“Brave,” the latest film from Pixar Animation Studios, took six years, two directors, a co-director and five new proprietary software programs to bring it and its characters alive in rich period detail.
The computer-animated movie, scheduled to open nationwide Friday, is set in a specific historical era and has a female protagonist—both firsts for 26-year-old Pixar, a unit of Walt Disney Co. DIS -0.19%
The plot follows Merida, the stubborn teenage daughter of King Fergus and Queen Elinor of Scotland who has a long mop of red hair and a talent for archery.
“Because it’s set in a real place and time, 11th century Scotland, more than any other film we had to figure out how to layer and texture accordingly,” says Tia Kratter, a Pixar shading art director, who designed the period tartans, dresses and textures in the film. Her research included two trips to Scotland with Steve Purcell, the screenwriter and co-director, and a crash course in kilt and tartan design.
While tartans, the plaid pattern or cloth seen most often on kilts, didn’t become a widespread feature of Scottish culture until the 18th century, they are a central part of the “Brave” wardrobe. “It’s a love letter to Scotland, not a documentary,” Mr. Purcell says.
Before “Brave,” the most layers of clothing created for a Pixar film was four, seen on the rat Remy in his chef’s outfit and apron in the 2007 movie “Ratatouille.” In “Brave,” Fergus has 16 layers—eight layers of individual pieces of clothing and another eight made up solely of tartan.
Matthew Newsome, director emeritus of the Scottish Tartans Museum, says that tartan patterns are used for such things as identifying the country’s families or clans and periods in history. “Tartans are the single most recognizable representation of Scotland,” Mr. Newsome says.
For the outfits in “Brave,” Pixar animators created a new shading program that wove the individual fibers of the tartan together to create a textured cloth, allowing a kilt to move in a more-realistic fashion.
“To get the movement you have to be true to the original form, or audiences will see something is off and pop out of the fantasy world we’ve created,” says Claudia Chung, a simulation supervisor who oversaw the technology for all the film’s clothing and hair.
Merida’s hair is made up of 1,500 individually sculpted curves, distinct points in a three-dimensional space, that are programmed to bounce and interact in relation to one another via a new software system, says Ms. Chung. Another software program was created to make the hair react more realistically to the character’s movements and surroundings.
Two other software systems handled the layered look of the film’s environment in the film and added a deeper texture to the water.
There are no plans to license any of this new software outside of the company. Pixar has continuously licensed just one software program, RenderMan, which retails for $2,000.