "Kong's Theme: a Tragic Hero" on the soundtrack didn't emerge until halfway through the project. "I related to the story. While some may say it's a love story between Ann Darrow and King Kong, I see it a little different.
"It's like a relationship you have with your rottweiler. You look out for it and protect it from getting hit by cars and things like that. At the same time, the rottweiler looks out for you. That, to me, is the relationship between Ann and Kong. Kong took on a protective role over Ann. And she did, as well."
Still, a game soundtrack needs to enhance the overall game play, said Thomas. "Game music is so easy to shut off. I've done it. I know a lot of people who do it. They play the game with other music on. So, when I make music for a game, I want to make sure that it's the best music for the game.
"I like to say that my music will play you like you play the game. The music needs to make you sweat. It needs to make you cry. It needs to tap into your emotions to be effective."
That's one of the reasons Utah-based singer Jenny Jordan Frogley was called in to do some sessions. "There are places where you're playing Jack Driscoll and he gets hurt to near death. I had a sample sound of a singer and it was so ethereal. The design team loved it and I tracked down the woman who actually did the original work. But when we got her into the studio, it didn't fit right. So I called Jenny, whom I call for a lot of my projects, and asked her to sing for me."
"King Kong" is just one of many video-game soundtracks Thomas has been involved in. His first was "Quest for Glory V." He also did the game music for Vivendi-Universal's "Lord of the Rings" series. And he scored the Academy Award-winning short cartoon "The Chubb Chubbs."
Still, working with video games is one of the most enjoyable jobs Thomas has done, and he's picky about projects. "I personally don't work on M-rated games or R-rated films. I've had some very lucrative and high-profile offers to do so and some of those offers have come during some very lean times but I've always turned them down. (Because) how can you put a price on your personal character?"
Another thing Thomas agrees with is a tighter restriction on who can buy video games. "In contrast to the position of pretty much the entire balance of the game industry, I personally support legislation that would restrict minors from purchasing graphically violent or sexually explicit games. New evidence based on scholarly research, which links immersion in ultra-violent games to real-world violent behavior, has cemented my opinion on the subject."His strong stand on video games hasn't diminished the demand of Thomas as a composer, however. "I'm currently working on an unnamed X-Men project and just finished composing the dance music for the upcoming Nauvoo Pageant later this year."