Pixar's Braintrust on the Making of 'Brave' and the Studio's First Princess
Disney Pulls Redesigned 'Brave' Character From Princess Website
This story first appeared in the Feb. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
One day when his three boys were fighting with their sister over what to watch on television, Mark Andrews asked his 12-year-old daughter to give the boys some time to watch a show. She fired back: "I can't do anything. They get away with murder."
For Andrews, one of two directors behind Brave, it was a moment of inspiration that reverberated throughout the making of the animated feature. "I instantly wrote that down and brought it in the next day to put into Brave," he says.
Brave strikes out into new territory for Pixar Animation Studios because it's centered on the company's first female protagonist -- a Scottish princess named Merida -- whose story is built around her relationship with her mother, Queen Elinor, that has become fractured and eventually is mended.
"I pulled a lot of experience from my own family," says Andrews. "I have a daughter and three sons, just like King Fergus and Queen Elinor. A lot of the lines of Merida were right out of my daughter's mouth."
The film's story was conceived by Brenda Chapman, the project's first director, as a "love letter" to her feisty daughter. "My daughter was the heart and soul of the piece," she says. "I wanted to do a story that had a female protagonist. My daughter was about four at the time and just questioning me at every turn."
Additionally, Chapman wanted to concentrate on the relationship between mother and daughter because mothers often are absent or replaced by evil stepmothers in traditional fairy tales. "I went through many fairy tales looking for a mother-and-daughter story, and I just didn't find one," says Chapman. "I'd find some with a mother, but she would disappear for no apparent reason, and a prince would show up to save the day. So I decided to try to create my own story."
Looking for the right setting for her original tale, initially titled The Bear and the Bow, she began working with production designer Steve Pilcher seven years ago. "Merida is an independent spirit, a child of nature," says Chapman. "She is an adventurer carving her own path, so we wanted a look that was wild and untamed." They found it during the course of two research trips to Scotland, particularly in an area known as the Dark Mile -- which Pilcher describes as "a dark forest full of moss and rock and boulders" -- and a castle called Dunnottar, set on a cliff.
"It was rustic and ruined and beautiful," attests shading art director Tia Kratter. "We thought we were going to have the king and queen's castle on the shores of a loch, but Dunnottar was so beautiful, set on a lone cliff, that we changed the location of the castle in the film."
The team also had some fun. "Every night we would either eat in an old inn or go to a local pub to see that convivial atmosphere of eating around a big common table. That lent itself to the family-meal sequence," says Kratter, chuckling. "I took it upon myself to sample a different type of scotch every night."
In late 2010, however, with the film's release only 18 months away, Pixar heads John Lasseter and Ed Catmull decided to take the project from Chapman, one of the directors on DreamWorks Animation's 1998 film The Prince of Egypt, and turn it over to Andrews, who had directed the 2005 Oscar-nominated short One Man Band for Pixar and had been serving as a consultant on Brave. While the studio had replaced directors midproject before -- Brad Bird, for example, was not the original helmer of the 2007 Oscar-winning hit Ratatouille -- it did take a short-term publicity hit given that Chapman was the first female director entrusted with a Pixar title.