The music of God Of War Ragnarok has been celebrated far and wide since the game launched in November, and the game’s Composer, Bear McCreary has been the recipient of a heap of acclaim, culminating in McCreary and God Of War Ragnarok receiving the award for “Best Score and Music” at The Game Awards earlier this month. Today, McCreary has pulled back the curtain a little on his art, but also explained how he managed to star in the game as Ræb. Ræb is a small part character in Ragnarok, but it’s a lovely homage to the composer of two of the industries finest titles
Scoring God of War Ragnarök was an expansion of everything that I had done in God of War (2018), culminating in one of the biggest orchestral scores of my career to date. However, my contributions to the game would go beyond the music.
Back in the spring of 2019, Eric Williams and Cory Barlog ended our first creative meeting about the project by showing me concept art. I was dumbstruck when I saw, at the bottom of the stack, a stout Dwarven fellow holding a beautiful hurdy gurdy, with a familiar, and perhaps even dashingly handsome face! At first, I thought the game’s brilliant art director Raf Grassetti had drafted a sketch of me as a Dwarf as a gift. I was further dumbstruck when Eric and Cory told me this image was no joke – this was a character named Ræb, who they intended to put into the game as a character that Kratos and Atreus would encounter in their journey, and that they intended me to perform the motion capture and provide voice acting for him!
Over two years later, in the summer of 2021, I stepped into PlayStation’s Santa Monica Studio not as a composer, but as an actor. I arrived at the motion capture stage, and the crew put little sensors all over my body and on my hurdy gurdy. I learned that my body movements were being captured by these sensors and instantly converted into animation data for my digital avatar.
Walking on to the stage, I was struck by how barren it looked – like an industrial warehouse with high tech equipment gathered around the edges of an empty space. Screens adorned the periphery, and when I looked at them I saw the real magic, a digital fantasy environment representing the tavern in Svartalfheim. Walking into the digital tavern, I noticed Ræb, and quickly realized he was walking because I was walking! I stopped, delighted like a kid playing with new toys, and started jumping around and flinging my arms, watching my digital avatar recreate my every movement in real time. It was like looking at a freaky fun house mirror where I saw a digital dwarf reflection of myself! I giggled uncontrollably as I moved my body and Ræb mimicked me.
To be an actor in a videogame, one must capture their motion, or do a mo-cap session. The crew told me that, typically, one or two sensors are placed on the hands to capture the motion of the arms, but that all detailed finger movement is typically animated later. However, because so much of my motion-capture work involved playing a musical instrument, they decided to try placing sensors on all of my fingers. They had never done this before! Sure enough, once they were done, I sat played hurdy gurdy and watched onscreen as the digital Ræb’s fingers rippled across his own hurdy gurdy keys, following my exact movements.
Recording the hurdy gurdy performance turned out to be the easy part. I also had to pretend to be in a crowded tavern environment, and to mimic the physical mannerisms that result from various interactions with Kratos and Atreus. I threw myself into the moment, and had as much fun as I possibly could, trying not to think about the potentially awkward reality that I was wearing skin-tight pajamas, covered in dots, pretending to be a dwarf holding a hurdy gurdy, in the middle of a room with people staring at me.
I loved the physicality of performing the motion capture. However, as fun as that was, it did not prepare me for the thrill of recording Ræb’s dialog a few weeks later. I worked with writer Matt Sophos, at a small recording studio in Los Angeles, who directed me through the vocal performances. Though I had never properly acted before, I found that my creative process as an actor working with Matt was the same as working as a composer with a director or producer when I am scoring narrative. In both cases, our shared goal is to make an audience feel something specific about what they’re experiencing. When I am a composer, I use notes, chords, and rhythms to achieve that goal. I quickly discovered that the only difference when I am an actor is that I use vocal rhythm, inflection, and tone to achieve the same goal.
I felt an electric thrill creating Ræb for God of War Ragnarök. The more I worked through the lines with Matt, the more I understood Ræb’s situation and in particular his feelings about Kratos’ companion Mimir. As I drove home from the recording studio, I was giddy, and my heart was pounding in my chest. I can safely say the few hours I spent recording Ræb’s dialog rank among the most exhilarating creative experiences of my life. While I don’t think I’ll quit my day job anytime soon, I would love the chance to explore this art form further!
If you’re anything like me, then you’ve now rushed straight over to that tavern in God Of War Ragnarok is take in all that Bear (or should we say Ræb?) has made