The new 3D animated film from Disney/Pixar, Brave, features the studio’s first female heroine, but it is also the first with new software to render the bouncy curls of her long red hair.
“We’d really worked with the same suite of software since the earliest days,” said producer Katherine Sarafian in an interview on NPR. “So it was definitely time for an upgrade.”
Individual strands and clumps of Princess Merida’s hair move independently when the character moves. The look the studio wanted proved impossible to render even in Pixar’s own animation software. To give it life, the studio created new tools for its own use.
“Everything had to be reinvented,” Sarafian said. “But, you know, it was worth it, because the story served up this challenge of this spirited, untamed wild child of a girl. And that hair was part of her design and part of her character."
The software update proved to be a good investment. In its first weekend, Brave took in $66.3 million domestically and $13.5 million overseas, according to Box Office Mojo. That showing made it the 13th straight Pixar film to debut in the number 1 spot, following in the footsteps of Wall-E, Up, and the Toy Story franchise.
Getting the hair right was important to keep viewers from being pulled out of the story, said those involved in the production. The new software built Merida’s hair out of 1,500 individually sculpted curves, said Claudia Chung, a simulation supervisor for the film. An entirely different program handled the hair’s interaction with the environment.
The bar on clothing was also raised, Chung said, with one character wearing eight layers of clothing and eight additional layers of tartan, the traditional Scottish fabric with patterns identifying one’s clan. Those sixteen layers were a four-fold increase over Pixar’s previous record, the four layers worn by the main character in 2007’s Ratatouille.
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