In 2015, Rob Bridgett, Audio Director at Eidos Montreal reached out to Brian D’Oliveira to talk about collaborating on a new project that was just starting pre-production. This project was Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The creative direction for the final installment in the reboot trilogy was to be notably different from the previous two entries. It needed to have its own unique identity, something that players would be able to identify immediately when they heard it. In addition, the music and sound was that everything is authentic, hand-played, handcrafted as well as being able to support and convey a broad range of emotions.
Rob was already familiar with Brian’s work through playing Papo & Yo and Tearaway and knew that the range of emotions and the focus on authentic and unique sounding instruments was already at the heart of La Hacienda’s work.
From the very beginning, we wanted the player not being able to fully discern what score was and what was sound became central to the concept of ‘fear.’ This approach was influenced by movies like The Revenant, Blade Runner, and also games like Limbo and Inside. But this idea soon became something we could take much further, especially in celebrating some of dangerous and dark locations, such as the Amazon Jungle, deep cenotes, and of course, its brutal tombs.
While working on these ideas, a central influence was the legacy and the richness of the ancient cultures and settings in Latin America. Our team worked hard researching and producing a unique instrumental sound language that would be able to not only meet the core requirement of ‘authenticity’ but also work emotionally to support all manner of gameplay; including cinematics, combat, exploration and open-world source music.
Within the first weeks workshopping and sketching, the very first conceptual pieces proved to be invaluable. They became a solid foundation for an incredible collaboration with Eidos Montreal that took just under three and a half years to complete.
With a character as strong as Lara, and an equally inspiring setting and storyline, everyone on the team was inspired to dig deep to deliver what was needed. In particular, the project was an incredible opportunity to incorporate our reverence for ancient cultures and the immense richness of sounds that they had left behind in both a genuine and respectful way.
A lot of time was spent in the early part of each milestone, workshopping with Rob and the Eidos creative team to really identify and musically personify the foundational emotions within each map of Lara’s world. Through this, we’ve built a unique sound fabric and language that would encompass all these aspects and yet always feel like ‘Tomb Raider’.
When not in the studio producing we would immerse ourselves in research, travelling to Mexico in hunt of new instruments and knowledge, or practicing and refining these new-found musical treasures. Once back in the studio, we would be able to hit the ground running with fresh ideas and sounds.
During the process, we found that the best approach was to limit the musical palette to use only natural acoustic sources and employ as close as possible the most accurate representations and original instruments. Indeed, all of the music you hear in the game is performed entirely live. There is no looping or digital over-editing; it is purposefully imperfect, genuine, and natural.
Regarding delivery, almost all the music cues needed to be interactive and provide a wide range of variations and sonic depth. The benchmark for quality was always extremely high, and though the overall production timeline was lengthy, La Hacienda had to be able to quickly compose, record, edit and mix deliverables of musical assets that could be easily integrated and approved within very tight timelines.
As we iterated and experimented, we were amazed by how much the musical textures melodies created enhancing a sense of physicality, believability to the environments and gameplay. We still remember the feeling of wonder and excitement when we started juxtaposing our musical textures with the sound design during gameplay : this was just the beginning of the magical journey!
The biggest epiphany that occurred for Brian during this process was the realization that expressing music from the viewpoint of the Pre-Columbian state of mind is accomplished with the understanding that all beings are intrinsically and unequivocally interconnected. Sound and music are implicit in their ritual practices and daily lives. The deeper he went, the more Brian’s compositional and performance methodology transformed, and it eventually reached a point of musical fluidity whereby during the recordings where, in a sense, Brian became a medium for the music – without the need for conscious thought or planning the music creation became a simple matter of intent and then emotive expression. He often describes the feeling of performing as if the instruments and melodies were playing themselves! This would later become the case for all of the instruments in his vast collection, cellos and flutes especially lending themselves to this approach. Almost all of the main thematic melodies and textural rhythms that you hear are a direct result of this methodology.
Midway into the production, we moved into our new studio facility, and this also had a significant transformative effect on our work. The RCA Victor live room was designed and built with the concept that it would resonate like an instrument when you play and record within it. You can certainly (really) feel the room breathe and react to the sounds produced with infinite acoustical reverb variations, . An art that is nowadays almost forgotten since the usual approach is to record everything ‘dry’ and then add reverb emulation via software later.
So with these newfound tonal possibilities, chief recording and mixing engineer, Jera Cravo, was able to effectively combine the best of tried and true techniques along with new technology and workflow innovations, which allowed us to work extremely quickly and efficiently at the final quality. We recorded mostly using multiple stereo microphone sets combined with a variety of UAD unison mic preamps. Thus, depending on our relative location in the room with the microphone, we had a vast range of choices of colours and moods for sound focus, reverberation, and panning position. A great deal of the music is non-DSP-effected recordings using this approach, and feel almost as if they were processed binaurally because of the spatial definition present. Even some specific movements in panning are actual physical movement that have been purposefully incorporated as part of the performance, this especially shines during Tomb gameplay, where our ability to provide a vast amount of bespoke isolated musical elements gave the Eidos sound design team an invaluable resource of sounds that they incorporated into their sound design.
Another aspect also greatly helped the production for the Audio team at Eidos was the fact that the stems were extremely rich in tone and performance variation due to it being 100% live. This meant that even if an element of the story or direction changed between commissioning the music and implementing it, that the music editorial team at Eidos were able to quickly and easily re-appropriate stems, even from other tracks, to precisely meet the newly adjusted demands onscreen.
e game has been extremely well received; the music and sound are among the highest rated elements of the trilogy, by reviewers and fans alike.
With a relatively small team, we were able to craft a soundtrack that stands out, distinct in its character and true to the emotional journey of Lara Croft.
We hope that you will enjoy playing and listening to our work as much as we did creating it. And perhaps if you close your eyes, you just might find yourself in the middle of the jungle feeling the dark and sometimes playful spirits that manifest in this music.