Giacchino’s understanding of Hollywood’s historic songs began in his childhood, when instead of wearing out the latest Bruce Springsteen cassette like other kids his age, he feasted on records by great film composers like Max Steiner and Jerry Goldsmith. In high school, Giacchino performed in school plays and musicals, and in college, he studied film production and history at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. And while he worked in publicity for both Universal Studios and Disney in New York after graduating, he continued to write and perform music in his spare time.

Eventually, his boss at Disney arranged for the studio to pay for him to attend evening composition classes at Juilliard. He was later promoted to an assistant-producer position and transferred to the Disney Interactive Studios offices in Glendale, California. Some may have viewed the move as a step in the wrong direction, but not Giacchino. “I saw that producers hired composers for a lot of projects,” he says. “So I thought if I could get in there, I could try to get the work for myself.”

By 1997, Giacchino had moved on to work as a composer for DreamWorks Interactive, a studio partially owned by Steven Spielberg, who at that time was producing The Lost World: Jurassic Park as both a film and a video-game title. “There was a creative meeting for the game where they were going over the music, and I remember getting a call saying, ‘Please come down. Steven would like to meet you,’ “ Giacchino says. Spielberg told the young composer that he loved his work and that he couldn’t wait for the orchestra to record it. (As a curious aside, until that point, no console video-game score had ever been recorded with an orchestra.) Shortly thereafter, Giacchino recorded The Lost World score with the Seattle Symphony.

AS SPIELBERG’S interests turned toward World War II with Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, so, too, did Giacchino’s. In 1999, DreamWorks Interactive (which was later acquired by Electronic Arts) began publishing more than a dozen titles of Allies-themed first-person shooter video games in its Medal of Honor series, which featured more of Giacchino’s original orchestral scores. Most impressively, through somber drum-corps rhythms and a restrained rah-rah fanfare, Giacchino was able to musically copy Spielberg’s humanization of the war in the games, demonstrating talent and a range of skills that further paid off in 2001.

It was then that Giacchino’s big break came in an e-mail from a producer who had enjoyed the Medal of Honor games and was looking for musical help on a new project. “He said, ‘My name is J.J. Abrams, and I wrote Armageddon, Felicity, and Regarding Henry; I’d like to talk with you about some work on a show I’m putting together,” Giacchino recalls. The show, Alias, went on to last five years as a critical and ratings hit.