I had the opportunity to watch a VES (Visual Effects Society) preview screening of Pixar’s Brave, a few weeks back. And this screening, like many VES screenings, was a very special one. We were greeted by two guest speakers who had come all the way from the US to answer questions from the London professional visual effects community, and well as some kids along for the ride to see the amazing red locks of the heroine, Princess Merida. Director Mark Andrews and Producer Katherine Serafian provided fascinating trivia about the whole process of making this film.
I won't give any plot spoilers but will mention some awesome 'visual' spoilers. The entire project took them about 7 years in total, starting with location scouting in Scotland in 2006 to final release in 2012. They wanted to design some of the scenes to be very similar and relate to the unique and dramatic landscapes all around the Scottish countryside. And they certainly achieved that. The production design is outstanding, as usual, in that wonderful Pixar style where they tell a story visually with strong character plotlines.
After scouting, there was about a year of story development. Then came the technical goals, a challenge set to once again put them at the top of the list for animated feature film companies. They were re-developing their animation software, Presto, at the same time and they wanted to use it in this film and push it to the limit. Although the new advancements had not yet been tested on a feature film, their 7 year research and development was about to take centre stage for its big moment. You can read more about this here.
So, as I’m sure you’re aware by now, the heroine Princess Merida has long beautiful red locks of hair. And it looks amazing! They did 2 years testing for her hair dynamic simulations. What we see in the end is very easy to take for granted, but when you consider what they have achieved technically, you have to be in awe. The challenges when creating this hair were for it to: get wet, respond to her costume movements (especially in a hooded outfit), get leaves and sticks to stick in it and for it to move in an aesthetically pleasing way. There is also an amazing river scene that achieved realistic water simulations. According to Director Mark Andrews the bear scene, the water and Princess Merida's red hair simulations were the most challenging sequences during the production.
Throughout the film you will see water over coloured peet in the river, over rocks, as well as fur and hair interacting with water. Getting this to look right took them about a year, as well as prior research and development to get the look development to pass the directors high standards. There was actually a director change 18 months before the film was to release. Prior to this changeover, there was a snowy sequence that the artists had technically worked on for years. That work was cut from the film and other sequences were put into their place which made the artists proud of all the hard work put into achieving the technical and beautiful visuals. At an audience preview around October 2011 they realised there had to be story changes to help explain parts of the plot which meant new animated scenes and design work was needed 8 months before release. The production after the R&D to generate each final shot took about 18 months. But, as always, the story aspect of the whole production was the most important aspect of the final film for them.
Mark's favourite sequence is the falling scene into the old castle...I won’t tell you any more, but hopefully this will entice you to notice all the visual details of this particular sequence and all the other stunning detailed imagery!