With Disney Pixar’s Brave as the studio’s first fairy-tale offering and first film starring a female protagonist, all eyes are fixed on the upcoming story about “changing your stars.” Pixar’s 13th feature film is under pressure to live up to not only Pixar’s blockbuster reputation but also the Disney fairy-tale tradition that the film will join with Disney as the studio’s parent company. Although the film is not scheduled to appear in theaters until June 22, 2012, the Animation building at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World offers a glimpse into the characters and concepts for the upcoming film.
The Animation building at Hollywood Studios typically features a display of concept art from a recent animation project, giving fans a glimpse at the behind the scenes process of filmmaking. The Brave exhibit is, in comparison with the usual displays, decidedly sparse. Eager to promote the upcoming film, Disney is nonetheless loath to give up any “spoilers” about Brave.
The exhibit does, however, provide insight into the film’s characters and another glimpse of the breathtaking visuals that have dominated Brave’s trailers and seem so important to the film itself.
The landscape of Brave is a character in its own right. Set in the highlands of Scotland, the film continues Pixar’s tradition of challenging the limitations of animation. Dealing with the organic shapes of forest and ocean presents breathtaking challenges to animators as do environmental conditions such as fog, moonlight, and reflection. Yet the visuals presented show Pixar’s mastery of those challenges as well as hinting at an important element of the film. Catherine Sarafian, the film’s producer has emphasized the importance of the standing stones (a focus revealed in concept art discussed in an earlier post), and those stones feature prominently in the concept art.
What is interesting to note is the contrast between the shapes and colors of the wild, magical highlands and King Fergus’s castle as revealed in the concept art. In the animation tradition, shapes are important, and the squared-off, geometric shapes of the castle contrast sharply with the shapes of the woodlands. Similarly, the image of the competition grounds where the sons of the Lords of the Land will undertake an athletic competition is an interesting contrast to the standing stones. While both use a circular shape, the tone, feel, and shapes create a stark contrast between wild magic and civilization, tradition and untempered possibility.
The importance of shapes in creating character is also overwhelmingly apparent in the character maquettes on display. In the Art of Up, Pixar artists discuss the importance of shapes and their relation to symbols: “The circle represents the future; the square symbolizes the past…” Those shapes lead the viewers’ eyes and connect them to the characters in unique ways. The maquettes on display are intended to be the touchstone for the characters – the essence of their personality presented as a reference to animators…and they are interesting in what they reveal.
King Fergus is practically spherical. Every part of him is curved from his broken nose to the curve of his grizzled moustache to his rounded, blunt fingers. The only thing linear about the figure is his peg leg…the leg he lost to the bear which figures so prominently in images and trailers for the film. Everything about King Fergus says “good hearted,” an impression reinforced by the concept image of him with his hair being madly pulled by one of his tiny sons (who are equally round in face and hair).
His wife, Queen Elinor is equally curved, but her shape is vertical, a graceful swoop of elegance in contrast to her husband’s round verve. She is far more vertical than horizontal, making her a “stop,” a graceful safeguard to her husband’s enthusiasm. Symbolically, King Fergus reads as powerful, impetuous, and needing care; Elinor reads as the caretaker.
That attention to shapes (and curves) is also echoed in the Lords, their sons, and their crests. Note how the crests for each family reflect the shape of the characters, reflecting the connection between idea and character.
The square shape comes in the form of the formidable bear. Shown still, attacking, and looming over Merida, the giant creature is as linear as Fergus, his wife, and his sons are curved. Also worthy of note is the flooring under the bear’s feet in the still image of the beast. What on earth would a bear be doing on floorboards…? And a careful observer may note the zoomorphic crest for King Fergus’s family is a trio of intertwined bears.
And, of course, there is Merida. Featured in two dramatic stills from the film, the princess is consistently associated with her bow (the film was originally titled The Bear and the Bow). Her maquette is focused on Merida’s vibrancy, her utter, and somewhat wild passion. Her face is impish; her hair sculpted wild. She represents a bridge between the shapes – her arms straight and linear while her figure is soft and curved as if to balance out the shape of the bow in her hands.
Notably missing from the display is any mention of the “Old Wise Woman” mentioned in the official plot summary. Our only glimpses of her thus far have been a concept image on the Pixar Wiki and a vat of mysteriously bubbling green…stuff…in the trailer. Since the character is mentioned as granting Merida an “ill-fated wish,” there is little question of her importance. And, of course, the apparent parallel between her missing eye and the one-eyed bear is cause for speculation. (The single-eyed bear is one of 2 bears in the film. It attacks King Fergus, the other has two eyes as seen in other concept art.) Her omission in the “art preview” makes her even more interesting. Is her part too small to warrant attention, or does Disney Pixar not wish to reveal too much before the film’s release?
The display of concept art leaves a lot of unanswered questions, but the rich images and carefully rendered characters do serve to reassure visitors that Pixar is holding to its usual standards in this new adventure. So until June, fans will have to wait to find out exactly what the connection is between the bear and the bow.