Today, we’re joined by Winifred Phillips, the composer of the Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation Soundtrack.
Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation has received universal praise for its soundtrack and rich score. Today, we get a chance to speak with Winifred about this project.
Q – Winifred, you recently received a Hollywood Music in Media Award for your work on Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. How did it feel to have this soundtrack acknowledged by your peers?
A – It meant a lot to me. Scoring a game like Assassin’s Creed III Liberation was a very intense experience. The Assassin’s Creed franchise has a loyal and very enthusiastic fan base, and I wanted to create a musical score that they’d enjoy. Working with the development team at Ubisoft for the game was both a privilege and a heavy responsibility, because I definitely wanted to create music that would express their creative vision. At the end, I felt like I’d been able to compose a score that was true to the franchise and enjoyable for the fan community, which made me very happy. After all of that, winning an award given by the professional community for my work on Assassin’s Creed III Liberation was immensely gratifying. This has been a really fulfilling experience for me.
Q – You are no stranger to AAA gaming projects, getting your start working on God of War, but what was it like working on Assassin’s Creed III Liberation?
A – It was definitely a different experience. For God of War, I was a part of a team of composers, which is typical for the God of War franchise. For Assassin’s Creed III Liberation, I was the sole composer. This meant that I could define the musical style of the whole game, and that was very exciting. I worked with the Ubisoft team to develop a musical approach that would best support the gameplay and enhance the player’s enjoyment of the game. Award-winning music producer Winnie Waldron oversaw my work on a daily basis for the Assassin’s Creed III Liberation project, making sure that the composition and production of every track was of the highest possible quality.
Q – The Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation soundtrack has incredible depth, serving as a soundtrack for your actions in the 18th century. What efforts did you take to make the music feel as though it were a part of this period of time?
A – I let the history and personality of the main character guide me. Assassin’s Creed III Liberation stars Aveline de Grandpré, a woman of mixed French and African descent living in 18th century New Orleans. Her upbringing took place amongst the French aristocracy, so I made sure to incorporate the type of musical style that would best reflect this elevated strata of society. French baroque orchestra makes frequent appearances in the Assassin’s Creed III Liberation musical score. At the same time, her mother was an African slave, and her mentor in the Assassin’s order is also a former slave. This has a strong cultural influence on Aveline, and I wanted this to be reflected in the music as well. The complex rhythms and bright, open chord structures of traditional African music became very important in the overall score.
Q – Timing is one thing, location is another. Whether it be European settings, Ancient Mayan jungles or even colonial Louisiana, how did you make the music in each of these locations stand out on their own, but keep the overall theme of the game intact?
A – I had a good time creating music that defined specific locations, both within New Orleans and outside of it. There were plenty of folk influences in the New Orleans music, as well as baroque techniques and instruments in the more wealthy sections of the city. I wrote a passacaglia for pipe organ to differentiate the area surrounding the cathedral. Outside of the city, the music becomes distinctly different. Bamboo flutes and African percussion dominate the bayou. In Mexico, the music is driven by traditional clay flute performances. I tried to incorporate an element of historical authenticity into the score, even as I combined that with more modern rhythms and synthetic elements.
Q – What was your favorite song to work on in the Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation soundtrack?
A – The Main Theme was my favorite. In ways, it was also the most difficult track to write. I composed it very early in the music production schedule, and it was my way of testing the combination of baroque and African musical elements that I intended to use throughout the score. If they worked in the main theme, they would work in the rest of the game. I was very relieved and happy that the track worked as well as it did.
Q – Liberation was released the same day as Assassin’s Creed III, which features similar gameplay mechanics, but different stories and different protagonists. In creating the soundtrack for Liberation, did you have to keep in mind the overall sound and feel of its companion game, Assassin’s Creed III? Or was there leeway for Liberation to have its own distinct feel from the console release?
A – My work as the composer for Assassin’s Creed III Liberation was completely separate from the music composition for Assassin’s Creed III. I didn’t hear any of that music while I was working on Liberation, so I had no way of knowing how my music might be compared. Since the stories and settings of the two games are so different, I think it makes sense for the music to be different, too.
Q – Tell me a little bit about yourself. What inspired you to get into the production of video game music?
A – I’ve always been a gamer, but I didn’t start out as a video game composer. My first job was as the composer for “Radio Tales,” a series for National Public Radio. Winnie Waldron was producing the series, and she hired me to create the musical scores for each program. The series adapted classic stories like “War of the Worlds” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” for the radio, so it was a great way for me to learn about the art and craft of musical composition for a dramatic medium. When I was offered the job to join the music team of God of War, I asked Winnie to come with me and produce my music, and we’ve been working together ever since.
Q – You got your start in producing video game music working on God of War. What’s the difference between working on a game with a team of composers as opposed to being the sole composer for Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation?
A – On a music team, each composer is assigned tasks. The development team determines the overall musical style of the project, although the composers are able to add their creative touches to their individual contributions. When you’re the sole composer, you can have a much stronger voice in determining the overall musical style of the game. You can develop plans for the introduction of musical themes for specific characters and situations. It can be a lot more fun, but also a much heavier responsibility, and a much greater workload. Assassin’s Creed III Liberation was an intense and exciting experience for me as a game composer.
Q – With your history working on radio dramas, do you feel it was a natural evolution to move into video game music production?
A – Very natural! It seems to me that music in radio drama is very pronounced in the perception of the audience, because it is acting to compensate for the lack of visual stimulus. The music helps the audience to develop a mental picture of what’s going on. Similarly, because game music often plays for longer periods of time and without dialogue obscuring it, I think that the music in a game can become very pronounced. In my experience, game music creates a sense of cohesiveness to the overall game playing experience. It ties things together, and it helps to shape an emotional arc from beginning to end.
Thank you to Winifred Phillips for taking the time to be a part of this interview. To learn more about Winifred and her work, you can check out http://www.winifredphillips.com/