Immersed in Blu-ray: Brave

Pixar’s Brave looks even more impressive on Blu-ray (Disney Home Ent.) with its mystical depiction of medieval Scotland and Merida’s curly red hair, for starters. The sound, too, is powerful in Dolby TrueHD. Also included as the prime bonus feature is the vibrant and poignant Pixar short, La Luna along with some deleted scenes and informative behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Yet the year’s biggest animated box office hit is daringly ambitious, boasting Pixar’s first female heroine and period piece with a dramatic test of wills between mother and daughter. It’s dark, supernatural, funny, and touching.

The hard part was getting all the elements to coalesce in Brave, according to director Mark Andrews, who took over for Brenda Chapman when the story needed tweaking. “It’s not a princess story — she just happens to be a princess and that raises the stakes of whatever decision she’s going to be making and how it’s going to affect the kingdom. We have this epic setting; she’s gotta get out of the castle; it’s a place that she knows so how do you make it more dangerous for her? What other stories are coming in to affect her life that she doesn’t even know about yet? What other myths are out there that she’s going to discover? It’s this parent/child relationship at the core — this trouble between her and her mom that we’re reverberating out. There are a lot of [ideas] that we’re spinning to bring in these magical, mythical elements. What are the wisps? Are they wise or are they just leading her on to finish her off?”

For Brave, Pixar overhauled its animation program, creating Presto (named in honor of the 2008 short). This allowed a lot more flexibility for previewing during animation and they could write tools right into it, such as the advanced simulation for Merida’s hair, which was the most daunting task of all. Back on Monsters, Inc., they wanted Boo to have curly hair but it just wasn’t possible to achieve the necessary hair to hair collision. But with Merida, technology caught up with need, with her wild, unkempt orange hair being such a vital part of her fiery personality.

The basic model is the same for the hair but we realized two key things,” explains simulation supervisor Claudia Chung. “Hair to hair collision is really slow, so in order to do that the engineers that created our simulator parallelized everything. They split the simulation into eight processors. Then we painted her and we don’t see the color until the very end.”

But when it came to recreating an authentic-looking Scotland, the surfacing and simulation teams included more detail than in any previous Pixar movie. “For the first time, our landscapes weren’t heavy to render,” says shading art director Tia Kratter. “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.

“For the wisps, we studied a propane torch and held it up against a blackboard to look at the color of the light and nature of the movement. We wanted it to have a certain intensity that evolved into a slower, gaseous intensity. It feels hot but the color is cooler and it provides a mysterious, spiritual aura. You don’t know whether to trust [the wisps] or not. It becomes a bright, glowing core with soft edges and eyes that are lightly colored. As you get farther away, it becomes a deep sapphire.”

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Blu-ray, Clips, Home Entertainment, Movies, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production

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