Brave new world: The music of Brave: The Game

Last year, Behaviour published the official tie-in videogame to Pixar’s Brave. This story of a defiant Scottish princess recently won the Oscar for Best Animated Film, and the game is among the nominees for the Canadian Videogames Awards in 3 categories: Best Console Game, Best Audio and Best Music.

As the company’s Audio Director, I am really proud to see my team’s work recognized, especially on this title. So I thought I’d use this opportunity to talk about the process of making music for a videogame.

For this project, I was fortunate enough that the team’s workload was spread in a way that we could produce the music in house, instead of going with an outside contractor. I had on my staff a very talented composer in Philippe Charron, and with no other assignment requiring immediate assistance, I decided to have him compose the musical score. He was very enthusiastic about working on this project and we started making plans.

Creating a videogame based on a movie is a tricky endeavour. Your production has to start early, and needs to be done weeks ahead of the release date to allow time for quality assurance and manufacturing. So we usually don’t have a lot of info about the movie until we’re far into production. Script rewrites can capsize the game, and unless the movie has a strong artistic direction (which Brave had), you have to do a lot of guessing.

In this case we knew that: Patrick Doyle was slated to be the composer,  the history of Pixar film scores was traditional orchestral and the Scottish setting had to be represented. So we were very confident that our vision would be on brand. We produced a few tracks as demos and sent to them for approval by Disney Interactive (the publisher) and Pixar (the IP owner). Comments were very positive and we could tell we had earned their trust.

For pre-production, Philippe researched Scottish and Irish music on Youtube, trying to get a feel for the musical language and for the instruments. We knew we needed bagpipes, so Philippe watched tons of videos.

One thing I realized while studying bagpipe music was that the instrument is capable of playing much more complicated lines than I thought. One major influence was a video of Barry Kerr playing the Uilleann Pipes where he’s playing these fast 16th notes. I would have gone with long drawn out notes, but after hearing what could be done I was much more adventurous in my writing.  This of course complicated the work of the bagpipe player once we got to the studio, but we managed to record everything.

The usual way of recording music for a family title is to use sample libraries to create a high quality recreation of an orchestra, but on this project Philippe tried to use as many live instruments as possible. The project’s sound designer, Mathieu Lavoie, is a collector of ancient and ethnic instruments, and he contributed many to be used on the soundtrack. Among the real instruments used are various hand percussion, recorder (played by Philippe who learned to play it just enough to play his lines!), fiddle (played by David Boulanger), cittern (played by Mathieu), bagpipes (played by Alan Jones) and voice (sang by Chantal Demers). Each track has at least 6-7 real instruments to augment the sampled orchestra.

Mathieu Lavoie playing the cittern
Mathieu Lavoie playing the cittern

The initial plan was to use what we had on hand, but once we demonstrated how good it made the tracks sound, our producer was gracious enough to up our budget so we could hire musicians and get some studio time. Most instruments were recorded in the post-processing booths at Behaviour, but for the fiddle and bagpipes we needed more room. We rented the studio at Wavegeneration and recorded all tracks during one weekend. Check out the demo of Adventure01 at the end of the article to compare!

When I asked Philippe what he tried to achieve with the music, he said

I very much wanted to emulate the feel of pub music, while of course creating an action oriented score to support the gameplay. But there needed to be this fun atmosphere to create contrasts. I also wrote out the music on paper before I started recording in Pro Tools. That allowed me to focus on the musical language instead of taking shortcuts. Once I got to Pro Tools I only had to worry about the arrangement.

You can hear that “pub feel” very well in the Shooting Range track.

Approvals came quickly, and the music was added to the game. Simple systems were used to have the music switch depending on what’s happening to the player at any given time. Contrary to a film where the narrative is linear, a game is interactive and will never have the same progression twice. So cues are made to loop, with transitions written specifically to switch from piece to piece. This creates a challenge in the writing, but we’ve done these kind of systems often and have a good grasp of the tools available to get around the issue.

For me the last moment of suspense came when the movie was released. I grabbed the film’s soundtrack before even seeing the movie to see if we’d been on brand. We were! Patrick Doyle’s score uses the same type of elements to bring to life the world of Brave. To me it was the best score of 2012 (as seen in my 2012 Year in review post) and I’m proud that we were able to extend this universe. Seeing my son have fun playing the game was also a great experience!

To conclude, here are some excerpts from the game’s soundtrack. Hope you like them! If you’re curious about music for games, check out this article I wrote about the music for Naughty Bear: Panic in Paradise.

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/playlists/3627275″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

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  • Liza Wood , March 1, 2013 @ 10:18 pm

    That’s awesome! Thanks for sharing the experience. It is definitely something for which you should to be proud! Good luck at the Canadian Video Game Awards. I’ll be rooting for you, Phil, Mathieu and the team. Will the soundtrack be sold as a stand-alone product or available via download?

    • jfvachon , March 2, 2013 @ 8:04 am

      Thank you Liza! So far no plan for a release because that’s in Disney’s hands. We’ll see what kind of success we have at the awards and try to convince them 🙂

  • Meg Paolini , March 2, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

    I have had the ultimate pleasure of hearing Barry Kerr live- looking forward to experiencing the game!

    • jfvachon , March 2, 2013 @ 2:47 pm

      Meg, that must have been really cool! I’ll admit that a bagpipe concert is really out of my comfort zone, but I’d love to attend one for that very reason. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

  • momckinley , March 2, 2013 @ 11:51 pm

    My daughter and I had the great pleasure of seeing Barry Kerr play today in Dallas at Poor David’s Pub! He is an awesome and talented performer! Catch him performing with Celtic Thunder or Keith Harkin for great entertainment! You won’t be sorry

    • jfvachon , March 3, 2013 @ 9:25 am

      Thanks for the tip! I’ll be on the lookout for him now. Was it you who forwarded this article to him on Twitter? If so (or whomever did) thanks a lot!

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