Audio: Composing for the animated series 'Halo: The Fall of Reach'
Issue: December 1, 2015

Audio: Composing for the animated series 'Halo: The Fall of Reach'

Composer Tom Salta recently completed work on a new animated series that’s set in the Halo universe. Halo: The Fall of Reach was released on Blu-ray/DVD on December 1st, and its official soundtrack was also made available on December 4th. The animated sci-fi epic is also included with the Digital Deluxe Edition, Limited Edition and Limited Collector’s Edition of Halo 5: Guardians, and can be viewed via The Halo Channel. 

Post caught up with Salta, who provided insight into the composing process for the series. Here’s a look at what he had to say:

Post: What was the client’s request in the case of Halo: The Fall of Reach?

Salta: “The score for Halo: The Fall of Reach was my third solo outing in the Halo universe, following the Halo: Spartan Assault and Spartan Strike games. I already knew the basic ground rules for creating a Halo score, but since this was my first filmic treatment in the Halo universe, there were a few aspects that had to be handled differently. The senior audio director (Paul Lipson, 343 Industries) definitely wanted a score that worked as a strong theme throughout the entire film. The director (Ian Kirby, Sequence Group) also had specific ideas regarding certain scenes. Being that The Fall of Reach was a prequel to the original Halo: Combat Evolved game from 2001, we all agreed that this would be a great opportunity to foreshadow certain key elements from that iconic score without giving it all away.”

Post: How much music did you need to create?

Salta: “The original estimate was 45 minutes of music but, in the end, the entire score ended up being almost an hour…so it was almost wall-to-wall music. Having a background as a songwriter, I was also inspired, while scoring the film, to create an original song based on the film. The development director of the Halo franchise at 343 Industries, Frank O’Connor, liked the song idea so much that he decided to write the lyrics to it. It didn’t make it into the film, but it’s on the soundtrack. What’s especially cool about this song is that this is the first time an original Halo song, complete with lyrics, was written by Halo creators…not just an ‘inspired by’ project after the fact. And the lyrics tell the story of the young children who had their lives taken away by the Spartan 2 project; a perspective that is not covered by any of the other novels or games.

“The instrumentation style for the score itself covered the full gamut, from pure classical orchestra, to hybrid orchestral/synth all the way to 100 percent synth. There were also a few key a cappella moments for voice and choir. The entire score has all the expected Halo trademarks...ethereal choir themes, piano, heavy percussion, etc.”

Post: What was the timeline for creating all of the music and, ultimately, delivering it?

Salta: “I decided to create and stick to a very rigid schedule to ensure that I was able to dedicate enough time to all the important stages of the creative process. The initial spotting session was at the end of May 2015. For the first two weeks of June, I focused only on brainstorming a variety of ideas, themes, experimenting with sounds, motifs, etc...nothing to picture and not critiquing anything. For the last two weeks of June, I dipped my toe in the water with some of the easier scenes. For the entire month of July, I focused exclusively on the most important scenes in the film. All the remaining scenes were tackled in the first two weeks of August. The last two weeks were dedicated to live sessions, final production and mix. The full score was 100 percent content complete and delivered on August 31st. The entire process from beginning to end was three months.”

Post: Tell us about some of the unique sounds and themes?

Salta: “One of the first concepts I was inspired with from the very beginning was the idea of foreshadowing the now famous monk chant music from Halo: Combat Evolved. This was the origin story of Master Chief and the young children who were abducted into the Spartan 2 program, so what better way to depict their story than by using a children’s choir?

“Another cool thing that happened somewhat organically is that I kept coming back to this one theme most every time the young Spartans were together. It became, in effect, their ‘camaraderie theme,’ starting from when they ‘bonded’ during their first ‘test mission’ in the woods, all the way to planning their first attack against the (alien) covenant ship and even into the epilogue of the film (no spoilers).

“Another point that I wanted to hit thematically is to somehow allude to and connect the original theme of Halo (the monk theme) to the theme of The Fall of Reach. Although I never used it straight out in the open, when you listen closely to the Fall of Reach theme, you can hear how the original ‘monk melody’ is weaved through it as a counterpoint line...right up until the second to last note. Being as close as I am to all the legacy Halo music, I couldn’t resist the temptation to bring that back. For the listener, consciously or not, it serves as a way of making it feel connected to the Halo universe, even if you’re not consciously aware of why. Besides, I always love putting Easter eggs in my music for people who really want to get deep into it.”

Post: What tools did you call on to complete the job?
Salta: “With the exception of the live choir, most of the score was done virtually. I composed and mixed the score in Logic Pro X and my arranger, Jonas Friedman, worked in Cubase. The live choir was recorded through a vintage Neve console at Avatar Studios in New York. The final production was mixed in-the-box back at my project studio. I generally use a ton of different plug-ins but I definitely used a lot of UAD, Sonnox, McDSP and iZotope plug-ins throughout the entire project.”