John Williams is to movies, as Marty O'Donnell is to video games.
Martin "Marty" O'Donnell (also known as Marty, the Elder) is an American composer known for his work on musical pieces for video games from Bungie Studios such as the Myth series, Oni, and the Halo Trilogy. O'Donnell collaborates with his musical companion Michael Salvatori for many of the scores. He has also directed voice talent and sound design for the Halo Trilogy. Starting out writing television and radio jingles, O'Donnell moved to the world of video games when he and his company, Total Audio, did the sound design for the 1997 title Riven. Since then he has scored more than seven video games. His most recently released work is the Halo 3: ODST Original Soundtrack, featuring the complete score to the award-winning Halo 3: ODST. His two-compact disc set for Halo 3: ODST was released in September 2009.
Marty's sound studio at Bungie is called the "Ivory Towers", lending its nickname to the multiplayer map in Halo 2, Ivory Tower. In addition, this tower is noted to be owned by a character named Lance O'Donnell, another nickname for Marty.
- “What did Marty do, Joe?”
- “Um, I know he wrote something. The music.”
- “The music. Some of the music.”
O'Donnell began working in television/film. In his early career, O'Donnell wrote the jingles for Mr. Clean and Flintstones Vitamins. According to O'Donnell, after fifteen years of doing TV and radio commercials, he decided he wanted to do game soundtracks.
The composer's first foray into game-related work was working as a sound designer for the video game Riven, the sequel to Myst. His company, TotalAudio, also produced the music for Bungie Studios' Myth: The Fallen Lords in the same year. TotalAudio later composed the music for Valkyrie Studio's Septerra Core, Legacy of the Creator; O'Donnell met Steve Downes while working on the game, and the composer would later recommend the voice actor to Bungie for the role of John-117.
Soon after producing the music for Myth II, Bungie contracted O'Donnell for several of Bungie's other projects, including ONI and Halo: Combat Evolved (which at the time was code-named Blam!) In 1999, Bungie wanted to re-negotiate the contracts for ONI, and the negotiations resulted in O'Donnell joining the Bungie team, only ten days before the company was bought by Microsoft; he is one of only a handful of Bungie employees who remain working at the company since then. While O'Donnell worked at Bungie, Michael Salvatori handled the business side of TotalAudio. After producing the music for ONI, O'Donnell was tasked with composing the music for Bungie's next project, which would be unveiled at E3 2000. After talking with Joseph Staten, O'Donnell decided the music needed to be "big, exciting, and unusual with a classical orchestra touch to give it some weight and stature. We also wanted it to have some sort of 'ancient' feel to it." The music was recorded and sent to New York the same night the piece was finished; the resulting music became the basis for the Halo series' "highly recognizable" signature sound.
The music for Halo 3 contained refinements and revisions to previous themes heard in the series, as O'Donnell stressed the importance of using previous motifs in the final installment of the trilogy. O'Donnell also introduced a distinctive piano theme which had never been heard before, and first made its appearance in the Halo 3 announcement teaser. In an interview, O'Donnell stated that he has always approached music from the keyboard, and that at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (where the trailer would first be shown) he had a feeling that "no [other announcement] would start with a piano." In addition to composition, O'Donnell has also arranged his work; a special arrangement was used for a Halo 3 segment of Video Games Live in London, England, after which O'Donnell appeared.
When composing the score for Halo 3: ODST, Marty wanted to approach the film noir atmosphere of the game with a more dark and jazz-like feel and incorporated the saxophone into many pieces. In addition, he wanted to move away from the traditional musical style of Halo and try new methods. In an interview, Marty stated that the first thing he told himself when beginning work on the soundtrack was, "no monks." The final product was met with universal critical praise, and won the Spike Video Game Award for "Best Original Score".
O'Donnell described his upbringing as "typical"; he received piano lessons and wanted to start a rock band when he reached junior high school. Despite his interest in progressive and fusion rock, O'Donnell studied the classical component of music and composition. He completed his undergraduate work at Wheaton College in Illinois, and received his Masters of Music Degree in composition with honors from the University of Southern California in the early 1980s. He has been married for 30 years to his wife, Marcie, and has two daughters, Alison and Christine. His children were part of a singing choir for the Flintstones Chewable Vitamins commercials, which O'Donnell wrote. O'Donnell is a self-described political conservative, and his fellow co-workers at Bungie described him as the most right-leaning employee at the company.
- He appeared for an interview on the talk machinima "This Spartan Life".
- His favorite movie is Ben-Hur.
- He is a Wheaton College Men's Glee Club "Old Man" or alumni of the group.
- Whenever Marty is composing in his studio, he hangs a sign on his door that says "Email or Die."
- He drives a blue Acura TLS.
- He is the oldest member of Bungie, hence his nickname, The Elder.
- He has a Bachelor's Degree of Music in composition from the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music.
- He has a Master's Degree of Music in composition from the University of Southern California.
- He was the arch enemy of Frank O'Connor.
- His father is Bob O'Donnell, who voiced the Prophet of Objection in the opening cut scene of Halo 2.
- According to other Bungie staff, he's really good at "pushing the coffee cup around".
- When G4 announced Halo 3 as 2008 Game of the Year, Marty was the one who appeared with flaming Recon armor and many other players (many possibly bots) in a video to thank G4. He also states that Bungie was working on something. He was possibly referring to the Mythic Map Pack, because they were standing in the map Sandbox. When he mentions this, someone tells him to "keep it clean", possibly referring to Halo 3: ODST, which also may have been what he was talking about.
- The ODST achievement Be Like Marty is a reference to him, who apparently hung back and let other people kill enemies in games of Firefight. This was explained in the Bungie Podcast.
- In the Halo 3 Microsoft Sam Easter Egg, O'Donnell is referenced twice; "Happy Easter Marty", and "I am a monument to all of Marty's sins lololol".
- Marty is the self-proclaimed Etch-a-Sketch champion of Bungie.
- In Halo: Reach, there is a Fireteam trooper named "1LT M. O'Donnell".
- The Halo 2 Instruction Manual was the only manual of all the games that referred to Martin O'Donnell as "Marty O'Donnell" in the Game Credits section. All the other manuals refer to him as Martin. However, in the Halo 4 credits, he is credited as Marty O'Donnell.