For RP Composer, It’s About Soundscapes

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Published: April 8, 2012 @ 8:32 AM EDT
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It always starts out with a simple sound. It might be the rustling of leaves or a stapler opening or the scraping of stones or the crunch of walking on snow, but for Roselle Park resident and composer Gina Zdanowicz, they all become layers in a canvas of sound for the videos games, animation pieces, and films that she works on.

This coming Friday the 13th, the independent horror film “The Killing of Jacob Marr” – written and directed by Brad Rego – which is Gina’s first feature length film score, will hold a special free online screening at 10 p.m. at justin.tv (link). Having already worked on video games, animations, and short films, Gina took some time to talk about her work on the film, which spanned several months, and her process in creating what she calls ‘soundscapes’.

She originally met with director Brad Rego and he discussed the direction of the film and where he wanted to take the score. She presented him with a short teaser as a sample of her work. Liking what he heard, he hired her as the film’s composer and sound designer. As filming started, Gina would receive scenes out of order – as is the practice in filmmaking – along with the director’s notes on what he wanted and, using her computer with virtual instruments and synthesizer, Gina would then get to work to fill each scene with its atmosphere of sound.

“It gave me an opportunity to kind of go further with film and dive into it more,” Gina said in discussing her experience, “With this movie, I was making soundscapes and really just creating foreboding music and that ominous atmosphere.”

Growing up, Gina was always interested in  music and, luckily, her parents allowed her to play music on drums, guitar, and piano. After high school, she went to Berklee College of Music in Boston and graduated with a Bachelor of Music in Music Synthesis.  It was there where she learned about creating sounds & music with synthesizers as well as the technology behind creating those sounds.

As composer, sound editor, and sound designer, Gina began working. She stated, “My background is built on video games. I’ll be asked to create the music for the background for the main theme of the game but also the sound effects. So when you have a character walking and exploring or shooting weapons – any of those sound effects – I created those.”

She will usually go out and record with her handheld recorder, a microphone, and headphones. Although the basic sounds are simple, Gina explains how they are transformed, “There are times in video games when I’m creating explosion sounds and I’ll just go into a wooded area and I’ll grab branches and rustle leaves and I record all of those sounds – breaking twigs  and sticks – and then I’ll put them all together and with some synthesizer sound behind it, I can create a big explosion.”

“Sometimes the neighbors think I’m odd,” she added when speaking about her process, “When it snowed  last year I was out there with microphone and headphones recording myself walking in snow.”

When asked how she reacts to the curious looks, Gina jokingly responded, “I just hope they’re not going to talk over my recordings.”

Being well-versed in many different musical styles such as jazz, orchestral, rock, and pop comes in handy for Gina’s work on video games. Still, for films she prefers the horror genre. She goes onto explain, “There is so much you can do with it to really kind of bring out the emotions and really immerse the viewer into the film.”

Gina’s influences in composing films range from Harry Manfredini, who scored the original “Firday the 13th” film to Steve Jablonsky, who scored the remake, to Kurt Oldman and Graham Reznick. She can now count herself as a film composer but she always looks to improve. She reflected on the project, “Being able to see it from beginning to end, it just made me feel like this was quite an accomplishment but at the same time I always am very critical of my own work. I always pick out things and say I should have done this a little better but I think a lot of people do that.”

She is working on her goal to one day score a film by directors the likes of John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, or George A. Romero. Presently, Gina is working on various video game projects for Next-Gen consoles, iOS, Facebook and the web which include Bioshock 2 (X-Box 360 / PS3 / PC), ESPN Return Man (Facebook), and Mahjong Vacations (iPad). In addition to those projects as well as running her own company (Serial Lab Studios) and working as lead sound designer for Mini Monster Media, she also teaches “Intro To Game Audio ” – an online course for her Alma mater.

Although Gina acknowledges that being a woman in a male-dominated field is noticeable, she sees it more as having a lot in common with the people who are doing the same kind of things she is doing. She adds, “I kind of just look at it as it’s just me, it’s something I’m really into.”

As she continues with her busy schedule of work and projects, Gina keeps her eye out for the next opportunity to create another of her soundscapes through film scoring.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” she concluded the conversation in speaking about her work, “I just want to keep making sounds.”

The trailer for “The Killing of Jacob Marr” which includes pieces from Gina Zdanowicz’s score can be viewed below.
[Editor’s Note: Be aware that the trailer contains strong language and graphic imagery of a violent nature.]