Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Immersed in Movies: Turbulent Behind-the-Scenes Yields Pixar's 'Brave' New Scottish World

Thompson on Hollywood By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood June 19, 2012 at 4:27PM

"Brave" is far from the disappointment expressed in some early reviews. It's not only the much ballyhooed breakthrough as Pixar's first female-centric movie but also the most lush-looking work yet from the animation powerhouse. It's a powerful mother-daughter crucible set in medieval Scotland but with a modern sensibility...

Though perhaps "Brave" could've been more daring, the brain trust clearly misses its great go-to story guy, the late Joe Ranft (who recruited "The Prince of Egypt" director after stints at Disney and DreamWorks). But Pixar should be applauded for making its first "chick flick," while conjuring a more organic look. That's because the studio benefitted from several breakthroughs, principally a more robust animation program called Presto (named in honor of the 2008 short), which allowed them to groom hair and tailor clothing more easily in the same model. Meanwhile, a new advancement in simulation allowed Merida's wild, curly, unkempt orange hair to personify her fiery spirit. Thanks to parallel processing, more believable hair to hair collision was now attainable.

"Simulation is finally at a point where we can be artistic," explains simulation supervisor Claudia Chung. "If [they] wanted Merida to have a different hair style, my reaction was no longer, 'Are you kidding me?!' It was more like: 'OK, let's do it -- let's figure it out artistically."

Clothing, too, was very challenging. King Fergus required eight layers and mastering a kilt was no small feat. "How do you model a kilt and make it look realistic?" asks Chung. "In the end, the tailors created a hybrid approach that was modeled and tailored into flat shapes. Fergus' kilt has an accordion zigzag shape. It was layered cloth that creates the folds naturally when relaxed."

Meanwhile, Pixar captured an authentic-looking Scotland in keeping with its mystical tale, from the green grass to the rolling fog to the massive rock formations to the turbulent changes in weather. Why, even the moss was fully detailed, thanks to a last-minute experiment by technical director Inigo Quilez, who created tiny moss-shaped pixels from Photoshop brushes created by production designer Steve Pilcher. "You could orchestrate where it goes," says Pilcher. "You could have it go up a tree and over boulders; leave some gaps; add more color variations. What happened was it went over all this material and it looked so lush. It would show the translucency on a certain angle; it would blow in the wind."

It's no longer about the technical hurdles but about hitting the vision of the director -- or in this case, the two directors. Make no mistake: "Brave" puts Pixar back on track for Oscar contention -- let's see how Elinor and Merida's crucible resonates with voters.


This article is related to: Pixar , Brave, Immersed In Movies, Animation, Reviews, Interviews, Reviews

E-Mail Updates

Festivals on TOH

Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.