When you think of the filmmakers and artists who work at Pixar it’s not hard to envy their jobs. Not only do they get to work for one of the most respected movie studios – animated or otherwise – in the world, but they also get to tap into their inner child almost every, single day in order to make their dreams come to life on the big screen.
That’s not to say it’s not a whole lot of work along the way. Director Mark Andrews and Producer Katherine Sarafian know all about that. It took over 6 years for the concept of their latest Pixar gem to make its way from a kernel of an idea to a finished film set to delight audiences the way it did when they were in Toronto to present Brave at its Canadian Premiere.
“An animated film is the most clinical, dry unorganic thing in the universe,” explained Andrews. “So when you see something that feels organic, that was a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes to create that. Story is always the hardest thing. We have a saying at Pixar, ‘Story is hell’ because it’s so organic and so many plates to spin and so many ideas and knowing which is the right one to choose. We have made this movie hundreds of times over. We’ve storyboarded scenes that have been changed so many times that the finished products are 4 years in the making.”
The film, which follows the story of a feisty young princess named Merida, is a calculated departure from the types of young women typically portrayed in animated films – particularly those made by Pixar’s parent company, Disney.
Said Andrews, “We didn’t want to make a character that was questing for ‘happily ever after.’ That’s why at the beginning of the film we have all of those rules about ‘a princess is this and a princess is that’ and Merida breaks all of those rules. We’re saying to the audience, we’re breaking the rules. We are not Disney. It was really fun to do that.”
Sarafian clarifies, “That said, we did go back and look at some of the classic Disney princesses but we were really trying to make something different with Brave. Merida is a Pixar hero rather than a traditional Disney princess.”
In order for the Brave team to really get a feel for the material and the world in which Merida lives, they took some research trips to Scotland and that was where the magic and fiery spirit of the film was truly born.
“We went from Edinburgh to castles on the east and west coast. We went into the Highlands very deeply and various lochs and forests. We just loaded ourselves with all of this visual reference. We were pulling leaves off of trees and grabbing clumps of moss and everything that we could steal like rocks and heather, we stole because it’s so unique to that climate.” Andrews explained. “One thing we really wanted to get across was that Scotland is texture. Everywhere you go there’s texture because it’s so old and because of the climate. We really wanted to capture and convey that throughout the movie down to the feeling of the kilts.”
Sarafian continues, “We took inspiration but we didn’t try to mimic it exactly. We sketched, we drew, we photographed and were so inspired but we did change things to better serve the story. We wanted you to feel like you’re in Scotland but not really. You need to feel like you’re in the world of Brave which is this old world, fantasy place.”
From there, the team set out to cast their film, a process that stems more from who they think truly embodies the essence of their characters than about who’s simply available (or who’s a big enough box office draw).
“We do sketches and drawings and storyboards for the character so then the casting process becomes about finding the right voices,” reveals Sarafian. “Who is somebody who has the heft of a king, somebody who’s believable as the leader of a kingdom and also has the warmth of a Father. That’s Billy Connolly. With Emma Thompson it was the same thing, we started with the stature and the weight of a Queen and yet the compassion of a Mother and the humour and the warmth and again, very few names come to mind.”
In the end, all of that hard work and attention to detail comes together to create a truly transporting film that will be inspiring to kids of all ages for generations to come…even if the story does dole out a few harsh truths along the way. Or as Andrews so beautifully puts it:
“Brave goes back to those old folk tales that were lessons to our children about how when you grow up the world’s a dangerous place and you’d better be smart and you’d better be conscientious about the decisions you make. There are consequences.”
Sarafian finishes his thought: “It’s good that we give our kids some food for thought.”
Brave opens in theatres on June 22, 2012.