Pixar's first feature film with a female lead, Brave, took top honors at last night's Oscars, snagging the award for Best Animated Feature. While the story itself of a Scottish princess defying tradition of picking a suitor, searching instead for her destiny was award-worthy in itself, the artistic and technical feats — remember Merida's perfectly created curls and the Scottish countryside? — were captivating.
We spoke with one of the behind-the-scenes wizards on the film, Shading Art Director Tia Kratter, on how the crew and artists at Pixar turned the story of a girl in ancient Scotland into a technically and artistically jaw-dropping legend.
GeekSugar: What are your duties as shading director?
Tia Kratter: My job is to figure out the colors and the textures of everything that is modeled in the film so that when it's modeled in the computer, it has beautiful shape and detail. I figure out how to color it or texture it to make it look believable. If it's a leaf, say, I have to figure out if it's a fresh leaf, one that's dried out in the Fall, or if it's just the vein work [of the leaf]. The same goes with characters — what are they wearing, what's the fabric like, what's Merida's hair like? What color is it? How does it behave?
GS: What sort of research is needed to make the clothing and all visual details of a mythical ancient Scotland accurate?
TK: I went back to London, to the Victoria and Albert Museum where they have old tapestries and a great library of information. We usually start out by doing that, trying to find out what happened in reality [in ancient Scotland], and once we feel comfortable in that world, we feel OK to leave it and add the fantasy back.
Keep reading for Tia's take on the technical feats mastered during Brave's production and her previous work on Monsters, Inc.
GS: How does the research process on each Pixar film vary?
TK: Monsters, Inc. [where Tia Kratter was an art director] was so fun because that was the first project we used hair, so I got to figure out Sullivan's hair. In my office at the time there were yak furs, llama furs, and bear skins hanging on all the walls. We would take a hairdryer and blow it into the fur to see how much it would move into the wind as a reality check. Then I'd have to say, "It's like bear fur up here and like a yak fur back there." There's then the whole world of coloring him. I did about 50 different color painting of Sullivan to figure him out. . . . We didn't want him to be scary. We were creating a world of monsters that were generally really accessible and lovable.
Every time I go on a new film, it's like going to college and having a different major. I clear out my office and then it fills with stuff that has to do with this weird subject. It's really fun.
GS: Did you ever want to create something on Brave or any other movie that just seemed technically impossible?
TK:Yeah, definitely, and that's what happened with the moss in Brave. When we first came back from [research in] Scotland and told the team about all the moss, they sort of just rolled their eyes and said we can't do it; it'll blow up all the rendering machines [because of how technically intricate animated moss is].
We have one team member, nicknamed IQ, who was really interested in taking on the moss. He came in one day and said, "I think I can make something happen." He made a lightweight massive moss shader that could go over all sorts of surfaces. Then we didn't have to worry about [how it looks] when rocks intersect perfectly with the ground plain, which creates this really strange line that isn't natural. He could have that moss flow right over it. We call him a wizard.
The other technical wizard was for the tapestry in Brave, which is actually made with modeled thread in every single stitch. He actually missed some stitches in the computer so that it looks irregular and handmade. So those two wizards were just awesome at making the world more organic and rustic.
Sounds like a geek dream for sure! What was your favorite visual part of Brave: the Scottish landscape or physical features like Merida's hair?