Colin O'Malley

- Superman Returns
- various movies and television programs

Official website


Composer Colin O'Malley has written music for a great variety of projects. Among his latest scores is Superman Returns. In this interview, he talks about treading in Williams' footsteps, about composing for video games in general as well as his perspective on the game industry.

Hi Colin, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. First of all, tell us about yourself. How did you get started in the video game music business?

I’ve been working as a composer for film and television for about 12 years. I’ve also been the orchestrator and arranger for a recording artist named Yanni for the past 5 years. As far as getting into the game music business, simple answer: I got lucky and landed Superman Returns.


Let’s talk about Superman Returns. How and when did you get involved in that project?

I first became involved in Superman Returns in 2004. A good friend of mine was working on the game and he introduced me to the producers. I scored the initial ‘green light’ video for the game. From there it was a fairly standard (and long) demo process with a number of other composers. I think the game team became used to the style that was established in the initial ‘green light’ which led them to ultimately hire me.


Superman is of course a huge phenomenon and has spawned a great legacy of games, films, television shows and soundtracks. Over the years, many composers have contributed to the franchise. How daunting is it to start working on a Superman score?

It definitely was daunting. I’ve said many times it felt like trying to re-write Star Wars. The first thing I had to do was give up on improving upon the John Williams score. I tried to come at it from a different angle. I guess my score was more of Superman searching and protecting. It was a bit less of the huge triumph Williams already did so well.


How did you first start out writing the music? How much creative freedom were you given?

I was given a lot of creative freedom, even more so given the fact that they did not license any of the John Williams themes. I had already established the tone in the ‘green light’ video so I really just dove in and started writing. I did listen to a lot of scores to get rolling. Ironically, Supergirl was one of the most useful references I found. Goldsmith did a fantastic job with that score.


What were you specific goals with the score? How did you deal with the interactive side of the game? Are there any cues/musical passages that you’re especially proud of?

I would say my main goal was to have the score stand on its own and not just be a Williams knockoff. Regarding the interactive side of things, we did something called ‘vertical scoring’ on many of the cues. This involved writing the music in different layers so it would evolve based upon the height of Superman’s flight. In these cues the music is more pounding and epic down in the city, and transitions to a more ethereal feel as Superman heads for the clouds. These cues are my favourite musical moments in the game. Some good examples that were done using ‘vertical scoring’ are “Guardian of Metropolis” and “Son of Krypton”.


The score was performed by a 75 piece orchestra in Bratislava, Slovakia. Did you enjoy working with a real orchestra? How much does the overall composing process differ when using a live orchestra as opposed to a sampled score?

I had a really good experience in Bratislava. They have a great team there, including the contractor (Paul Talkington), the engineer (Peter Fuchs) and all the musicians. As far as the approach to writing, it was not significantly different for me. I think a huge part of what makes sample based scores work is to also think in terms of the balance, space and other fundamentals of orchestration. The biggest difference between a sample based score and a live orchestral score is the mountain of work involved in prepping the cues for orchestra!


You’ve also written music for film and television. How would you compare movie and game scoring?

In many ways the process is similar. It all boils down to capturing or supporting the emotions of the visuals in an interesting way. The technical demands of a game are very different because of the interactive nature of things. However, I’m not one that draws a huge line between film and game composers. I do not like to think of myself as a ‘game composer’. It is just one more interesting opportunity to write music that has opened up for me (and many others) in the past few years.


Are you pleased that your scores are being discussed / compared with film scores? For many years the direction for "crossing over" has been from game scores to movie scores (e.g., Giacchino), but more recently movie composers have gone the other way (e.g., Schifrin, Elfman & Shore). Any thoughts as to why this latter flow is happening?

I think it is great for game music to be discussed and compared with film music. I appreciate that the line between game and film scores is blurring a bit. Before I was involved in scoring games I had no real concept of the scope of the industry. It is such a huge force in entertainment that it is not surprising that many established film composers are doing games.


Where do you see game music in five to ten years from now?

I think it will be more of what I stated above: the line between film and game scoring will be less defined. The two mediums will merge more and more.


What is, in your opinion, the most difficult / challenging / enjoyable task when composing for a video game?

Sometimes game scoring feels like writing music for a film I haven’t seen yet. I see single images or small parts of the games I’m scoring, but generally it takes a lot of imagination. Translating occasionally cryptic level descriptions into something musical is definitely challenging.


What other composers / musical styles have had the greatest influences on you? What is in your CD-player / on your mp3-player right now?

I listen to so many scores. It depends on what I’m working on really. I’d say my favourites are John Williams, James Newton Howard, Jerry Goldsmith, Thomas Newman, Dario Marianelli, Alexandre Desplat, Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek and Joel McNeely. Oh, and don’t forget Hans.


What is, so far, your favourite project you’ve worked on?

I scored a World War II documentary for PBS called The Last Reunion: A Gathering of Heroes. It was all about fighter pilots during the War. My identical twin brother flies F-16’s and I have always been passionate about aviation. That was a really rewarding project.


What would be your dream project?

I would love to score a no apologies full-blown Hollywood epic, in the vein of the Spielberg/Williams collaborations of the eighties and nineties.


What are you currently working on?

I’m currently writing the score for Tomb Raider: Underworld. I’m also doing orchestrations and arrangements for Yanni’s next project entitled Yanni Voices.


Do you play PC or console games yourself?

I don’t have a lot of time to play them unfortunately. I do spend time with a good friend of mine who is an avid gamer to study how various titles integrate music. It’s the only way I can stay current with things without spending 40 hours getting to level 10 :)


Is there anything you’d like to say that I didn’t cover?

No, I think you’ve covered it all. Thanks for doing this interview.



Thanks again and good luck on your future endeavours.