Brave: Dressing the Characters Royally! #DisneyPixarEvent

May 19, 2012 1 Comment »
Brave: Dressing the Characters Royally! #DisneyPixarEvent

I thought dressing four little kids was a lot to do on a daily basis but that’s nothing compared to dressing characters on a screen!


I had the pleasure of meeting the skilled team behind dressing the Royal Family in the upcoming Disney/Pixar (soon-to-be blockbuster) Brave, during a visit to San Francisco for a press event!

Dressing characters is not about drawing some clothes on a screen and calling it a day. That’s probably how most people think it’s done. It’s so much more than that. They dress the characters just like we dress in layers when it’s cold! The characters are dressed and clothes are layered to get an idea of how they will move and swag and perform on the characters body. Claudia Chung, the Simulation Supervisor said Merida has over twenty-two costume changes and wears  five dresses throughout the film.

“She likes her accessories, so her accessories are her quiver, her bow, she has a necklace,” said Claudia during the briefing. “She has an arm wrap for when she does her archery.  So all these things combine together make  about twenty-two costume changes.  So it’s our jobs to make sure she has the right outfit on for the scene that she’s in,” Claudia said.

So how they build a dress like this to get it from the page to the screen?

“So we first start with art, ” Claudia said. ”  So it’s kind of their (the art department) idea, a conceptual idea, of what Merida’s dress should look like.  And basically those are the- the fullness of the skirt, the length as well, the tightness of the bodice, and how those two layers, there’s a shift underneath and then there’s a blue wool dress on top.  But there’s other key features that we want to make sure we hit, and that’s- that’s what’s happening on her elbows and shoulders,” she explains.

According to Claudia: ……the length of her dress, I have to hit that. The fullness of the skirt and the tightness of the bodice and other key features that we want to make sure we address.


So in this case, for this reference, what we notice is what’s happening on her elbows and shoulders, right? There’s these breaks there. And what you realize is that doesn’t look like the typical, fine dresses of that era where they’re like these poufy material. It’s actually something Merida cut into the dress herself. Merida cut it up in order to do the archery she’s so fond of. The reason why we know this is because the back of the elbows are a lot looser than the front. As a tailor we want to make sure we get that look right. For those of you who know sewing, you know that to do gathers or to get frills you take a really long piece of fabric and you sew it onto a much tighter, smaller piece and that’s why you see this strange halo up here. It’s sewn onto her collar. And then the last step is actually to put it on the character, right? So it’s not like in real life where I can go, “Merida, let’s go into the dressing room. Let’s put your dress on, your costume, you’re all set to go.” No. There’s no way. She’s animated. So instead we actually built the dress on the character. So you don’t see her there, but she is.

Then they pull and push on the computer and get it just right. Making sure that it moves with the characters. Now what about the boys? The men wear kilts and it’s a similar process.


……the other process that we use is draping. With the kilts, because of the complexity of the fold and stuff, we do actually more draping techniques of putting the pieces of fabric around the character and then relaxing it on. So here we have Fergus. He’s actually the most complicated costume we had to build on Brave because he has eight layers of fabric. On top of that, on his drape, that’s folded six, six to eight times. So it’s actually sixteen layers of cloth. The skirt really is a long piece of tartan, it really is just a flat piece of cloth like this. There’s no magic going on there. So we gather that all up and then we get to see how everything comes together. ….. we can say, “Action,” and he starts being animated and we make the cloth follow him.

What’s training like for tailoring clothes in a computer?

“My training is in computer science. I went to Berkeley and computer science.  I was very technical when I came to Pixar,” said Claudia. When I started on Ratatouille that’s when I went over to the tailoring side of things and it was actually a really hard process, a leap for me. It looked terrible when I started. And I got to the point, …..I was like, “Claudia, it’s time for you to take a sewing class.”.

Then we were off to hear tales of epic battles and mystical legends with Louis Gonzales, a Story Artist with Pixar. We explored the rugged and mysterious highlands of Scotland with Steve Pilcher, Production Designer and Tia Kratter Shading Art Designer. These two and their team worked extremely hard at making sure Brave had the true  look and feel of Scotland. They even took a research trip there and took more than 10,000 photos of the landscape.

BRAVE arrives in theaters everywhere on June 22nd!

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photos courtesy of Disney

I took an all expense paid trip to Disney/Pixar studios but all opinions expressed are mine.


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