Making the Magic | Behind the Scenes with Disney/PIXAR’s BRAVE #BravePixarEvent

The draw to films for casual movie-goers will often be the actors involved, the director, and the production studio. An animated film like Disney/PIXAR’s Brave is more than just the voice artists, the director, and the Disney/PIXAR brand: it’s also the people who spend years of their lives on the story concept, the costumes, and even the scenery. And if you’re a fan of earlier Disney/PIXAR movies, then you admire the work of people like Louis Gonzales (Story Artist), Steve Pilcher (Production Designer), Tia Kratter (Shading Art Director), and Claudia Chung (Simulation Supervisor). Movies like Brave, Up, Monsters Inc., and so many others would not be the great films that they are without the contributions of these amazing people.

At the PIXAR Animations Studio in April, we had the opportunity to meet the above mentioned PIXAR team members and learn about element they each contribute to PIXAR films while asking questions of our own.

Louis Gonzales

Louis began working on Brave during the beginning stages, and then after about 4 years moved on to Monsters University. In its last year of production, he was brought back in to see it through to the end. The story boarding process includes research, beat boards, story boards, editorials, and outlines which are presented to the director in forms of rough pictures and sounds just so that everyone can have a visual representation of the story they want to tell. We were treated to a “pitch” like the one that they would have to do for the director of a scene from the film featuring a young Merida and her mother, who sings her a Gaelic lullaby. This scene was inspired by an experience that Louis and his travel team had while in Scotland. It was Louis’s birthday, and they met an award winning Gaelic singer and asked her to sing a song for them. On their trip, they studied the scenery as well as the people who lived there. The story boarding process is collaborative; it begins with the original idea, and then all story board team members contribute their ideas to flesh out the story.

Steve Pilcher and Tia Kratter

Both Steve and Tia began work on the Brave project around 2006. They are responsible for building the scenery, basic character models, colors, and textures of what we see on screen. They traveled to Scotland to study the environment, especially the vegetation and the foliage. They begin with black and white drawings because these are quickest to make to set the tone of the film. Later on they work on “color scripts”, which means that they set up the lighting, weather, and other ingredients and then place the characters into those settings. We couldn’t take pictures of anything that was in the room with us when we met with them, but we got to see some of the early drawings, cloths, and clay models that acted as visual models for the animators. After production is finished, the drawings will go into the archives, and other artwork will go on tour around the world. Currently, some of PIXAR’s concept art is in Milan.

An example of “enviroment” concept art

Claudia Chung

Claudia talked with us about costume changes for the characters, and Merida’s hair. Over the course of the film, Merida undergoes 22 costume changes. She has a total of 5 dresses, but they are accessorized as well. In one scene, Merida rips her dress so that she can shoot with bows and arrows. To build a dress, it begins with the art. Then they move on to building a 3D model of it in a computer program and add all the details and textures that make the dress realistic. She also had a life size dress in the room with her, and a wild, red-haired wig for a reference point. Merida’s hair is one of the most complicated things that PIXAR has ever done. She has over 1500 curly strands on her head, and is one is unique. They actually built a curling iron into the computer program to generate each curl.

An example of hair progression for Merida

An example of what goes into building Merida’s dress

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BRAVE hits theatres June 22nd, 2012!

*Disney/PIXAR provided me with an all expenses paid trip to San Francisco to tour PIXAR and participate in group interviews with members of PIXAR’s team. Any thoughts or opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.*


Jen currently lives in Utah with her family, and enjoys reading and writing in her spare time. She is active on popular book websites including paperbackswap.com, Goodreads.com, and luxuryreading.com.

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