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Carey Bryson

What's Under the Kilt?: Producer Katherine Sarafian Helps Us Get to the Bottom of What it Takes to Make a Pixar Film

By May 24, 2012

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Disney/Pixar's upcoming film Brave will immerse viewers in the wild and mystical land of Scotland, where a young princess named Merida makes the choice to shoot an arrow straight through the traditions of her royal parents and the kilt-wearing lords whose sons dare to compete for her hand. Pixar has been having fun with the kilt theme. In this clip from the movie, one of the lords moons the competition:

And then there is this spoof commercial for Kilt, by Ruff McLauren.

When we talked with producer Katherine Sarafian about the making of the movie, she was asked about the kilt scene and if she thought kids would imitate the lord's crude behavior. Getting a little cheeky, Katherine mused, "... if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then maybe we welcome them to act it out."  Ha! The move fit the character, Lord Dingwall,  she said, and went on to explain, "It's a fun moment and it's very, you know, there's always jokes with Scotland.  It's like, what's under the kilt?"

The movie contains comedy, of course, a lot of character, some scenes depicting great peril, and more, but Katherine assures, "I think you'll be in good hands, because it's a Pixar movie. You'll experience a lot of different things."

And speaking of experiencing a lot of different things, this film took around 7 years to make. Katherine started working on the film as a single gal, and has since gotten married and had two kids! Throughout the interview, Katherine helped us go beneath the layers of the perfectly dressed and finished film to understand what it takes to get a Pixar movie made.

"Projects have two phases at Pixar: development and production," Katherine related. "And I was not on it in the earliest development, because that's really just the seed of an idea being worked on by a few people, a very small team." In the case of Brave, the seed of the idea came from Brenda Chapman (original director of the film), who pitched the story based on her relationship with her own six-year-old daughter, who was very strong-willed and stubborn. Once this idea was worked out, including basic storyline, characters and setting, the team took a trip to Scotland to research the land, people and customs. It was just before this trip that Katherine joined the team working on Brave, so she was able to go on the trip.

What was her favorite part of the trip? She told us, "You're creating this story, and you're exploring these beautiful worlds, and meeting these amazing people, but at the same time you're bonding with this core team that you're going to end up making this movie with for, you know, five years.  And I didn't really know them well when I started, and by the end of it, you know, it's sort of like we've all been through the ringer together on bumpy roads through Scotland, and sleeping in bunk beds and everything.  So, I loved the on-the-bus moments."

Part of the team's research in Scotland was attending the Scottish Highland games. "We went to two different Scottish Highland games in Scotland, very authentic," Katherine recalled, "-- bagpipers and competitions, and they were doing tug of war, caber tossing, hammer throw, all these different sports.  And, of course, archery is big in the Highlands as well." The team actually took archery and broadsword lessons. They even went so far as to cook and eat haggis, the national dish of Scotland.

It was important for the team to immerse themselves this heavily in Scottish terrain and traditions, because well, it's Pixar. In the case of Merida and her mad archery skills, Katherine explained that they all learned archery, "so when we animated Merida, we'd be able to really get it right. How do you hold your body, and where do you put your weight, and how do you pull it back?  We wanted to really get it right."

Once all of this preliminary research has been done, the artists can go to work on creating concept art and fleshing out the look and feel of the movie. Check out some of the fun facts about the artistic work on Brave here. But Katherine told us that the most challenging part of making a Pixar film is the continued evolution of the story. She related:

"Story is really hard at Pixar.  Trying to tell a great, great story to the Pixar level of quality, and it's a challenge because we put pressure on ourselves to do the best that we can, and it's hard work, and it takes a long time. We never stop.  John Lassiter always says our  films are never finished, they're just released.  And that's really the case.  We're gonna be putting Brave out into the world, but we could keep working on it because we always want to keep making these better and better.

"You're trying to tell the story that you want to tell. You really toil over it to make it great and make it right, and make it really resound and resonate with audiences, and make the characters relatable. So, that's a great challenge, and it's an exciting one...it's a happy process.  Painful, yet happy."

No pain, no gain...as the saying goes. And thus, Pixar has developed an unusually solid reputation in the industry and, more importantly, among moviegoers. Katherine, in describing the greatest challenge of working on Brave, has reiterated what just about every Pixar person we talked to said: underneath it all, everything, and I mean everything -- from the way Merida's hair hangs to the shape of the trees in the forest -- is focused on telling a great story.

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Disclosure: Disney provided travel and expenses for the press day for informational and interview purposes. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

May 25, 2012 at 3:53 am
(1) Rosemary McKay says:

Greetings from Adelaide, South Australia

I cannot wait to see this film which will have its South Australian Champagne Premiere at the Piccadilly Cinema in North Adelaide at 6.15 pm on Thursday 21 June, 2012.

It will be a fundraiser for the oldest clipper ship in the world (older than the Cutty Sark) the ‘Clipper Ship City of Adelaide’ (Carrick) which will be coming over from Irvine in Scotland back to Port Adelaide where she belongs. (Tickets $20 adult $15 concession).

Onja Pixar/Disney

March 5, 2013 at 4:39 am
(2) www.upoppa.com says:

This design is spectacular! You obviously know how to keep a reader entertained.
Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own
blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Great job. I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more
than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

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