April 19, 2014

D23 2011: The Art of Brave Panel

D23 Expo goers were given a rare and wonderful opportunity this past Sunday when Pixar presented “The Art of Brave.” The panel, hosted by production designer Steve Pilcher and shader art director Tia Kratter, offered a glimpse into the production and visual development process of the studio’s next animated feature. This really was something special. It was like personally being walked through an “Art of…” book with the artists themselves. They revealed beautiful concept images and pencil sketches featuring everything from landscapes and environments to characters and costumes.  From what was shown, it is clear that this will be one of Pixar’s most beautiful films to date.

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Note: Producer Katherine Sarafian requested that attendees refrain from posting images of the artwork online. We have honored that request.

The session kicked off with images of the Brave (then known as The Bear and the Bow) team’s 2006 research trip to Scotland. At this early stage of development Brenda Chapman was the director on the project and is seen in the photos. Lots of Pilcher’s gorgeous black and white concept sketchers were shown in addition to color and texture studies.  Seeing the transition from reference photo to artist interpretation was quite fascinating and truly offered a glimpse into just how the visual look of a Pixar film comes to life!  Take for example the Witch’s cottage. An initial design was, of course, beautiful but a little more generic – this could be a house seen in any fairytale story. But after the research trip the design dramatically changed. Seeing the old Scottish blackhouses that used to be common in the highlands during the time period of the film inspired a re-design of the cottage that is more fitting to the culture.

Needless to say, the short presentation was packed full of visually stunning images.  Here are a few highlights from the fascinating presentation. While the following doesn’t contain any specific spoilers as far as plot points, it does lend some insight into the the characters’ personalities and the visual goals of the artists. If you want to know nothing about the film before seeing it yourself, you may want to stop reading now.  Keep in mind, we are still almost a year away from the release date of the film. While most of the presentation was about looking back at the production, it is possible some elements could change between the time of this post and the release of the film next summer.

  • Celtic and Pictish design elements are used throughout the film, from Merida’s bow to natural elements like snowflakes and moss.
  • Initial drafts of the film had 80% of the scenes taking place in the snow. In the final film very few snow scenes remain.
  • The team made sure nothing in a scene upstaged the red of Merida’s hair.
  • A large part of the visual dynamic will be the contrast of smooth curves and jagged edges.
  • All objects in the Witch’s cottage are tiny portraits of the Witch – echoing her shape and design.
  • The three challenges of this film were Merida’s hair, the landscape details (moss, lichen, textures, etc.) and snow.
  • Once again, artist Carter Goodrich did some initial character studies for the film. He has previously worked on Ratatouille and Finding Nemo.
  • Pilcher said Mordu the demon bear is like “Moby Dick on land.”
  • Queen Elinor’s costumes were inspired by the works of Gustav Klimt and John Singer Sargent.

Those were just a few highlights of the presentation. There was so much more.  It is obvious just how passionate Pilcher and Kratter are when it comes to their craft. For them, it’s a lot of hard work but work that they enjoy and love.  That passion and drive is the real magic behind all of Pixar’s films.  To see it up there in the slides and to hear it in their voices when discussing the project, it is impossible not to be inspired.  So much attention to detail goes into each one of Pixar’s films. Something as simple as a door knocker is researched, designed and sculpted before an audience ever sees such a prop in the final film. Costumes are designed meticulously by hand to see how light will shine and move as the fabric moves. This presentation was a great spotlight on that process and the human hands that create these digital films.

About Jerrod Maruyama

Jerrod Maruyama is a freelance illustrator currently residing in Sacramento, CA. His passions include character design, animated films, Disneyland and all things cute. For more about Jerrod, visit his website here.

  • http://twitter.com/cpjalufka Chris Jalufka

    So bummed I missed D23. From what we’ve been seeing of Brave it’s going to be a good time at the movies. Sounds like Pixar has a wealth of inspiration for this one. Excited about the Klimt and John Singer Sargent references and the “Moby Dick on land” comment. 

  • http://twitter.com/kim_michelle kimberly michelle

    Just have to say “thank you” from my husband for respecting the wishes of the Pixar team and not taking photos :) He was so upset that people blatantly ignored their wishes.

  • Sputnik

    Thank you! Is there any information about Merida’s love interest in the movie?

  • Gray Catbird

    “Celtic and Pictish design elements are used throughout the film, from Merida’s bow to natural elements like snowflakes and moss.”
    After the “Car-ification”, the “Celt-ification” ?

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