Pixar Rewrote Its Animation System For First Time In 25 Years For ‘Brave’

Since the debut of the teaser trailer for Brave last summer, many have been mesmerized by the film’s stunning attention to detail and fluidity of the character’s movements. If you were struck by the beautiful look of the film and wondered how the characters moved so realistically, there is a reason for that – Pixar rewrote its animation system for the first time in 25 years to portray Merida and her epic quest. Find more details after the jump!

The visuals in Pixar films have improved progressively over the years, but none of the studio’s 12 released films are noticeably underwhelming in the technical department. The reason why toys were the main characters of Pixar’s first film is that the technology in the field of computer animation was limited in the 1990s, and the plastic nature of Buzz, Woody, and the rest of the gang fit right in with what the animation system could achieve with respect to movement. Andy and his mom don’t exactly move extraordinarily well in Toy Story, but at the time it was a breakthrough for what could be done with humans, and is still not poor by any means. It was almost 10 years later, when The Incredibles (2004), Pixar’s first film starring human main characters, was released.

As the technology has allowed, characters and their movements have looked better with each passing Pixar film. One of those humans, Merida from Brave, has fiery red hair that moves incredibly realistically. When she shoots an arrow in the clip below, the arrow curves around the bow slowly before spiraling beautifully towards its target, moving with amazing fluidity. In its feature article on Brave last month, TIME Magazine reported (full story available only to subscribers) that Pixar rewrote its animation system so that it could deliver the impressive visuals and movements that the story demanded.

TIME’s Joel Stein writes:

Brave is being made with the first rewrite of Pixar’s animation system in 25 years. Computer programs have always liked to make perfect geometric shapes that bounce against one another. (Hence movies about toys, robots and cars. Even Finding Nemo was mostly flat surfaces.) They’re not as good at making long, wild, curly red hair that swooshes against pine trees and lichen-covered rocks. Brave is richer and more colorful than any previous computer-animated film.

Considering that Pixar was using the same animation system for about 25 years, it is remarkable how good the technical aspects of the films have been and how they have progressed. With that in mind, I’d like to see what the studio can do with a new animation system. We have seen glimpses of it in the trailers and TV spots, but I have a feeling Pixar is still going to ‘wow’ us.

The Emeryville-based studio has always prided itself on its ability to deliver both on the technical and story sides. In the TIME article, Pixar co-founder and current president Ed Catmull has a strong quote:

When Walt Disney started, people didn’t know how to make films. They were figuring out how to add color, how to sync sound. When Walt died, they stopped advancing the technology. And they also went downhill in their films. I think that’s related.

Image above is ©Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1032278476 Lizzy Leigh Vasquez

    Oh awesome! I knew it was going to be amazing, but I think this may very well be, visually at least, Pixar’s greatest movie yet.

  • Cali

    I’m sorry, but I really dislike that Ed Catmull quote. People can say what they want, but I like some of the films that came out between Walt’s death and the Renaissance. They were not inferior. And, now, how about the fact now that Disney is so obsessed with “advancing technology” that they refuse to advance hand-drawn animation? Double-standard if you ask me. Also, it was Catmull that claimed the fairytale genre had run its course. Obviously not. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1345271655 Justin Allison

      I think he is talking about the drive that comes with attempting to advance the technology. When filmmakers are not satisfied with whatever is status quo they make better movies in order to break it. 

    • Luke

      Agree. Ed Catmull (as well as many egos in Pixar) is so full of himself. How dare he say that Disney has gone downhill, as if his own studio is driven by the hand of God. 

      I would love to see Brave disappoint, and maybe Catmull can join fellow-know-it-all-Andrew Stanton, who claimed that “live action movies have been made wrong for the past 100 years.” 

  • Aharturohernandez

    The thing I want to is if they will be using this new rewritten animation system for Monsters University? ( I’m sure they will though)

  • Guest

    Looks like there’s a lot of interesting info in that TIME article.

  • Reyespoints

    any software screen shots?

  • Lexie

    Incredibly excited to see this said technology in Brave… Pixar has always stunned me with their usage of technology in their films, and I’m eager to see how their rewritten software makes it better. :)