The release of a new Pixar feature is always an exciting time for animation fans, and this summer sees a bold new entry in their influential canon. Brave is the groundbreaking studio's first stab at a traditional fairy-tale, telling the story of a headstrong princess in the fictional kingdom of DunBroch, Scotland.
That location is essential to note, as it goes a long way in defining the film's unique charm. DunBroch is a visually complex and immersive world, filled with rolling hills, menacing forests, and dramatic mountain vistas. The animators spent nearly four years developing its look, and helping guide the environment team was Digital Media graduate, and Full Sail Hall of Fame inductee, Kristifer Klein.
Kris was set modeling lead on the project, and has been with Pixar since 2000. His previous credits include the environments for classics like Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and Up, and he spoke with us about the exciting new directions he and the team were able to take with Brave.
"The world itself is actually kind of character-like," he says. "It's very lush and complex with the way that things are growing up against each other, everything just seems to be alive. I thought we weren't ever going to achieve a complexity that we did on the first act of WALL-E with the trash planet, but we took it to the next level this time. I'm super proud of everybody on the team, and I can't wait to get people's reactions because it's all pretty spectacular."
Pixar fans often anticipate an incremental evolution with each new film, and Brave certainly represents an advanced level of artistic and technical achievement for the artists involved. Kris explained that the maturation was due in large part to their new proprietary animation software, the art department's deep research into Scotland's diverse topography, and the support of their management in allowing the creative teams the freedom to experiment.
"I think people are going to look at this film and see some new territory for us in what we're presenting," he says. "It's really wonderful to work at a place that really values that artistic side of things. They allow us to take time to make discoveries along the way, which I think is what brings a Pixar film up to the level of a Pixar film. Everybody's really motivated to put the best possible thing we can on screen."
Of course it's not just about the work. Like other creative workplaces in the industry, Pixar is a community of passionate individuals, and it's easy to see how much the camaraderie has meant to Kris during his work on Brave, and throughout his long career at the studio.
"So much of it is about the interpersonal relationships we create around ourselves here, that's one of the greatest things in my opinion about Pixar," he says. "The people that you get to interact with on a daily basis are just wonderful, on top of being amazing artists and craftsmen. It's such a special place to be, and they've really become my family in the last decade."
With this latest production behind him, Kris has chosen to take a yearlong leave of absence to live in Paris (a world he helped recreate on screen in 2007's Ratatouille) before returning to Pixar for his next project. He explained that Brave is the perfect milestone before his first extended break since starting his career, something that struck him during a recent outdoor screening of the film.
"There was this one sequence that was giving me chills already, and then right above the screen a shooting star came across, and I was just overcome with emotion," he says. "It couldn't have been crafted better by Spielberg, and there was a real sense of closure. It was a wonderful feeling, and it made everything I've done here feel like a true success."