|A Survivor Is Born: The New Lara Croft|
Redesigning an icon is an immensely difficult task. IP holders must
tread lightly – the considerations of fans and critics alike maintain
that every decision will be a precarious one. With Lara Croft’s iconic
look so engrained in popular culture, Crystal Dynamics had to
meticulously research and iterate upon her physical presentation before a
final direction was chosen for the franchise reboot. Its biggest
challenge was finding a middle ground between familiarity and freshness,
vulnerability and strength, and the all-important trifecta of brains,
brawn, and beauty.
On Tuesday we took a look back
at how Lara Croft has evolved throughout the ages. Now, Global Brand
Director Karl Stewart and Art Director Brian Horton address
Crystal Dynamics' rational for the redesign, the iconography of Lara
Croft, and how they hope the new look will help once again make her a
culturally relevant hero.
The Origin’s Origin
This was originally supposed to be a continuation of Underworld.
Instead, it became a case of us realizing that it was not the way we
needed to go. We had to stop in our tracks and reevaluate everything in
order to choose a new direction. The origin story came about through
lots of research and deciding how to reposition Lara to get her where
she needed to go. A reboot wasn’t at the top of the list to begin with,
but it certainly shone through as the direction the franchise needed.
An Issue of Relevance
Brian Horton: We
wanted to make a version of Lara that you would recognize as Lara
Croft, but that felt relevant to today’s gaming audience. I think people
are looking for realism in their games and they want to believe in
their characters. We want people to care for Lara at the end of the day.
And if they can look at her and go "this is someone that I want to help
through this survival journey,” then we have met our goal.
For me, every character design starts with who that person is and what
motivates them. What we chose to do very early on was not to start with
the surface qualities and to focus more so on who Lara is as a
character. We felt that if we could understand that, then the surface
qualities and how the character looked would be derived from that
biography. So we knew we wanted to make an origin story. We knew we
wanted to make a young Lara Croft, and we wanted her be a blend of
someone that has a level of vulnerability and inner strength. She has
this aspirational quality. She wants to be someone and to pull away from
the perception of who she is because of her legacy of being a Croft.
She is her own person and she is trying to make her way in this world.
So that was the focus early on – trying to understand who she was
Once we understood that biography, the next step was to make her as
believable and relatable as possible. We wanted to make a girl that was
somewhat familiar, yet had a special quality about her – something in
the way her eyes look and her expression in her face that makes you want
to care for her. That was our number one goal when we started thinking
about her visualization – that people would have empathy for Lara, while
at the same time knowing she has this inner strength that will allow
her to become a hero. That was the first order of business.
What dropped away pretty quickly was the hardness that she had. She is
strong and we love Lara Croft for that strength, but she was almost so
strong that we were always one step away from her. That was one thing
that we all agreed on right away – to try and soften her up enough so
that you could step into her life. All of the character design decisions
came from trying to make her believable. We didn’t want to make her a
sexual object. She is a character that we want you to believe in.
A lot of
it comes down to study. We spent a lot of time researching actors and
people that you look at and say "we like these people,” and you can’t
help but want to get to know them. We wanted that mix of someone who is
aspirational, but familiar at the same time. We want people to be asking
themselves where they know that girl from. Then people will care about
her. How we did that is a mix of iteration. We spent a lot of time
iterating on Lara.
Iconography of Lara Croft
We realized that Lara’s hair was a big part of her visual language –
the iconography of Lara croft includes her ponytail. But we also knew we
didn’t want to do something like the classic braid. We wanted to have
the hair itself tell a bit of the story. So the hair moves and helps to
sell the drama. We felt that it was an important aspect to keep because
when you are always seeing a character from behind, the hair moving and
whipping around in the wind is a very important component. Her hair
comes down to about the middle of her back. The idea is to have it at
the right length to give it some great secondary motion in action
We started doing a battery of concepts, beginning with silhouettes.
Then we started to build up features and dissect who she was as a
character and the things that made her iconic. The things that we
absolutely kept were the brown eyes, the signature quality of her lips
having that M shape, and the relationship between the eyes and the nose
and the mouth. Those were things we knew we wanted to maintain. But we
also knew we wanted to bring her into a more believable proportionality
and surface quality. That was another big push for us. We wanted to
bring her into this world and ground her as much as possible.
Eyes Up Here
We did some initial tests where we brought in the vision for the new
Lara Croft, and then we matched it up against the previous iterations.
In the tests of the previous iterations it was clearly evident that
people moved around the image more to the items and her chest and her
waist size. But with the new image, people spent most of the time
piercing her eyes. Anybody who has seen the image says "I know that
A Head Short
it came down to is that we wanted to have certain proportionality when
we put her next to the men. We wanted a clear size difference. She isn’t
going to be as tall as the men around her – about a head shorter. This
reinforces the feeling that she’s against all odds. The relative
proportion is more important than the actual number [5’ 7”] – making her
feel like a scrapper of sorts, even though she will always find a way
through her self-determination. She will find a way to survive even if
she doesn’t have Amazonian proportions in the game. The emphasis on
acrobatics isn’t nearly as important as the fact that she is capable.
went through an exhaustive process once we finished the concepts. We
came up with the characteristics of a girl that we wanted, and then we
did a casting session and cast a couple of models that had different
characteristics we liked. The bone structure was important, but we also
didn’t want to get a model that was too sculpted. We wanted a little bit
of that baby fat – just a little bit of roundness on the face to give
her that more youthful look. We full-body scanned both of them to
capture those traits before we started our own model.
Function over Form
The Big thing for me – and for us – as we were designing Lara was
trying to find something that felt both iconic and timeless at the same
time. So there was an exhaustive amount of research done in terms of the
wardrobe and gear that was decided on, and how we chose to put them on
for compositional reasons as well as functional reasons.
had goals of a realistic proportionality and a realistic wardrobe, and
we wanted them to feel more like clothing – not an outfit. There is no
such thing as an outfit for us. She is on this expedition and has
practical clothing – cargo pants and layered tank tops and boots –
because she is in and among a group that share the same values. Lara is
beautiful, but she isn’t fashion forward. She does have two little
earrings on one side because we wanted to update her in some respects.
But she is more about her own internal world. The end result was a look
that is both contemporary and timeless. We didn’t want the look to be
too trendy or too hip, but she still needed to feel youthful and
relevant, with an earthy and vulnerable quality to her on top of having
that inner strength.
Lara’s tank top starts off light grey. In certain light it looks blue,
but it’s grey. One of the things we wanted to do was to let it feel blue
at times. We wanted to get the feeling that it is fairly neutral, but
when you look at it there is that sort of nod to the past, even though
it is very contemporary when compared to the past. We wanted to evoke a
feeling that the essence of Lara Croft is there when you look at her.
There is still a lot of respect and love for Lara Croft as a character,
even though we are reinventing her.
most important thing to me is that we not have wardrobe changes, but
rather wardrobe evolution. The cumulative damage and wear and tear on
the clothing is where evolution comes through in the outfit. I’m very
excited to see that manifest throughout the game. Lara is just surviving
from beginning to end. Through her situation her outfit is going to
show the accumulation of that survival story. That is going to mean
discoloration and rips and tears. That will sort of progress throughout
the entire adventure. There will be other gear and items that will
accumulate and change her look a bit, too.
A Step too Far
At one point, since survival is such an important element, we thought
about having her bones break and she would be crippled in some way. And
while we realized that it would be fantastic from a fiction standpoint,
it would hurt us in gameplay. We want her to get damaged, and that is a
huge part of how we present the character, but we didn’t want to go so
far as to say that she had splints on and things like that. It was just a
step too far from the gameplay goals.
Beyond the Superficial
We spent a lot of time talking about surface qualities and millimeters
and proportions. But really what you look at in the game is what Lara
does in the world, and I think that is so much more important than those
final surface qualities. Our lead animator has done an amazing job
making her feel connected to the world, and
I think that is the extra ingredient. No matter how you design a
character, it is how she acts in the world that makes her believable.
Stewart: You will
see that in a lot of the character performances. A lot of thought has
been put into what Lara would do in a situation because she is fresh to
the situation. For example, when she hears the scavenger for the first
time, her natural reaction is to step back and ask "what the hell is
that?” But as you progress she becomes stronger and her animations
change, as does her character performance. So there are these stages
that you have to go through. It isn’t just about being this beautiful
girl and running from place to place.
about how she plays out in this world, and her interplay with other
characters. Those interactions are going to be very different from what
we’ve seen in past Tomb Raider titles. She isn’t always in charge. She
will have these ranges of being the low man on the totem pole in the
beginning and then finding her own voice.
Lest Not Forget…
far as sex appeal, we are always thinking about making a character that
people want to play, and part of that is a level of attractiveness and
being drawn to Lara. But we don’t want to play up sexuality for
sexualities sake. We are constantly talking about context and motivation
on this project. If for any reason we wanted to put her in a situation that would be alluring, it isn’t to be alluring. It would be because the situation called for it.
Lara is a lover of archeology and she has these book smarts. Her
brains are another huge part of her sex appeal. She is an attractive
girl who doesn’t play up her looks, but she is super smart and she is
Ultimately, what I think is going to be compelling about this – and
what our version of sexy is – is the toughness through adverse
conditions. Seeing her survive through these moments. Her skin is still
bare on the arms and there are going to be rips and tears on her
clothes, but it won’t be about being revealing. It’s a way of saying
that through these tough situations, there is a beauty and vulnerability
coming through. I think that is sexy in its own way. There is a
different tone we are going for across the board, and Lara Croft as a
sex object isn’t our goal. No unlockable bikinis().