Often when we sit down in a theater or in front of a screen to watch a Disney*Pixar film we are so enthralled by the story and the true-to-life animation that we forget there´s a whole team and a huge process of many years behind all that movie magic.
My thought process is always more in the lines of a bewildered “How did they do that?” I finally got to dig into the answer to that question when I was invited to the legendary Pixar Animation Studios to be one in a group of mom bloggers to meet many of the people behind the soon-to-be-released and wildly anticipated Brave.
Aside from being fascinated by the Pixar campus and fantasizing about what it would be like to work in a place that is built with the sole objective of letting creativity manifest itself, I was in a for a journey of discovery behind-the-scenes of the story-telling through animation world. One of the people we met and interviewed was Katherine Sarafian, the producer of Brave. Katherine has been working at Pixar for 18 years now and the pixie dust still sparkles all around her as she talks about the role with the company she feels is like her home.
As all these working moms sat on a roundtable to talk with her, we all gained a huge perspective on the long and detailed process of making an animated movie when we found out she had actually gotten married and had birthed two kids during the 6 years she had been working on Brave. In fact, she now feels she’ll birth her third child when Brave hits movie theaters on June 22nd, after half a decade of gestation!
As a producer, Katherine is like the maternal figure as she is in charge of making sure all the teams in every stage of the animation process are taken care of, that budgets are in place, and that timelines are being met. So, she has her hands and eyes on the whole process. Everything from leading the initial research trip to Scotland with the team of story artists, production designers and other crew members, where she says she was the most fascinated with their visit to the Calinish to see the ancient and mystical standing stones which are now an integral part of the movie.
Katherine’s job also requires fun moments like putting together a day of picnics and archery lessons at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge for the artists and animators to train with a bow and arrow so they can live it and get every detail right since the story of Brave revolves so much around this skill. She says,
“Here we are in San Francisco with our little bit of Scotland and our bit of adventure and archery, and everybody on the crew was so excited to learn it because they knew they could really not just use this as a skill in life – in case you ever need to shoot anything – but to be able to learn form and how to do this, so when we animate Merida we’d be able to really get it right and know how you hold your body, where you put your weight, and how you pull it [the bow] back. We wanted to really get it right.”
As with any career, there are always moments that are more challenging than others, and for Katherine that is the process of telling the story since the bar is set so high at Pixar.
“Probably the other producers of the other films here would say the same thing,” Katherine confides with us. “The story is really hard at Pixar. Trying to tell a great, great story to the Pixar level of quality is a challenge because you really want to…we put pressure on ourselves to do the best that we can. It’s hard work and it takes a long time. You just keep at it; we never stop. John Lassater [Pixar co-founder] always says our films are never finished, they’re just released. And that’s really the case. We’re gonna be putting Brave out into the world, but we could keep working on it because we always want to keep making these better and better.”
One of the many things this movie does much better than any so far, is the intricate detail in Merida’s fiery red hair. It almost feels like the hair is its own character. We wanted to know what went into the process of creating that hair and why it was conceptualized as so. Katherine tells us that Merida’s hair was, in fact, a very important part of the story; so getting it right was a priority.
“It was not easy to do, obviously, because it’s a huge technological and artistic challenge. From the very beginning, Merida was conceived as somebody who was going to be fiery, passionate, strong-willed, a bit of a wild-child, athletic, outdoorsy, and an untamed spirit, which to us equated to untamed hair that was wild. So it needed the fiery redness. Our teams talked about it being so perfectly majestic against the Scottish backdrop, the colors, the greenery, the landscapes, that she would really stand out as a one of a kind character; like no one you’d ever met before. It was important to her character – in a storytelling sense – that she have this spirit and that it be represented in her hair. Then it became obviously very important to our technology teams to learn how to do that, and figure out how to make that hair, or make those curls, and make them move the way they needed to. Definitely crucial to the story.”
Now that you know a bit more about the making-of Brave through the words of its producer, you can watch this clip from the movie and be in even more awe and anticipation of its forthcoming release on June 22nd.