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Interview: Scarygirl And The Spooky Tunes of Luke Jurevicius

In this interview, we talk to Scarygirl game composer Luke Jurevicius on his evocative soundtrack to the stylish Flash game, his collaboration with his brother and the strengths of Flash for musicians.

June 22, 2009

9 Min Read

Author: by Jeriaska

[In this interview, we talk to Scarygirl game composer Luke Jurevicius -- brother of Scarygirl creator Nathan -- on his evocative soundtrack to the stylish Flash game. Also of note -- we recently chatted with Scarygirl developers Touch My Pixel.] A collaborative endeavor bringing together Passion Pictures Australia, artist Nathan Jurevicius and game designers Touch My Pixel, Scarygirl caught the eye of casual gamers when it debuted online in April in playable form entirely for free. In addition to the mesmerizing artwork, the Flash game sports background music by multi-talented illustrator, TV animation director, sound designer and composer Luke Jurevicius. A self-taught musician based in South Australia, the artist not only recorded the music for the game's moody, offbeat environments but also voiced the various characters Scarygirl encounters through her adorably macabre coming-of-age adventure. This interview with the composer delves into the collaborative process underlying the game score. In addition to taking a look at the aims of the ambient musical score, the artist describes his background in animation and illustration, informing the intentions underlying the eerily inviting soundscapes of Scarygirl. Luke Jurevicius, composer and sound designer for Scarygirl How long have you been working creatively with your brother Nathan Jurevicius? You both appear to have found complementary roles on this project. Luke Jurevicius: Yeah, my relationship with Nathan has always been good. We rarely argued as kids. Nathan is older than me and left school earlier, so he sort of paved the way: we both grew up illustrating and did the same university course, majoring in illustration. There is no doubt in my mind that I was able to sneakily learn from his lead. I was able to complement Nathan’s art via my music composition and voice work. By memory, I believe we have been collaborating since 2001. How did it come about that you and Nathan formed this relationship with Touch My Pixel? Sophie Byrne from Passion Pictures Australia essentially facilitated an informal meet and greet in Melbourne at the commencement of the project. Apart from this single meeting, we have not physically met up again and whilst that may be perceived as negative, it demonstrates how successful a team can operate via the Internet no matter where we are in the world. Were you exchanging ideas with Nathan and Touch My Pixel during the process of the game’s development? I communicated solely with Nathan on all creative aspects, but never directly with the game programmers. If Touch My Pixel raised any issues, it would be a technical concern related to the structure of the sound file, or if there were audio holes in the game. Roles were very important on the construction of Scarygirl, and if there were any issues they would all be communicated to me via Sophie. In regards to exchanging ideas with Nathan, I welcomed his thoughts and ideas if he felt tracks were not rich enough or needed a bit more atmosphere. Sometimes it's good to explore an idea even if at first it seems like something you may not try instinctually. All the dialog in Scarygirl takes place in the form of animated visual sequences. It's a technique that I think makes the game accessible to an international audience, and it also foregrounds the communicative properties of the music and sound effects. Did you discuss this aspect of the audio during the making of the game? Yes, this is one of the unique aspects of the Scarygirl experience. There is no verbal or written dialogue to carry the player through the game. This comes as no surprise to me, because as brothers growing up in the same room together, Nathan was often submerged in his own introverted parallel universe, whilst I was busy making all the noise! Whether or not we have matured is debatable, however, the formula is still the same. Nathan has dreamt up the Scarygirl world, and I have been busy creating the noise. Consistent with the gaming experience, there is an unspoken understanding between us that allows each other to ‘do our thing’. Nathan's imagery speaks volumes to me: I allow his visuals to inspire my music, and he seems to respond favorably to the results. The game looks and sounds great and yet costs nothing to play. How was this made possible? The game was primarily funded by Film Victoria, but also received some investment from Passion Pictures Australia. It should be noted that this investment awarded to Passion Pictures was to produce a form of ‘prototype’. Incidentally, the game is episodic and the intention is to seek further investment to continue to develop the game and develop it across platforms. I think that the strategy in allowing the game to be freely downloaded means that Scarygirl reaches a vast audience. People are amazed to be able to download such a high quality game for free, which is reflected by the number of people who have hit the Scarygirl website. It has proven to be extremely valuable to invest the time and skills into making this online ‘prototype’ as lush as possible. What would you say are some of the advantages of Flash? As a musician/artist I think the advantages of working in or with Flash is the bidirectional streaming of video and audio (I nabbed that expression off Wiki). Any online application which can present an audience instantly with high quality audio and imagery jangles my bells. In this industry there is nothing worse than working passionately on your art only to be deflated by super compressed, super bad sound and video, especially if the only way to hear or view it is via the net. I think Flash is well on the way to solving a lot of these issues. At the moment you are currently based in the hills of Adelaide, South Australia. Have you found that your location is influential to your creative process? I am certain that living in Australia has influenced my musical direction at times, for example I worked with Aboriginal themes on a project called Dust Echoes. I know that if I lived in France, the chances of recording Didgeridoo are grossly reduced. South Australia is incredibly supportive of the Arts and has been extremely good to me as a developing artist so I am very appreciative of where I live. Did you set to work on the audio for Scarygirl immediately once the game had first been conceptualized? As far as the music was concerned, I was able to begin music production based on Nathan's initial color concepts. (Often I made adjustments to the mood of the music if I saw something crop up in the final game play.) Work on sound effects was completely different. It was very important for me to have all the animated sequences so I could get the timing right. When you were first beginning as an illustrator, was music something that you were also interested in pursuing as a career? The whole musical thing really was just a hobby. I have always been interested in tinkering with music. The first instrument that I played was my dad’s old banjo… it had two strings on it. I would play along to the radio. That’s how it started. I did learn a couple of instruments for short periods when I was very young. At eight I learned the clarinet, but as a kid I really wanted to play the oboe. The sound of the oboe is just incredible. For instance, I love the sound of The Mission soundtrack by Enrio Morricone. What are some of the tracks on Scarygirl where you feel the most pleased with the results? I would say that the underwater track where Scarygirl is swimming through the water to get to Blister’s submarine is very emotive. It has a good melody line and is easy to listen to. That is very important for gaming music to me. You have to be able to create something that people can listen to over and over again. In the underwater level, you can hear Scarygirl gasp whenever she emerges from the water for breath. Is that your voice there? That's me, yeah. How did you get that sound? All I did was record me taking in a deep breath. I then played around with a few plugins to make it sound a bit more feminine... I can sound really girly when I want to. I also did the sound of Blister in the sub. I have done heaps of voice work for Nathan's projects, but equally as significant voice work for the ABC, Nickelodeon, and Educational Publishers - Blake Education. I’m often in the sound booth doing weird and diverse vocals. Are there other examples of sound effects that took some time to get right? A good example is when Scarygirl defeats a bubble-blowing swamp creature. The character melts away to a bubbling pool of green goo, revealing a shaking skeleton which collapses into a heap. Trying to time this complex sequence without video would have been ridiculous. Regardless of how irritating it might be, I like to have video of every animated element if possible so the timing of the sound design is accurate. It makes for a better product in the end. I think the key with Scarygirl was for it to be original-sounding... although there is a Japanese-style fighting mini-game, and there the music is deliberately generic because I thought it would be fun for that particular track. There are also toys in the works. Do you know yet which characters will be toy-ified? Yes, Nathan’s designs have been made into toys. Though I’m not able to divulge yet which characters, I think they are the nicest designs that Nathan has done. The protagonist of this story is a young girl, and it’s a kind of childhood right-of-passage story. Have you received feedback from kids? I am not really sure what the official target audience is for the game. I know that it will have a broad appeal to those who have grown up in an online culture, however, I would be very interested to know how many kids are playing the game. I just finished creating my own television series (Figaro Pho) and if you can create a product targeted for kids that appeals to older people, I think you have a winner. Scarygirl certainly gravitates towards the macabre. Kids, teens and young adults are often obsessed with dark, gothic themes. Although I don’t look gothic, inside I’m a bevy of tombstones. I think there is something intriguing about morbidity: people have a fascination with it. As a kid I wanted to be a vampire and dreamed of being a witch flying on a broomstick. Will this music be available on its own, outside the game? I was talking with Sophie and there is the plan to make the music available once you pass each level. You would then have the option to download the mp3 freely... the music’s going to be able to be gotten. [Images courtesy of Luke Jurevicius and Passion Pictures Australia.]

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