LittleBigPlanet 2 composer says “Sibelius is just so quick and easy to use”

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Composer Paul Thomson in the control room at Air Studios' Lyndhurst Hall

LittleBigPlanet was arguably one of the first “killer apps” for Sony’s Playstation 3 console, and the forthcoming sequel, set to debut in January 2011, is one of the most eagerly-anticipated games of next year. I caught up with composer Paul Thomson to find out more about his work on the game, how Sibelius plays a part in the process, and the other projects he’s been working on.

Paul has quickly made a name for himself working on projects in film, TV and video games. I asked him how he got his start in the business.

“I did my MA in Film Music and then moved to London and got a job demoing pianos in Harrods,” he told me. “Through a friend I met there, I got a chance to help out at a music production company in Soho, and managed to make myself useful enough for them to give me a job. Following on from that, I set up my own company, got an agent and worked on all sorts of projects from producing records to scoring TV shows and commercials, programming on films, and eventually working my way into scoring games as well.”

With his experience in writing for different kinds of media, I asked Paul to describe the main differences between writing for, say, film and writing for games.

“There’s an important difference in that movies and TV are linear media, whereas games are often non-linear: music is often required to be adaptive or interactive in games. The score can react to the player’s decisions and also, especially in LittleBigPlanet, the composer needs to provide controls for the developer to be able to bring layers in and out of the music at key moments in the game.”

All of which makes writing for games more challenging than writing for linear media, as Paul explained. “This introduces two layers of complexity. Firstly, you have to have all of this in mind when scoring and orchestrating the music – it all has to work together, but also different layers must be good on their own as well. Secondly, you have to be very careful when tracking everything: you can end up with massively complicated Pro Tools sessions with lots of bussing! You have to be able to hear everything at once, but also ensure nothing is accidentally ending up on two stems! Its definitely a left-brain/right-brain endeavour!”

I asked Paul what kind of a role Sibelius plays in his work on various projects. “Sibelius is incredibly important to my work process,” he told me. “I’ll often sketch something quickly to a manuscript pad, with rough chord symbols, important lines broken out, a kind of short score format: then I’ll lay those parts into Logic and export to Sibelius and start filling in the gaps. Just as often, though, I will improvise an idea on the piano, transfer that into Sibelius, and then orchestrate from there directly to the page. Of course when I then need to call in either a single player or a group of players, it’s so much easier to give them nicely-prepared parts. My orchestrator also uses Sibelius – it’s very simple for us to bounce things backwards and forwards between us.”

One of the other strings to Paul’s bow is the private orchestral sample library he produces, under the name Spitfire Audio. “I also use Sibelius to prep parts for Spitfire Audio. Sibelius is just so quick and easy to use – essential when a single day can mean 700 printed pages of score! The parts are so easy for the players to read as well – it’s an incredibly well thought-out program.”

With work on LittleBigPlanet 2 wrapped up ahead of the game’s January release, I asked Paul what comes next for him. “In the new year I will be starting work on a new series called Touch for the BBC. I scored the pilot a few months back with a large orchestra at Air Lyndhurst Hall in Hampstead. It’s very exciting as the creative team behind the show are so talented, and I’m confident its going to do well!”

I’m equally confident that Paul is going to continue to do well. Check out the teaser trailer for LittleBigPlanet 2 below, and visit Paul’s web site for more information on his past, present and future projects.

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