On my trip to Pixar last week, we learned a great deal about how the country of Scotland inspired the team working on Brave, which is one of the few Pixar films with a real-life setting. Up, Finding Nemo, and Ratatouille gave us a taste for Pixar’s interpretation of several real locales, and it was often stunning. Two research trips to Scotland were undertaken by Pixar employees to attempt to accurately capture the beautiful and magical qualities of Scotland. After the jump, find out how the country has inspired Brave.
When Brenda Chapman started to develop an idea for a film that would subvert the typical princess story, she knew the setting would be Scotland. She had a love for the culture and the beautiful landscapes of the country. Although the film would be set in ancient Scotland (around the year 900), those working on the film wanted to visit the European country to get a better understanding of the culture and the aspects of the medieval times still lingering.
They wanted a castle in the story, but not a Germanic castle that was Cinderella-like, according to story artist Louis Gonzales. The artists working on the story wanted the castle to be “earthy,” grittier than the pristine ones often seen in animated films. They visited the Eilean Donan and Dunnottar Castles, ultimately settling on placing the fictional DunBroch castle (occupied by Merida and her family) away from the Highlands and closer to the sea. No Pixar film had ever had a castle in it, so the entire structure had to be intricately planned out and modeled. Production designer Steve Pilcher and shading art director Tia Kratter showed us a detailed model of the castle that was created to give them a better look at how it would come together visually.
The research team also visited the eye-catching Callanish Standing Stones, which will look familiar if you have seen the Brave teaser trailer. The stones are eerie and visually striking, as they stand together in a circular pattern. Producer Katherine Sarafian notes that they felt like they had to try to get the stones into the film, and have it be the setting for an important part of the story.
The team traveled through Scotland, spending time with the local people. “We dove really deeply into the culture and the storytelling…We met people and talked to them. We ate like locals and immersed ourselves in the landscape and experienced the weather and how it was constantly changing and moving.” Gonzales said that they “were trying to soak up as much as they [could] of Scotland.” Angus, Merida’s trusty horse is a Clydesdale, so they also spent time with horses there to study better how they move and interact with humans.
The landscapes also served as an inspiration, the lush countryside being a particular area of focus. “The moss in Scotland was spectacular. If you push your hands into the mass, it would literally sink down about a foot and then it would come back like a sponge,” said Pilcher. Kratter adds, “It felt as if there was a filter of green over us…The sun would go through this filter and everything was just bathed in green light.” There was also an abundance of rugged rocks throughout the land and forests, which they wanted to bring to the screen.
Then, there are the magical aspects of Scotland, the mythology with an air of mystery. In the swamps, there is a naturally occurring phenomenon where the swamp and bog gases light up with a blue-ish color. In Scottish lore, people used to follow the floating lights, thinking that they were fairies. This gave rise to the “will o’ the wisps” in Brave, who light a path that allows one to change his or her fate. Merida is rare in her belief of the “wisps” but they are not just a myth in the film, as it is near the mysterious rocks that stand in a circle that Merida encounters the “will o’ the wisps.”
Pixar research teams have had the opportunity to tour daycare centers and dumps (Toy Story 3), South America (Up), France (Ratatouille), but touring many corners of Scotland must have been both an overwhelming and unforgettable experience. It was not as glamorous as it sounds, though. At one point, eight team members on the trip stayed in the Kintail Lodge Hotel’s “Wee Bunk House,” which was given that name for a reason – it was a small room disconnected from the main building of the hotel that only had six beds and one bathroom. It must have been some bonding experience because the production team’s main meeting room at Pixar has been named in honor of the tiny room.
Brave may be Merida’s story, but after viewing the first 30 minutes from the film, I have a feeling people will also walk out of the theater talking about the beauty of Scotland. It is just that gorgeous. Get ready for an influx of tourists, Scotland!
Much more information on Brave‘s behind-the-scenes experience is coming your way soon. The film hits theaters on June 22.