Störrische Haare, wucherndes Moos- Tia Kratter erweckt als Shading Art Director MERIDA – LEGENDE DER HIGHLANDS zum Leben

Merida trägt 22 verschiedene Kostüme und verfügt über 1500 modellierte Key-Haare. Dazu eine wild-wuchernde Vegetation, gewobene Textilien und umfangreiche Massenszenen- die Herausforderungen für die Umsetzung von Pixars aktuellem CGI-Animationsfilm Merida -Legende der Highlands waren enorm. Zum Heimkino-Start von Merida – Legende der Highlands konnte ich mit Tia Kratter von den Pixar Animation Studios sprechen, die als Shading Art Director wirklich jedes Objekt im Film designt hat. Wir haben über störrische Haare, die Unterschiede ihrer Arbeit in 2D und 3D und die Vorzüge von Pixar gesprochen.

Am 5. Dezember erscheint Merida- Legende der Highlands auf  DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D oder als Video on Demand. Hier der Trailer zur Einstimmung:

Doch bevor wir mit dem Interview richtig einsteigen, möchte ich euch Tia kurz vorstellen:

Tia Kratter hat am Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California graduiert- alle Pixar-Fans kennen die Uni nur zu gut. Von 1980 bis 1985 war sie bei Disney Feature Animation als Background Painter tätig, zu ihren Arbeiten gehören unter anderem Arielle die Meerjungfrau, Aladdin oder Die Schöne und das Biest. Schließlich wechselte Tia Kratter zu den Pixar Animation Studios und gehört dort zu den Urgesteinen. Bereits seit 1993 arbeitet Tia bei Pixars, beginnend als Digital Painter für den ersten Spielfilm Toy Story. Als Shading Art Director arbeitete sie an Das große Krabbeln, Die Monster AG und Cars, wo sie für die Spezifikation von Farben und Texturen für jedes modellierte Objekt zuständig war. Ihre letzte Produktion war Merida- Legende der Highlands, der neue Maßstäbe im detaillierten Design in CGI-Animationsfilmen setzt.

Tia Kratter Working

Shading Art Direction

How would you describe the ultimate goal of the shading art director? And what are you responsible for in a movie?

My ultimate goal is to support the visual inspiration of the director and the production designer. I’m responsible for specifying the colors and textures for things that are modeled in the film. It’s one small part of a greater group of people who come together to make the visuals work as a whole. There’s really no part of the film that I can point to and say, „I did that.“ Making a CG animation film is so collaborative, that if you’re looking for individual accolades, this probably isn’t the right medium for it.

 

The ‘art of shading’ is it a difficult one to master?
Well, first off I hope I never master it, and one of the reasons why I love it so much is that I am constantly challenged when put on a new film. It’s kind of like going to college over and over again, and by the time I finish I have a degree in, say, monster fur.

 

Herausforderungen in Merida- Legende der Highlands

How long did it take you and your team to complete your work on the movie?
I worked on „Brave“ for 6 years, which is a little longer than normal. The typical production time on a Pixar film is 4-6 years, so we were on the longer end for „Brave.“

 

How many different objects, persons and animals were created for “Brave?”
I’m afraid I can’t answer your question with real numbers. But, if you start to think about all of the objects in the Great Hall, it must be in the thousands.

How did the change of the director during the filmmaking influence your work, for example the decision not to use the snowy environments in the second half of the movie?
I worked with both Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman on the film, and each of them brought their own sensibilities to the table. The decision to pull the snow from most of the film was made because it was not doing much to enhance our story. We make these kinds of decisions all of the time when crafting our stories and films at Pixar.

 

Your director Mark Andrews said it was critical for artists to go to Scotland. How did you find that to be true, as you worked on the project?
SO true! There’s nothing like being somewhere in person. At Pixar we tend to do this for every one of our films. To be able to go to places like Dunottar Castle, Stirling, and the Isles of Skye, Lewis and Harris was a massive payoff, visually.

We took 2 trips: one in 2006 and another in 2007. Although we have lots of resources at our fingertips now with the Internet, there’s nothing like being there in person. We never would have known about the hummocks (big round mounds of moss) and how thick and dense they were. We wouldn’t have been as aware of the constantly changing weather, and we wouldn’t have felt the icy cold water of the lochs (lakes). All those things helped to define the „Brave“ world more clearly for us.

In a behind the scenes video on the Blu-ray we could see how you were taking photos of landscapes and how you were drawing details with brush and watercolors. Was it difficult to move all those textures, spongy grass and hardness of the rocks, to the film?
From an artistic point of view, it’s not difficult at all. We take our drawings, photographs and real reference from our trip, show them to our technical team and describe how they inspired us. Now, if you ask the same question to our technical team, they would probably have a different answer. It’s one thing to be inspired by something; it’s another to actually bring it to the screen. We worked together, sometimes for months, to get the look and texture of something right. We’ll go back and forth between art and, in my case, shading or texturing, to come up with a solution that’s visually pleasing technically feasible.

 

One of the biggest challenges in “Brave” was the hair of Merida, that you wanted it to stand out on the stunning film backgrounds. What can you tell us about this?
It was a challenge, but I have to say that this was one of solutions that came easily to us. From the very beginning our director knew that Merida was going to have wild, fiery, orange hair. The big payoff was that it worked so well against the complex and rich violets and greens of the Scottish landscape. It was a wonderful discovery for us to see that if we had a shot in the film with Merida against a huge, rich environment, even if she was tiny in the shot, you could always spot her with that beautiful head of hair.

 

The color and the movements are incredible, red hair floating in the air reminded me the first time I saw that technique in “Monsters, Inc.,” can you explain it in some detail?
Thank you! A lot of the research and discovery we made on Sullivan’s fur in „Monsters, Inc.“ was used as a foundation for what we developed on „Ratatouille“ and ultimately „Brave.“ „Brave,“ of course, raised the bar quite a bit with Merida’s wild hair. We’ve come a long way, and I’m really impressed with what our Simulation team did. From the beginning of „Brave“ we knew that her hair was going to prove to be a technical challenge, so we put a good deal of our initial time and research into making it work. When we know, ahead of time, what our big challenges are, we tend to do pretty well at solving the issues.

 

The landscape  and, in general, the care for details is really impressive. Can you tell us about the processes required to bring these details to life?
What we discovered in both the landscapes and Merida’s hair was the beauty of chaos. The landscapes were a combination of grasses, mosses, ferns, and rocks – different textures across any environment. Similarly, Merida’s hair was lots of different oranges and yellows, and every ringlet had its own personality. A lot of times you think characters and landscapes are quite different, but in this case they presented a lot of the same types of challenges. So, in order to make them look believable, we gathered a lot of research for both the hair and the landscapes and took that all the way through the process, even getting some help from the lighting team to bring it all together.

I know it was particularly difficult to recreate the moss in “Brave,” and that initially your team members thought it was impossible. Can you tell us about the process?
It was tough! I naively thought that since Scotland was the birthplace of golf that all Scottish landscapes were lovely, close-cropped lawns. What a surprise to discover that it’s a wild cacophony of mosses, rocks, and grasses of all lengths combined. We probably took 10,000 photos of this wild beauty back to our technical team and said, „Wow! Isn’t this cool, wild and beautiful?!“ They were initially pretty cautious about promising to get that chaotic look, but they put their smart heads together and over the course of about a year came up with some really innovative discoveries for giving us that complex world without breaking the bank. I’m so indebted to them, both for their commitment to rising to the challenge and to their visual final product. Our sets are so lovely they play just as important a part in the film as our characters.

 

What struck me most about „Brave“ is how cinematic it looked, from the helicopter shots of the Highlands to stationary cameras and two-shots. Can you talk about how the art department achieved that look?
I give a lot of credit to our director of photography-camera, Rob Anderson and his team, for being able to virtually scout the world of Scotland as we knew it on „Brave.“ We didn’t create this film to be photo-realistic, but if it’s believable to you then we feel we have done our job. Thanks for the nice compliment. (In one of the helicopter shots, if you look carefully, you’ll see the shadow of the helicopter in the shot. But of course, there were no helicopters in ancient Scotland – just one of the many additions our director Mark Andrews brought to the table.)

 

With the sun hitting the mountains in Scotland, rendering the right amount of shade within the environmental colors must be a huge task?
You’re right: it is a big task. Throw in the challenge of constantly changing weather and you have even more work. I give Danielle Feinberg, our Director of Photography-Lighting and her great team the credit for pulling it all together. Yes, the modeling and textures are a big task, but lighting is at the end of the process, and they’re really pushed to bring it all together within our deadlines. I’m always in awe of how beautiful their work is.

 

Technik und Entwicklungen

Does the shading vary significantly with 3D as opposed to 2D animation?
I think it does. In 2D animation you’re filling a hand-drawn shape, usually, with a flat color. In 3D you have the added benefit of adding complex color and texture to everything. I love this added world, and feel so lucky to be part of it. You should see my office: it’s filled with furs and fabrics, mosses, lichen, birch branches – all used to define the surface quality of models in „Brave.“ I can’t imagine what I’d do without this added bonus of the computer animated world.

 

What you think of 3D? Did 3D ever come up as part of the design process?
That’s a great question. We never make creative decisions for our films based on the 3D, but we find that it’s another good mechanism for conveying our stories. I loved seeing „Finding Nemo“ in 3D. That deep, atmospheric world lent itself so well to another dimension of viewing. As far as the art and design of „Brave,“ we never stopped and rejiggered things specifically for 3D. We do our best to make a visually gratifying film for whatever medium it’s shown in.

How has animation changed over the past 15 years to create realistic light and shadow, based on sources such as the sun and fire?
Our lighting team has developed new tools over the years that have given them greater control over lighting their environments. The tricky part about „Brave“ was that our weather was constantly changing. And so even in one shot, you might find that things were first in shadow and then bathed in light. We probably couldn’t have lit that kind of a shot back on „Monsters, Inc.“ but now because technology has improved, we are able to do that sort of thing.

 

Do you use a kind of library for objects and textures? The look is getting more and more realistic- are there still objects in the library from the beginning that could be used?
You’ve asked a good question. Ideally we would keep a library of objects and textures that we could use over and over. Here’s the rub: computer technology changes so quickly that the Woody model we used on „Toy Story 3“ is quite different from the original on „Toy Story.“ So, we do try to maintain the look of our original characters, but we’re constantly upgrading, too.

 

If you could wish for special software for your work – what would that be?
A software that would let me eat Captain Crunch every day without consequence. Because I’m in the art department, I’m not faced with big technological issues.  When my paintbrush gets old and ragged, I just throw it away and grab another. It’s a lot easier than navigating technical challenges.

But our technical folks do have to be on top of new software and technological advancements, much more than we do in the art department. Anytime a new piece of painting software comes out, we tend to jump on that and take a look at how we can use it.

 

Arbeiten bei Pixar

In geneal: what makes the better movie – a director with a specific vision or a team that creates the vision of a movie together?
Both. A director has a passion, something from their heart that inspires the initial idea for a film. While working with their crew to develop their vision, the director is getting constant feedback from all sorts of people at Pixar. That balance, while delicate, makes the film richer and more interesting to watch.
Of all the Pixar movies you worked on, which one is your favorite?
Fun Fact: I tend to love the Pixar films that I didn’t work on. Why? Oh, I get to see them for what they are. For example, I don’t have to look at „Finding Nemo“ (which I didn’t work on) and say, „That was a heckuva lot of work to get that jellyfish to look right.“ On the films I’ve worked on it’s hard for me to separate the film on the screen from the day-to-day building of the film. I can say, though, that I had the best experience working on „Brave.“ Our art department was very small and close. I loved the subject matter of Scotland, and, even after 6 years, never grew tired of seeing it every day.

 

What is the coolest thing about working at Pixar?
1. The cereal bar. We get a choice of about 18 different cereals in our brown bag kitchen to choose from every morning. Once a week I go for the Captain Crunch, which my mom never let me eat when I was a kid. 2. The people (actually that should be my number 1). You can’t believe how many thoughtful, kind and creative people work here. I’m in awe of the talent around me every single day. 3. The commitment to making great films. We try hard, really hard, to make our films something that we love. And, by feeling solid about them ourselves, we hope the audience does too.

 

Are you already working on another project? Can you talk about it?
I’m not. Pixar is really thoughtful about giving us a break after we’ve worked for several years on a film. So for the past few months I’ve been working for Pixar University, the internal, educational branch of Pixar. It’s a great chance to recharge before moving on to another film.

 

Tia, thanks a lot for the interview and the amazing insights!

 

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