Archive for the ‘Film Scoring’ Category

Ace Wonder: Sketches and Ideas

Posted on September 1, 2011 at 7:07 pm, by Ben

Artwork by Matt Sample Ace Wonder Sketches by BenBotkin

Every musical project requires a certain amount of preliminary experimentation and ground work before you can begin on the final thing. For Ace Wonder, I spent a long time working up an assortment of little musical ideas and sketches based on the adjectives and vision the director (John Moore) articulated for me. (At this point in the process, I had also read the script and was getting little clips of the film to wet my musical appetite, but did not have an edit of the film.)

I immediately started versing myself in the pieces of music that possessed the flavor and feeling that John particularly liked– I also had a number of ideas of what existing pieces of music would capture the essence of his verbal descriptions. Wading through a lot of existing music first can really help the composer understand the musical tastes of the director. This is crucial. John’s understanding of what “Crazy- madcap-science-steampunk- action-adventure-detective-noir-mystery-music ” sounds like may differ greatly from my own, or may not be fully formed yet.

The pool of inspirational material we dove through was pretty wide and ran quite deep. John Williams, John Powell, Danny Elfman, Michael Giacchino, Randy Newman, Hans Zimmer, James Horner, Michael Kamen and more– all these composers and their scores were frequently referenced in our dialogue as we tried to mold and define that Ace Wonder “sound.” If someone asked me what my main source of inspiration for this project was, I would have to hand them half of my music library.

At least that’s what it felt like.

I wrote of dozens of these short, rough musical sketches, experimenting with everything from instrumentation to rhythm, melody, and meter. It took anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple hours to sketch one of these up, so every couple days I would send John a new batch of samples for him to peruse and pass judgment on–every piece of feedback I received told me a little bit more about the way John’s mind ticks in regard to music.

After a while of this, we ended up having a pretty good sense of the feel and flavor for the music and had worked through melodic ideas and the use of themes throughout the film. I was ready to begin scoring to picture, which at that point was nearing the “locked edit” stage.

Wanted: Western Music

Posted on July 26, 2011 at 1:04 pm, by Ben


I have never posted this before, but I was reminded of this short film I wrote the music for the other day when I was thinking back on the prehistoric before-marriage-era (which, surprisingly, was only last year). I remembered that I had been working on a film right in the middle of a very intensive getting-to-know/cross-examination period with Audri in April 2010 which subsequently swallowed up all the mental processes that would allow me to remember said film project… or actually anything at all besides love, courtship and marriage. (Shameless plug: Audri and I will be speaking on an upcoming webinar on courtship and marriage next month–check it out)

Anyway, Wanted the western was put together by some friends of mine, primarily by the fine fellows at The Effects Forge, whom I have worked with on multiple projects to date, and have had a great back-and-forth with on Ace Wonder (they’re handling the special effects and motion comic scenes). The music and instruments in this film are a little outdated, but it was fun to compose.

Wanted from Conquest Productions on Vimeo.

Ace Wonder Production Post #3

Posted on July 18, 2011 at 4:24 pm, by Ben

Ace Wonder Score Teaser #3 by BenBotkin

NOTE: the music doesn’t have any special connection to this artwork– it just makes the post look a lot more cool.

New Brass Library

Posted on June 10, 2011 at 1:18 pm, by Ben


CineSamples just released their long-awaited and eagerly-anticipated (by me, at least) CineBrass. I payed the very reasonable $399 price tag yesterday and downloaded the 8GB of content which installed easily and runs in Kontakt 4 (4.2.3 required) as smooth as butter. This musical sketch below is the first thing I played around with after loading up some patches, and though it’s still quite sloppy, you can get a sense of the playability and credibility of these brass instruments.

CineBrass Adventure by BenBotkin

The interface is really simple and intuitive–there are many articulations but few patches to hassle with, and of course, it runs in Kontakt which just makes everything nicer. The first-play experience is incredible. The velocity-sensitive key-mapping in the “articulations patches” is brilliant. I’ve long wanted to carry a staccato trumpet or horn line and end the phrase with a marcato note, but having to load another patch and sync the two so it sounds like part of the same performance is always a headache and often a waste of time. In Cinebrass, you can control the length of your staccato articulations by the velocity of your hit, which is awesome.

This is by far the best brass library I have played or heard to date. We’ll see what East West’s Hollywood Brass has to offer when it is released next month, and though it will probably sound great, I somehow doubt that it will match the playability or deadline-friendly conveniency of CineBrass. Maybe I’ll be eating my words in a month, but kudos to the CineSamples team for producing an exceptional product that not only does better what other current libraries do decently, but one that expands the horizon of what is possible with sample technology.

Ace Wonder Production Post #2

Posted on May 27, 2011 at 9:56 pm, by Ben

I’m entering the final stages of the scoring process for Ace Wonder: Message From a Dead Man, and thought I’d include a teaser of some of the music I’m working on right now. This clip is from a segment of the film where mysterious turning point meets inquisitive youngster.

Ace Wonder Score Teaser #2 by BenBotkin

Here are a couple screen-shots of a cue in progress. You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Workspace #1 - Master View

Workspace #1 - Master View

Most cues in this film use between 10 and 50 tracks, So it’s important for me to keep the main edit view as uncluttered as possible. Believe it or not, this is as “uncluttered as possible.”

Workspace #2 - Instruments View

Workspace #2 - Instruments View

A word on libraries: Though I have a decent number of instrument libraries I still have only one machine currently running and it’s equipped with a now-paltry 8GB of ram… but I still rarely max it out and I commonly have no more than 4GB of instruments loaded. The key to eliminating unnecessary memory usage is knowing ahead of time what you need to achieve with a cue and how to accomplish it. By the time I’m done with a cue, I rarely have more than one or two patches loaded that I didn’t use, and it’s because every track counts. This should be a composer’s attitude whether he has unlimited computer resources or not, and chances are, he doesn’t. Being limited by your system is the not greatest enemy of creativity… granted, it can be a headache, but it can also be the tutor that forces you to learn economy of notes and clean instrumentation.

In addition to that, if you know your libraries well, you will not only know the difference between a “lite” and “powerful system” patch, but you will know that the “lite” works just as well in most scenarios. By the way, having a good idea of how you’re going to go about the process beforehand speeds up the process significantly– you don’t end up improvising a million things (maybe only a thousand) that you end up sliding to the back of your project, plus there is less clutterage to get lost in.

Back in ’09 when I was working on The Mysterious Islands I was caught with a cue assignment one morning while on the road a couple hours from home. I didn’t have to drive, so I took those few hours on the journey home to watch the clip over and over and think through my approach in my head–even jotting down a few ideas the old-school way… ON PAPER. I got home at about noon and by midnight I had a 5 minute cue finished and uploading. Obviously, God was merciful to me in that tight situation (and my sisters brought me food), but being restricted by my circumstances from reverting to lazy improvisational habits actually sped up the process a lot.

I will be posting more clips, teasers and announcements about this film, so stay tuned!