The Braemar Gathering inspired Merida's archery in Brave
Merida is confronted by the fierce demon bear Mor'du
Dunnottar inspired Brave's Dunbroch Castle.
Glen Affric's diversity is reflected in Brave's heroine, Merida
The Highlands proved particularly inspiring for Pixar's filmmakers
How the animators' Highland tours created Brave
Though Brave is set in a fictional medieval Scotland, Pixar's animators were deeply affected by the real country's sheer rugged variety. Visiting Scotland both in the summer of 2006 and late 2007, the unique natural sights they witnessed dramatically influenced Brave's startlingly beautiful animated landscapes.
Taking in a breadth of Scottish events, from the iconic Games of the Braemar Gathering (that informed much of heroine's Merida's impressive archery skills) to eating haggis on the Royal Mile, Brave's animators fully steeped themselves in the local culture. This helped them capture the spirit of Scotland on film in a fashion that had never been attempted in cinema before.
Brave producer Katherine Sarafian admits the team kept journals while staying in Scotland, which proved tremendously useful when they returned to California to begin work on the project.
"We took photographs and video, sketched and wrote stories," says Sarafian. "We brought everything back and spread it all out, loaded it into our computers. We worked really hard to bring the magic, beauty and ruggedness of Scotland to life in the film through our production design, sets and environments.
Visiting Dunnottar Castle
Some of Scotland's landmarks proved so mesmerising for Pixar's Brave team, they actually ended up altering ideas they originally had for the movie to incorporate what they'd seen from their memorable trip.
Initially, Merida's DunBroch family castle was going to set against a loch in the Highlands. Yet after visiting Dunnottar Castle, a stunning structure cast in jutting cliff-side rocks just south of Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire, the team decided to imitate its staggering surrounds by making DunBroch an outpost by the sea.
Sarafian also admits the Calanais Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis had a big impact on Pixar. "It felt like the perfect setting for something important to happen in the story. The stones are in a circle on a big, exposed cliff with the sky as their backdrop - it's very striking. On both trips it was really hard to get any of the artists back on the bus!"
The Trip to Glen Affric
Merida spends much of her time in Brave travelling through landscapes heavily indebted to the Highlands on her horse Angus. Much of these fantastical, fictional climes were inspired by the filmmakers' trip to Glen Affric. Keen to experience a slice of authentic Scottish wilderness, the stunning glen only 15 miles from Loch Ness proved the perfect site to experience the magic of the country's diverse topography.
With one of the largest Caledonian pinewoods, combined with impressive mountains and moorlands, the heather-strewn hills and moss-covered land of Glen Affric provided a diversity that director Brenda Chapman can see reflected in Merida. "The environment actually reminds me of her - this perfect but complicated blend of hard and soft."
Scotland's incredible natural flora and fauna also helped add a grounded point of reference for some of Brave's more mystical moments. Indeed, some of the film's most spectacular sights were inspired by the ghostly tales of will 'o the wisps.
"They're in a lot of Scottish folklore," says Mark Andrews, one of Brave's two directors. They were said to lead you to treasure or doom-to change your fate-but they're an actual phenomenon of swamp and bog gas seeping up through the earth and interacting with the natural resources to create the blue flames. So we made the wisps like actual little spirits.
Moving from the fiery-haired teen archer to Brave's vicious demon bear Mor'du, the visit to Scotland also influenced the creation of the film's formidable furry beast. Story Supervisor Brian Larsen says Scotland's love of stories was a big help while planning Brave. "Scotland is a storytelling culture-wherever we went, the locals erupted into stories of their everyday lives and the people they knew. The story of Mor'du was inspired by the stories we heard while we were there."
The impact the trip had on Pixar has clearly paid off, with Billy Connolly already giving Brave's depiction of Scotland his stamp of approval. "The filmmakers have really captured the spirit of Scotland," says the iconic Glaswegian comic who voices King Fergus in the film. "The glory of the settings makes it instantly recognisable, beautiful and very dramatic. It's a magical country."
Staying true to Scotland
Gordon Cameron, Pixar's Global Technology Supervisor and one of the animation studio's few actual Scots, also thinks the film has resolutely bottled a sense of Scottish authenticity. "If we had made the film in Scotland, it wouldn't have been any more authentic," says Cameron. "People here really care about the detail, the vegetation, the weather, the way the characters' mouths move when they're speaking a Scottish dialect. I feel almost less Scottish than a lot of the people on the crew!"
In the aftermath of the informative trip to Scotland, Production Designer Steve Pilcher has a clear goal he wants to achieve among cinemagoers that see Brave this summer. "If you walk away and say, 'Wow, that was Scotland. There's no film like that,' then we got our message across."