Pixar Gets Brave
As far as clothing, the kilt was definitely a challenge in terms of layering and getting it to fall believably. "How do you model a kilt and make it look realistic?" Chung adds. "If the character moved, the folds would come out and come back together. We didn't want it to rigidly follow like a sculpted shape. And we couldn't flatten it because then you'd have nine yards of tartan. In the end, the tailors created a hybrid approach that was modeled and tailored into flat shapes.
"Simulation is finally at a point where we can be artistic. If [they] wanted Merida to have a different hair style, my reaction was no longer, 'Are you kidding me?!' It was more like: 'OK, let's do it -- let's figure it out artistically."
But when it came to recreating an authentic-looking Scotland, the surfacing and simulation teams included more detail than in any previous Pixar movie. Of course, the intensive research helped. As shading art director Tia Kratter says, it sure beats going on Google. "Going to Scotland was huge because of the whole sensory experience, especially for someone who specializes in surfacing. For the first time, our landscapes weren't heavy to render. To be able to render a shot in under 16 hours and have it be so dense with moss and grass is like dressing a character. The rock looked like someone took a photo of granite and put it all over. We needed to create imperfections for an organic feel. Lighting changes frequently: Our lighting team had to track the light or have real clouds with volume that block or accept light, so we picked the big panoramas."
For production designer Steve Pilcher, the turbulent skies of Scotland gave him the freedom to slowly bring in storm clouds to evoke Merida's turbulence. "Then you make sunlight peek through when you get into the darker forest," he says. "It's very theatrically lit to amplify the emotion. And with the fog you can diffuse the Highlands in the background, playing with silhouettes falling into shadows."
But getting the moss just right nearly eluded Pilcher. It took a last-minute experiment by TD Inigo Quilez to add that extra touch. "We were trying to get the moss to feel soft and have plenty of it and fall over these forms: Trees, tree roots, boulders, rocks to make it feel like hummocks," Pilcher says. "Up to a certain point it felt like steel wool but it had no sense of translucency or softness. It was a real technological challenge. We were set dressing all of our sets without that for years, and Inigo looked at these brushes I was using in Photoshop -- microscopic moss shapes -- and took a couple of them and created shading geometry. He created the ability to art-direct this stuff. You could orchestrate where it goes; add more color variations. What happened was it went over all this material and it looked so lush. It would show the translucency on a certain angle, it would blow in the wind. It made it look more believable with grass and clover. All this variation convinces the mind to let go and experience this thing in a very tactile way and a very convincing way."
That's the Pixar way.
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and VFXWorld. He's the owner of the Immersed in Movies blog (www.billdesowitz.com), a regular contributor to Thompson on Hollywood at Indiewire and author of James Bond Unmasked (www.jamesbondunmasked.com), which chronicles the 50-year evolution of 007 on screen and features interviews with all six actors.