Behind the Scene of Pixar's Brave: How the Magic is Made – From Scotland to the Screen

It’s easy to take an animated film for granted.  But there are tens if not hundreds of people behind the scenes spending years of their lives making these pieces of cinematic magic. On one level it seems so very childlike it’s just a cartoon right? But in reality it involves a slew of very sophisticated, high tech and complicated elements to make simple things like a red-headed girl shooting an arrow happen beautifully, gracefully and seamlessly. Pixar’s upcoming epic Brave is an example of this effortlessness that in fact takes an awe inspiring amount of planning,  talent and technology to make happen.

Part of the charm of animation – especially for children – is the escapism and fantasy of the story and Pixar is the best in the biz.  But for those those grown ups who want to peek behind the curtain, those who want to get a glimpse of what is involved in making a classic come with me and see how a Pixar movie is made:

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  • Meridas Clothing 1 of 14
    Meridas Clothing
    Interview with Claudia Chung (Simulation Supervisor) "Merida has over twenty-two costume changes. She has about five dresses that she does wear throughout the film, but she has her cloak and she has lots of accessories like here bow and quiver and arrows and, and so all those things combine together in different ways makes over twenty-two changes. That's a lot of time for Merida in the dressing room. When we start the tailoring process we get something like this from the art department. And what the tailor will do is take a look at this art and basically break it down….the length of her dress…the fullness of the skirt and the tightness of the bodice and other key features that we want to make sure we address."
  • The Pattern 2 of 14
    The Pattern
    "For those of you who know sewing, you know that to do gathers or to get frills you take a really long piece of fabric and you sew it onto a much tighter, smaller piece. And then the last step is actually to put it on the character, right? So it's not like in real life where I can go, "Merida, let's go into the dressing room. Let's put your dress on, your costume, you're all set to go." No. There's no way. She's animated. So instead we actually built the dress on the character. I would have designed, drafted, a pattern for Merida's dress sewn it together, fitted it on her, go back for alterations. And the reason why this is an important process is if it's not flattenable it won't look like real life. It won't move and swing and have that movement of wool or silk that we're all so familiar with seeing. If it, if it wasn't flattenable it would look more lumpy, kind of like knit, where you have to, like, stretch and pull it to shape it so it flows correctly."

  • The Detail 3 of 14
    The Detail
    Pixar provided this image saying that, "Shading Art Director Tia Kratter created this packet about Merida's formal dress hem to help shading artists replicate the look and design in the computer."
  • Merida’s Mom Elinor 4 of 14
    Merida's Mom Elinor
    She went on explaining about the patterns saying, "you can blow it up to real life, cut it out in silk and really sew Elinor's dress. It would look a little weird 'cause Elinor actually has a really long torso and wider hips than the normal human being but, you know, it would kind of be wearable. So that's kind of like when we use, so that's when we use kind of a pattern theory to our tailor process."
  • Meridas Hair 5 of 14
    Meridas Hair
    Merida's hair has a lot character - "There's volume. There's length. There's different size curls." She goes on to say, "The curls themselves are really tightly wound curls but the movement of her overall curl is nice and soft. And there's also these hairs that break away from her silhouette to show her wildness, her adventureness. And that's kind of the key look for Merida's hair that we had to hit when we designed her. So, as a groomer, this is what I would see in the computer. This is what I would work with, Merida kind of standing there. I would take her scalp and basically grow curls off of her head and detail exactly how those curls grow."

    "The groomer who actually worked on Merida developed a new technique because she was like, "How do I get these curls that look the way the art director wants or the director wants?" She's like, "I really need a curling iron." So she actually built in the computer a curling iron where she could change the sizes of the cylinder, the length and stuff, so she could curl the curves around that. That was really what she to actually produce these curls really fast and direct, and have them be art directed. Fifteen hundred hand-placed, sculpted curves. That's a lot of time in the, in the wig-making process."

  • Grooming the Horse: 6 of 14
    Grooming the Horse:
    "Although Merida is probably the most iconic hair on Brave, it's not the most complex in the sense of the different types of hair that's on her body. She only has head hair and eyebrows and eyelashes. Angus (her horse) itself is actually much more complex. He has eight layers of groom but his layers aren't like Merida's layers which are layered on top of each other. His layers are the different types of hair (that) he has on him. He has his tail, his mane, his fetlocks, he has belly fur and he has chin fur and they all have to move.

    He also has whiskers. Fortunately whiskers are pretty, like, stiff so we didn't have to make those move. But all these things are hand placed. So take a look at what he looks like to groomer. We have this image. There's a hundred and eleven thousand curves that are hand placed on him. He's a big Clydesdale. And those grow out to about one point eight million curves to make up his full groom."

  • Location 7 of 14
    Location
    Production Designer, Steve Pilcher and Shading Art Director, Tia Kratter. Who have worked on the film since 2005 and 2006.

    They spoke about the beginning and fleshing out the ideas. "We knew it would probably be … some European kind of environment, and eventually became Scotland. We know there's a castle, so I'll start -- I'll do like black and whites, ‘cause they're fast to do, sort of establishing varied compositions, setting the tone, making it feel more ruined, um, and how ruined we go. And we converse back and forward with the director." Then color is added. They added, "again we also serve as an inspiration to the story department and the director. So, we may come up with narrative ideas as well as -- and more importantly to me is the emotional feeling that we bring across."

  • Going to Scotland 8 of 14
    Going to Scotland
    "In 2006, Katherine Sarafian, our Producer, said, you know what? I think you guys might benefit going to Scotland. And we said we would love to do that. And one of the really cool things we found really fast was that if you laid down up in the (greenery of the highlands). You really sink into it, and that tactful feeling helps me a ton with my job, but it helps all of us really realize. Suddenly it was like an epiphany. We realized that there was this super dense world of Scotland. And a few other things that really helped this super rugged world (like) the castles. It's much rougher. That helped us create a new kind of world that maybe you haven't seen as much before."
  • Merida 9 of 14
    Merida
    The trip, "really helped us define Merida, too, because she's so athletic and so rough around the edges. She is not perfectly quaffed. Once we found all these pieces that helped us define the world when we were in Scotland, we were really inspired, really excited, and we come back here at Pixar and we're ready to go, and we start talking to the technical people who have to take our crazy inspiration and make it work on the screen."
  • Landscap 10 of 14
    Landscap
    "That inspiration never leaves when you go there and see something like that. It just turns into pining to go back as time goes by, ‘cause it's so beautiful and the air is so fresh. The lichen that grows over the rock it only grows at certain elevation some of it, and it's just -- it's this turquoise, you know, soft, pallet of turquoise on these darker rocks. It's just beautiful stuff."
  • Darkness 11 of 14
    Darkness
    "In the forest we went to a place called the Dark Mile, which is, dense with bogs and with mounds of rocks that are covered and lichen and then covered in moss. It's just so soft that you don't realize that until you actually go there. So, we wanted to capture that. We had some beautiful set dressing that we were doing, and when I say set dressing we had creative rocks, and trees, and boulders, and all this stuff. "
  • The Storyboards 12 of 14
    The Storyboards
    With Louis Gonzales Story Artist

    "Each scene that we draw we typically have three to five days to complete it - to show the director. That pass might be redone two more times. We wanna make sure we wanna get it to him, right? Brave in total when the movie was done, when the story wrapped, there was 111,000 (or more) storyboards drawn."

  • The Amount of Drawing in Brave 13 of 14
    The Amount of Drawing in Brave
    "Just so you have an idea, CARS 2 was 80,000. And TOY STORY 3 was 92,000 and some change. We draw a lot. And just, just for the sake of emphasis, you know, that's what we turn in. When we draw we probably draw another 25 percent more. Because we're trying to figure stuff out. So just go ahead and generously throw another 25 percent on top like, like a tip. Uh, this movie BRAVE had a hundred scenes drawn and only 35 made the film because it's in service of the story. We want the story to be as, the best it could be. "
  • Merida Concept Art 14 of 14
    Merida Concept Art
    A lovely piece of early Merida concept art.
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Brave opens nationwide on June 22nd. You can read more about the upcoming Pixar film right here.

Images: Courtesy of Disney Pixar

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