Naruto Interviews - Robert Anthony Navarro

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On January 23rd, 2008, Naruto2.com interviewed Robert Anthony Navarro about his work on the hit XBOX 360 video game "NARUTO: Rise of a Ninja". A fan of the series himself, Robert kept all of us here at Naruto 2 very entertained and I'm thrilled to finally have an interview with someone about the music in Naruto. At last, answers to how it all works!!

Robert Anthony Navarro
Could you please tell us a little about yourself and what you do?
I am a composer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist who creates music primarily for the television, video game and production music library industries. I have done a few projects for motion pictures and commercial artists as well. I frequently collaborate with well-known artists and musicians spanning the music industry, and have had the pleasure of working with such notable names as legendary lyricist Hal David, film composer Jeff Rona, Jeffrey Cain of Remy Zero, Scott Rockenfield and Michael Wilton of Queensr├┐che, Fred Coury of Cinderella, C.C. DeVille of Poison, and game composers Inon Zur, Cris Velasco, Sascha Dikiciyan and Chance Thomas. Noteworthy projects I have been involved with include ESPN's Monday Night Football Theme, the 2007 Kansas City Royals theme, the motion picture Annapolis and of course Naruto: Rise of A Ninja.
What was your involvement with "NARUTO: Rise of a Ninja"?
I was hired to co-write, record, produce and perform original music (inspired by Naruto related content) for the game title.
What can you tell us about Inon Zur?
Inon is one of the most driven individuals I have ever met. Not only is he talented, but his ability to deliver on short notice and knock it out of the park every time leaves no question as to why he is so successful. He's also one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.
How did you get set up with "NARUTO: Rise of a Ninja"? Are you a fan of Naruto?
I have been a fan of Anime for as long as I can remember. Robotech (Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeada ), Cowboy Bebop, Ninja Scroll, and Vampire Hunter D are among my favorites. When Inon (who was hired by Ubisoft to compose the score) approached me to collaborate with him on the project, I jumped at the chance. I immediately ran out and bought the DVDs . . . and in a matter of days I was hooked.
While working on the game, were you given specific guidelines for how it should sound?
Our job was to draw from themes and melodies Naruto fans are familiar with, as well as to create new music inspired from the show. It was a great collaborative effort, and we were able to bring the table what we do best: orchestral writing from Inon, and rock & electronica from me. In the end we created a score consisting of orchestral tracks, electronic soundscapes and heavy rock cues.
Did you familiarize yourself with any music from existing Naruto games beforehand?
We were given specific reference tracks of pre-existing Naruto soundtracks to familiarize ourselves with the individual character themes and background show content, but after immersing myself in the DVDs I was already pretty familiar with the music. The characters have their own individual theme music that kicks in when "Rage Mode" is activated, so we had to weave thematic elements from the show into the cues. I was humming Sasuke's theme for weeks!
Was there anything that made your work on "NARUTO: Rise of a Ninja", stand out from your other projects?
I decided I needed a really heavy sound for the guitar tone, so I went out and bought an ESP 7-string Viper. The low "B" allows you the versatility to get really low and grungy, and it was exactly what I needed to get across the angst I was going for in the "Rage" cues. I tried other 7-strings, but they just could not match the balls of the ESP. I had never played a 7-string until Rise Of A Ninja, and now it's my workhorse. Naruto showed me the light!
About how long did it take to make the music for the game?
It took about five months to complete the project from start to finish (June to November 2007).
Do you have a specific creative process that you follow when writing music? If so, what can you tell us about it?
Since I write in many different musical styles, I usually immerse myself in the specific style/genre I am going for. After that, I noodle around with my acoustic until I come up with something that grabs me . . . and then it's off to the keyboard to start putting it all together. When I am collaborating with another composer I bounce ideas off of them once I have something that I am into. It's important to take breaks to allow the music to work itself out in my head, and that's where video games come in. Guitar Hero was my friend during Rise Of A Ninja.
Did you ever get stuck while working on "NARUTO: Rise of a Ninja"?
Not really. I was so into the project it just seemed to flow. Having a collaborative partner so full of energy and ideas like Inon didn't hurt either.
I've heard some actors don't like watching themselves act. Do you feel the same way when hearing your music on TV/Movies/Games?
I 've heard that too about actors. I remember reading that Joaquin Phoenix never watches his films. I don't get that. How cool is it to see how your work comes out once the project is all put together? Maybe I'm just vain, but I get jazzed every time.
Are you able to do most of your work from home? If so, was this the case with "NARUTO: Rise of a Ninja"?
Yes I am. I have a home studio that allows me to work in comfortable surroundings. Logic Pro is my recording platform, and with it and the rest of my gear I can tackle anything my clients throw at me. I am in the middle of a huge renovation that will enable me to record everything from home. Wyn Davis of Total Access Recording designed the space, and we are outfitting the studio with everything I need to record anything from vocals to live drums to small group.
NARUTO: Rise of a Ninja
What are some of the differences between working on a video game, such as "NARUTO: Rise of a Ninja", versus a TV show or movie?
The main difference for games would be in "loopable" content. Most of the music I compose for games requires the ability to seamlessly loop the music over and over (as long as necessary). The trick is to compose something that does not get boring when looped several times. At a specific duration, an ending is joined to the loop to bring the cue to conclusion . . . and this ending has to fit seamlessly into the framework of the music.
At what point in the game's development were you brought in? Is music usually something that the developers get started on right away, or later on?
A lot of the game was completed by the time we were brought in. We also continued to compose tracks after the game was released to accommodate online content and new characters. It depends upon the project, but developers use temp tracks just like like in film and TV . . . so they are thinking about music from the start. In general we are sent cinematics, screen shots and game play videos right away, as well as reference material for inspiration.
With the new downloadable features available to "NARUTO: Rise of a Ninja" through XBOX Online, can fans of the game expect to hear new music included on some of these updates/downloads (perhaps a new level with a new song?)?
Most definitely.
And lastly, are you happy with how everything turned out?
Yes I am. It was fun, challenging and nostalgic all rolled into one. Now if I can just master the "Sexy Jutsu" . . .

END

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