Chance Thomas is deep in the jungle. The air is dense and humid.
Snapping sounds in the distance get louder as they approach. Thomas turns, startled to see a ferocious Tyrannosaurus rex hot on his tail.
Thomas takes off, plowing through the dense forest, ferns scratching up his face. The predator’s breath is hot on his neck.
Then a melody pops into his mind. And it’s all over.
Thomas, an Oklahoma City native, composes music for video games. Beginning May 13, he will be teaching a special nine-day course at Oklahoma City University called “Music Scoring for Video Games.”
Thomas uses a self-described “method actor” approach to find inspiration for his scores.
“Once I can truly imagine myself there, complete with the adrenaline, the panic, the smells, sights and sounds — then I start to hear music that matches those emotions,” he said. “This is how I began the scoring process, whether it is for a game, a film, a television show or even a commercial.”
It’s a method he hopes his students will employ as well. In the course, students will “acquire an understanding of best practices in conventional music scoring and video game scoring,” according to an excerpt from the syllabus. “They will learn about music design and how to construct a functionally effective music design for a game level.”
Students will also work on a class project that will give them hands-on experience in scoring a game level.
Edward Knight, composer-in-residence at OCU, said the school knew it wanted Thomas to be more involved with the music program after a master class the video game composer headed in January 2013.
“He obviously was incredibly moved by the students, the program, and wanted to do more for OCU,” Knight said.
“I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but I felt something really magical from the students, faculty and administration there,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he could feel an energy and focus from the students at OCU that convinced him to offer his course there as opposed to any of the other schools he’s visited.
“That is the kind of environment from which future leaders in the arts will emerge,” he said.
Knight said he sees how big the video game industry has become, and said this unique course taught by an accomplished industry professional will give students experience in a specialized area that could give them an inside track to a job in a multibillion-dollar industry.
“I’m very practical,” Knight said. “I want our students to go out and be successful in the field.”
Thomas has composed music for games such as “The Lord of the Rings Online,” “Avatar: The Game” and “Might and Magic.” He’s also composed and voice-acted for the 2002 Academy Award-winning animated short “The ChubbChubbs!”
“Music is the language of emotion,” Thomas said in an email interview. “It brings the player into and along through the emotional narrative of the game experience. An outstanding game score also provides color, beauty and depth to the game world.”
Thomas grew up in Oklahoma City. In high school, he formed a locally successful rock band called Manta.
“We had a big cross-town rivalry with the band Relayer, fronted by (noted guitarist) Edgar Cruz and his brother, Mark, from Northwest Classen,” he said. “Eventually, we lured Edgar to come and play for us, so I suppose we won that particular rivalry.”
Thomas’s passion for music and talents for creating original sounds really took off during his work with this band.
“We practiced two to three nights a week, usually for several hours at a time,” he said. “Plus there was individual practice time. Sometimes we practiced at my house and I would pick up the guitar or sit down on the drums. In that way I became acquainted with several different instruments.”
Though Thomas’s composition credits include a long list of games based off blockbuster movies, he’s quick to remind people that the film scores often do not inform his own work.
“I always start from scratch, no matter what intellectual property I’m working with,” he said. “Most people think that I pull music from the movies for my game scores. Not true. In fact, in most cases, I have to complete the music score for the game even before the film score is started.”
Still, getting a chance to work creatively in the fantasy worlds of Pandora and Middle-earth is a treat.
“What better playgrounds could you imagine?” he said.
Enrollment for “Music Scoring for Video Games” will be open until the class begins May 13 or until it fills to its 16-student capacity. The three-credit course ends May 21 and costs $1,050. Students must be enrolled at OCU.