Interview: Steven Coltart


The Indiependent: For starters, we would just love to hear about you. What got you into composing? Is it something you always wanted to do? 

Yes, it’s what I have spent my life working towards.  I’ve been composing and producing from a young age.  Starting with keyboard lessons, experimenting with technology, and listening to a wide range of influences.  Planet of the Apes Last Frontier has actually come 14 years after I scored my first project whilst studying for my Degree, a student short called ‘Autumn Heart’.  Since then I have composed across video games, film and TV.

My route into industry may be seen as potentially unexpected.  I was actually a full-time music lecturer, and whilst I enjoyed helping the students, the most important move I made for my career was when I left that position.  Making this switch was crucial, allowing the focus to be on my own music.  The first 18-months I networked, built my portfolio, won my regional Global Games Jam competition, and got offered the job of scoring a game called ‘Into Light’ which was a key moment for me.  Over the course of a year I put everything I had into that project, crafting an original piano based OST which was really well received, and this led to composing other releases, and ultimately getting my break with the Last Frontier gig.  My soundtrack for ‘Into Light’ is available from iTunes, and Spotify, and one of the tracks ‘Be Calm’, was a winner of the 8Dio worldwide composing contest.

The Indiependent: With your work across film and video games, how different is it composing across the two mediums? Were there any different approaches you took or techniques you used? 

Unlike with other games I had worked on, I actually treated this project as close to possible as a linear film score.  From the off I was opposed to using any loops, menu theme aside, and instead all music was composed bespoke for the different pathway options.  That became quite complex on the longer scenes, however I think the end result is much more filmic due to the approach I took.

The Indiependent: Were you a fan of the original Planet of the Apes franchise or even the reboot series? You composed a score for a franchise that holds so much weight and so much notoriety.  How did that feel for you?

Scoring the Planet of the Apes universe was an incredible project to be involved with.  The chance to also work at Ealing Studios with the Imaginati team was a huge pull.  There’s some amazing talent in that studio, some of which also worked with me on ‘Into Light’.  Stylistically, my compositional approach of emotionally charged music fitted the cinematic brief, and I was confident that this was the right project for me to compliment the storyline, and also show what I can do too.  I feel my Last Frontier score has a nod to the franchise, yet retains my own composer sound.  That’s really important to me.

The Indiependent: In terms of the technical aspect of it, was it something you were used to?

Crucially for this one I was involved across full production.  Not only composing the soundtrack, but also employed as audio lead.  This included determining how I wanted the audio engine to function, and personally implementing all my music into Unreal too.  Having this level of control, understanding allowed me to have attention to detail across both creative, and technical areas.  I believe the composer also implementing is quite unique on a project of this size, but in my opinion, it’s one of the key reasons my score is getting positive feedback.  I’m Mac based for my music production, but used a PC for the UE4 work.  Understanding and communicating the language of game development is as important to me as listening skills, music theory, and a key strength of mine.

The Indiependent: When you looked at the narrative and the character arcs presented in the game, was there ever a Eureka moment where you just got a sound in your head that you were like “ok, this fits perfectly! I’m a genius!”? 

There is one theme that I’m particularly happy with which reoccurs in-game, ‘Toms Burial’.  A listener posted to my Twitter @ColtartMusic that “There’s so much pain in it”.  A melancholy that’s both ambient to not distract from the storytelling, yet has enough detail to warrant listeners enjoying it when playing the OST in isolation.  That’s something I kept in the back of my mind across the full soundtrack.  Does the music sound as good externally from the game as it does supporting the gameplay in it?  If so, I’ve done my job.

The Indiependent: Tipping over to the other side of that spectrum, was there ever a moment where you were presented the narrative and character arcs and you were just completely stumped as to how you were going to make the player feel what the visual aspect was trying to make the player feel? 

Thankfully never stumped, however Jess was the character I made several tweaks to as the project progressed.  I wanted her theme to be quite versatile with strength, hope, reflection, slightly emotional edge at times etc.  Some of my initial ideas were representing the character in a weaker way than I would like, and so I experimented with instrumentation choice, and overall production to get the desired feel.  I’m personally pleased with the mood mix in game due to these revisions.  That emotional context is a big part of my work.  I enjoy what I write, and hopefully that comes across to the player, enhancing game play and creating a memorable soundtrack experience too.

Interview conducted by Kieran Hunter 


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