Music has always played a critical role in our lives and there’s no film or series be it animated or live action which is complete without it. Joy Ngiaw is one such music composer who has successfully delivered projects across genres like live-action, animation and video games, and has projects such as TV shows Legion, Cobra Kai, and The Night of; movies like Impractical Jokers: The Movie, On the 12th Date of Christmas and the video game What Remains of Edith Finch to her credit.
AnimationXpress got in touch with this award winning music composer to know more about the world of music, how crucial it is to have the right music in any project, the experience of working on animated film Blush and more.
Ngiaw started off by saying how grateful she is to be a part of the music world as because of it she is able to connect with other people despite different languages and express herself. She connected with music at the age of six by playing classical piano and her music teacher encouraged her to improvise and explore the composition area which was fascinating to her.
Every music composer has their own way of creation and Ngiaw takes inspiration from the human connection based on the story and why the director wants to tell the story. Her process includes a meet and greet with the filmmakers as she likes to connect with them, learn about the story and what inspired them to tell the story. In her opinion, this enriches not only her life as a music composer but also as a human being. The meeting with the filmmakers helps her find out the purpose and message of the story to create the music palette. She says, “The beauty of being a composer is that you get to work with so many people and I believe everyone has a unique story to tell. Even before writing anything, the conversation with the director is most important to me.”
Being flexible and dynamic according to the project requirements is what drives Ngiaw to compose music. Making a switch between genres like live-action, animation and video games can be challenging sometimes as the workflow is different. Ngiaw adapts and accommodates herself to that workflow. For animated films or shows she is usually brought on board very early on in the project during the storyboarding or scripting process because the creators get to work on creating themes for the show. On the other hand, while working on live-action projects she creates new music based on the existing music and creates a temp that fuels the pacing of the show.
Ngiaw is drawn towards projects which are dynamic in nature and showcases a strong and unique perspective that allows the audience to think. Her award-winning composition for the animated film Blush is one such project that she is honoured to work for. “I got to connect with so many wonderful people on the team. Our team was truly like a family working on a film about love, healing and hope during the times of uncertainty in the pandemic. It really was like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Because of that project, I got to score the studio’s first logo which was paying homage to Blush. That in itself was a true honour to collaborate with similar people again and to go out of my comfort zone and try different things for a project,” Ngiaw shares.
Joseph Mateo, director of Blush, wanted to convey how the family is like oxygen in the film. For that Ngiaw added breath elements and vocal elements which is something that she had never done before. Mateo brought Ngiaw on board during the storyboarding process and after seeing those sketches she was swept away just by the meaning of the film. “The whole team and Joseph were incredibly brave and vulnerable to share such a deeply personal story to the world.” Mateo’s idea behind Blush was to share the message of bringing hope through loss and grief as it helps people to hold loved ones together and celebrate the life that they have together.
Ngiaw adds, “Blush had no dialogues, so music becomes the voice of the character and I wanted to make sure every note, musical instrument and melodic phrase that I use is worth the intention. It allowed me to think about what the musical phrase is serving. My instrument palette is also like the theme of the film – Family is Oxygen, hence it featured lots of wind instruments like wind chimes among others to capture that theme of oxygen.”
She says that music plays an important role in an animated film; it can act as a sound to exaggerate the movements of a character or to add momentum in a scene. Sometimes the music or sound is explicitly timed to emphasise on an action. “In combination with sound effects and visual effects, music is an important aspect in filmmaking, especially in animation.” According to her it adds a whole layer of imagination and creativity to this dynamic medium.
As an advice to budding music composers, she says that they shouldn’t be afraid to share their unique voice as she thinks that a lot of filmmakers are inspired by a unique perspective. Ngiaw mentions, “One is hired for a project to bring in their own perspective and share ideas and to be open minded and to inspire one another.”
Ngiaw is currently working on two live-action TV shows and one animated show.