For the last 15 years, Pixar have rivalled the golden age of Disney with their clever, age-less, image-defining, giant imagination film works. Their latest offering, Brave, marks a seemingly slight yet significant change in both style and content for the mega-company.
Brave is the tale of Merida (Kelly Macdonald), daughter to King Fergus and Queen Elinor in the Highlands of Scotland. Merida is a feisty and independent princess who has reached the age where, in line with tradition, she must choose the hand of a worthy suitor. But Merida does not wish to marry and breaks free from the clutches of her family, setting in motion a series of consequences as a result of her actions which she must rectify before coming to terms with the person she is about to become.
i-D online travelled up, up and up to Edinburgh for a round-table discussion with the animator geniuses at Pixar, cast and crew.
Katherine Sarafian (producer): Pixar films don’t start with a genre or any specific type, they start with an idea. We are a film maker driven studio and all our ideas are born within the walls. In this case it was the right film, the right idea and the right time. The original director Brenda Chapman was developing an epic, and as with all our development directors, came up with a bunch of ideas. But Brenda’s core idea was about this mother and daughter who don’t see eye to eye and she wanted to set it in Scotland. That then got developed and Mark Chapman, Brenda and I as a team all went on a research trip and then fleshed out what the world could become. It had these elements of magic and adventure and action and heart and humour, but it didn’t feel like it was just one thing, it’s not just a fairy tale.
Kelly Macdonald (Merida): I think the beauty of it is that it’s going to appeal to everybody, mothers and daughters and fathers. When growing up, your mother is everything, but for some reason in your teens things start to go a bit wrong. Merida’s a teenager so I had to get that voice back and that happened really easily. I was once a teenage girl so I had the “know it all” attitude but I wasn’t as feisty or outdoorsy as Merida. And like Merida I am an honorary red head, I’m sort of auburn naturally. But I think her hair’s amazing, it’s like a character in the film.
Tia Kratter (art director): We knew from the very beginning it [the wild red hair] was going to be one of our technical challenges. That piece of hair that she tucks in then pulls back out, that piece of hair is part of her personality, so the animators have to keep that there and not let it get lost in the rest of her wild hair. That was a good challenge. There was a drawing from Monsters Inc of Boo the little girl and originally she had this hair like Merida and the technical team came back to us at the time and said “we can’t do this yet, you can have one furry character in the film, that’s all we can render.” So there is one character in Monsters Inc who is furry, George, but we shaved him. He was much easier to render once he was shaved. And so as time went on, we learnt more about what we could do for Brave. The turning point was Ratatouille, because in that you had hundreds of rats with hair. And they had to figure out how to do that in a real economical way. And so by the time we got to Brave we knew we could do it. Thank goodness because it was gorgeous.
Kevin Mckidd (MacGuffin): I play old MacGuffin and young MacGuffin. It was a blast getting to do the Scottish accent for young MacGuffin, which nobody could understand because it’s a very specific dialect from my hometown (Doric from Moray). So I feel very proud that I was able to get my own dialect into a Pixar movie.
Robbie Coltraine (Lord Dingwall): We had to tone our accents down quite a lot actually. We all made it fairly west coast but then you worry about sounding too much like each other, particularly in group scenes. They also have to video you for facial expressions and capture how you move your head. The audience would not accept a voice coming out of a cartoon character if the chest and the throat were not the right size. They would instinctively know. The animators worked out how big my neck and chest would have to be to make that voice. So I had to go to Pixar when they were doing the drawings.
Mark Andrews (director): People ask me about the pressure of making this movie, this being Pixar’s 13th movie, and ask me if we are worried about making a hit. Well I’m not, I’m just worried about getting the story right. When Pixar asked me to jump on board they said “here’s a movie, it’s coming out in 18 months. It’s not at the level we would have expected at this moment. What can you do?” And when I was sitting looking at Brenda’s story I could see a lot of stuff was already there. It was like all the pieces were there on the table and the question was, how do you arrange it in a way that suddenly makes it super entertaining, super appealing and full of heart… There was an objectivity that I brought from being on the outside of it that I could use to just clear the table. I think that all film makers run into this. When you have something that you feel very passionate about, there is so much you can do with it. Sometimes you need that clear head space and you can either do that or the time’s run out and you need to make a change. Director changes happen all the time, we had a director change at Pixar before. There’s director changes that happen outside it in the movie studios for animation and live action all the time, and I think that’s one thing I really respect Pixar for, they are so invested in the story, they want to put everything into that story. They want to give it every chance they have to succeed.
Brave is released nationwide on 13th August.
Text: Daniel Goodwin