Home Features Marvel’s Avengers: How composer Bobby Tahouri put together a blockbuster score

Marvel’s Avengers: How composer Bobby Tahouri put together a blockbuster score

6 min read
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Its recent open beta may not have done it any favours, but beneath the controversy and the reluctance to delve into yet another live service experience, there’s a story to be told. A tale of heroes failing to save the day, splintering apart and reforming to remind the world that the Avengers will always return to fight for what’s right.

And that’s a saga which couldn’t unfold without some dynamic music behind the scenes, that throws all manner of emotion, danger and jubilation right into your face. Developer Crystal Dynamics needed a Hulk on their team for the audio challenge of their ambitious game, and they found just the right gamma-powered maestro to helm the soundtrack: Bobby Tahouri, whose work on Rise of the Tomb Raider resulted in one of the best video game scores of 2015.

Five years later, Tahouri’s back and we had a few questions for him on how he put together a blockbuster audio score for one of the biggest games of the year. Here’s what he had to say. 

We’ve seen the Avengers in all kinds of media over the year, from the massive movies to TV series like the criminally underrated Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Did any of the previous scores influence you, and where did you want to put your own touch on the soundtrack?

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There’s no doubt that the Avengers have had such a huge impact on pop culture, so I couldn’t help but be influenced in some way by the previous scores. My goal was to first and foremost make sure that this sounded like a Marvel score, but hopefully my own personal voice comes through as well. I love writing for orchestra just as equally as writing for synths and electronic instruments, so I had a lot of fun using a wide palette, and I feel like this score is a good representation of the hybrid style of music that I really enjoy writing.

Is there any difference to scoring a game from scratch vs. a cross-media franchise where the audience has preconceptions and associations?

There is a big difference, especially since the audience for this game will almost certainly be very familiar with the MCU and make comparisons right away. All I can hope for is that the fans feel like they are hearing a score that embodies all things Avengers. 

When it came to scoring the Avengers, did you find that certain instruments best captured the essence of these characters?

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Since this is a superhero ‘popcorn blockbuster’ genre of game, I used the traditional orchestra as my foundation, and tried to find unique instruments to help support each character. I ended up using electric guitars a lot more than I thought I would, mostly because characters like Iron Man and Thor felt like rock stars to me. Synths and low bass pulses felt best for Black Widow. Synths and electric piano with percolating delays felt right for Kamala, mostly because she’s going through many internal struggles, and ambient electronic instruments felt best to highlight those struggles.

When she turns into Ms. Marvel, she gets the full and epic treatment of brass and strings. Bruce Banner’s instrument was the cello, mostly because we figured that he would be listening to Bach Cello Suites in his lab to try and stay calm and focused. When he turns into Hulk, his sound morphs into taikos and guttural brass. Captain America’s sound revolved around the traditional orchestra, with an emphasis on trumpet and brass. 

How do you compose a big hero moment in the score? When all the pieces fit, the players are assembled and all it takes is one decisive moment to save the day, what’s the process like for creating that specific sound?

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One of the most exciting aspects of scoring a superhero project is how big you can get with the orchestration, and finding the right balance between orchestra, electronics, bombastic percussion, etc. is almost as fun as writing the themes. Thankfully, Crystal Dynamics created many big hero moments in this game that look amazing, so they made my job easier. All I had to do was look at the screen, and hopefully my visceral response at those moments comes across in the score.

Are there any creative touches with the score, that you’re particularly proud of?

I feel like the combination of distorted guitars and orchestra in certain moments ended up working really well, which surprised me. It’s a tight balance to find the right combination of traditional orchestra and guitars, and I’m proud of how the score turned out in those moments.

Some of the biggest games in recent memory have used full orchestras to record their soundtracks. For Avengers, were you also able to bring in an entire orchestra, and if so how big did you go with the musicians you assembled?

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Our plan was to assemble a full orchestra, but due to Covid, we had to record a smaller ensemble of 11 strings and 12 brass players remotely in Nashville. In addition to those players, I recorded various percussion and bowed instruments in my studio, and I think the end result actually sounds like we recorded an entire orchestra in a huge hall. I’m very pleased with how the score ended up sounding.

I’m imagining that Disney must have a list of rules about yay long when it comes to The Avengers and creating content around it. What freedom did you have with the score? Was the approval process more intense given that it’s a Marvel property?

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Yes, because it’s a Marvel property, I had to go through two layers of approval. Crystal Dynamics would listen, make notes, then approve, and then a presentation with Marvel would happen for their notes and approval. I had a lot of freedom with the score, but I worked very closely with Jack Grillo (Audio Director) and Philip Lamperski (Senior Sound Designer) at Crystal Dynamics on not only designing the palette of sounds and instruments used to best represent each Avenger, but to make sure that the music I was composing was a natural fit for the franchise. 

Would you mind if PC players modded the Lonely Man theme from the classic Incredible Hulk TV series into the game whenever Hulk starts walking around a level?

That would be awesome! One of the best TV theme songs ever written…

Last Updated: September 2, 2020

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