Written by Jennifer Walden. Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Over the years, “Lara Croft” has become a household name. Between the still-popular Tomb Raider game franchise (which began in 1996) and Angelina Jolie’s on-screen version of Lara Croft in the 2001 film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know Lara’s story, or at least heard of her. In Warner Bros. Pictures reboot film Tomb Raider — in theaters now, Director Roar Uthaug gets to put his spin on this popular tale. A Sound Effect talks with the film’s supervising sound editor Dominic Gibbs— whose skill in crafting sound for action-adventure films (like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Edge of Tomorrow, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) is a great fit for Tomb Raider. Here Gibbs shares insight on Director Uthaug’s unique vision for this film and how the sound team helped Uthaug achieve his goals through sound.
The story of Tomb Raider has been covered pretty well in the past — it’s a successful game franchise and successful feature film. Sound-wise, what makes this film stand out in the Tomb Raider universe?
Dominic Gibbs (DG): From the outset we believed this incarnation of Lara Croft was moving in a different direction from the previous films and the earlier games.
The story takes you on a journey from Lara’s life as a young adult in London, via Hong Kong, and on to a mysterious island. It was critical for us to establish this journey with sound too, so striking the right balance between reality and sound design was important.
Aesthetically, what was Director Roar Uthaug’s direction for sound on Tomb Raider? Were there any specific scenes for which he wanted the sound to carry the story?
DG: Roar’s biggest concerns for sound were the action sequences, especially those which were heavily effects-driven like the boat crash and the rapids. Roar wanted to hear lots of detail in these moments, so making new water recordings was essential as we needed lots of options to achieve this.
The chases and gunfights on the island were another area of interest for Roar. He wanted the branch ricochets and gunshot impacts to be as threatening as possible, so we recorded a new library of material to achieve this.
How early did you get involved with the sound? What were the first aspects of the sound that you and the director wanted to tackle?
DG: We were involved from the start of the post production process, initially supplying sounds and ideas to the editorial team or working on specific sequences as a whole.
Can you talk about your field recordings for Tomb Raider? Where did you go, what did you capture, and how did you capture it? How did you incorporate those recordings into the film’s sound?
DG: The forest recordings were made as Peaslake in Surrey. Using various slingshots and projectiles helped us to find the right sound for emulating bullet impacts. And having these separated from their associated gun shots gave us greater flexibility in the mix, allowing us to experiment more with perspective.
We also recorded a series of winches, ropes and rigging to help with certain scenes with our workers in Yamatai. We spent a day recording rock fall and debris in a quarry. We used certain mics and recorders for these depending on what we were shooting. Ambiences were recorded with either DPA 4061’s or a Neumann 191. Any spot effects were recorded with a Sennheiser MKH60 or Schoeps CMIT. For our field recordings we used a mixture of Nagra and Sound Devices recorders.
Lara Croft gets into some intense situations, like a huge storm at sea, crossing a waterfall, parachuting into dense forest, and traversing a trap-filled tomb. Can you tell me about the sound on those action scenes? How did you use sound to help intensify the action?
DG: These sequences were all a delicate balance between sound effects and music, with both making way for the dialogue when they needed to. We tried to find events on-screen that helped us to achieve this in an interesting way and relevant way. The crash of a wave, or the fall of a rock might be used as a moment to shift gears and step up the music or to hand over to sound effects.
For me the mix has to be a dynamic experience for the audience, both in overall shape, and within each action sequence, so finding moments of calm (like a dive underwater) are important too.
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Inside the tomb, there’s lots of opportunity for big stone/rock sounds. How did you handle the stone sound work in this film? Any particular tools or techniques you used to make the stones sound as big as they look?
DG: The sound of the tomb took time to develop throughout the post process. But from the outset, it was always designed as a mechanical space. The traps and devices that Lara evades exist beyond what we see on-screen so this meant recording as many cogs and mechanisms as we could find and manipulating them to make them sound big and threatening.
The rock recordings we had made in the quarry formed the basis for a large rock library that was used to create the tomb destruction sequence. This was built from our own raw recordings, as well as manipulated / designed versions.
How did the director want the fight scenes to feel? How did you help achieve that through sound?
DG: Roar was keen to make the audience be a part of Lara’s struggle in these moments. Our fight scenes were a chance to show Lara’s physicality and strength. Each of them has strong and powerful hits but they’re also backed up with Foley which brings them to life, especially in Lara’s fight with Rocket.
Did you have a favorite scene to design? Why? What went into the sound?
DG: The roller spike trap which Lara gets past was one of the most interesting sounds on the film. There were many incarnations as we experimented with materials like rock, wood, metal, stone. We tried different release mechanisms and varied the speed to try and find the right balance, again looking to make them as threatening as possible. I think the result is really exciting and makes for a great sequence.
What was the most challenging scene to design? Why? How did you work through it?
DG: The boat crash combined many elements to create the terrifying environment in which Lara finds herself. It was built in many layers. The raging sea and thunderstorms needed to be carefully designed around the sounds of the Endurance as the ship is destroyed. Twisting metal, wave crashes, alarms, rock impacts, Foley and more were then carefully added around the dialogue moments to make the sequence as exciting as possible.
What are you most proud of in terms of sound on Tomb Raider?
DG: Working with a very talented team of sound editors.
A big thanks to Dominic Gibbs for giving us a look at the exciting sound of Tomb Raider – and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!
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