24 Aggies at Pixar help create summer blockbuster 'Brave'

From painting the lush Scottish landscape, lighting and shading scenes, and putting the curl in princess Merida's shock of bright red hair, 24 former Texas A&M visualization students working at Pixar Animation Studios made major contributions to the summer blockbuster, “Brave.”

A grand adventure full of heart, memorable characters and signature Pixar humor, “Brave” uncovers a imaginative tale in the mysterious Highlands of Scotland where the headstrong princess Merida defies an age-old custom and inadvertently unleashes chaos, forcing her to discover the meaning of true bravery before it’s too late.

Combining computer science knowhow with artistic talent, Pixar Aggies helped shape the film that Christopher Orr, a film critic for The Atlantic, lauded for its technical mastery.

"'Brave' is ravishing to look at, from the wonderful wobble of a just-loosed fletch, to the will-o'-wisps that trace a path through the woods like bobbing, gaseous breadcrumbs,” said Orr, who especially admired the technical and artistic achievement of the main character’s distinctive red hair.

“Merida’s carrot corona alone is worth the price of admission,” said Orr, an attribute that former visualization student Chris Griffin ’10, helped create.

Griffin told the Tyler Morning Telegraph that he and his fellow Pixar animators had to consider a slew of physical characteristics, such as the difference between curls that grow naturally as opposed to hair that’s straight and then curled.

Creating the character’s hair was challenging, he said, “because it’s like trying to art direct chaos, except it’s not technically chaos. There is an order to why it looks chaotic. Those shots in particular were a lot of fun.”

Griffin also helped animate the characters’ clothing.

“It's our job to take the clothing and garments and put them on the character and simulate it so that it (looks and moves) like a natural garment.”

Former visualization students who helped create the look of the animated hit movie were:

  • David Batte — matte paint technical
  • Don Bui — shot lighting artist
  • Charu Clark — shot lighting artist
  • Chris Chapman — development & effect artist
  • Paul Edmondson — pipeline team
  • Seth Freeman — character modeling & articulation artist
  • Robert Graf — rendering & optimization artist
  • Christopher Griffin — simulation artist
  • Chris Horne — lightspeed technical director
  • Patrick James — layout artist
  • Sue Maatouk Kalache — user interface designer
  • Jonathan Kiker — shot lighting artist
  • Stephen King — character shading & paint artist
  • Keith Daniel Klohn — development & effect artist
  • Mitch Kopelman — master lighting artist
  • Nick Naugle — shot lighting artist
  • ric Peden — rendering pipeline
  • Jonathan Penney — stroboscopic 3-D rendering
  • Angelique Reisch — shot lighting artist
  • Kim Ross — DVD & promo production
  • Kevin Singleton — character modeling & articulation artist
  • Bill Sheffler — character supervisor
  • Apurva Shah — software research & development, marionette engineering
  • Clayborn Welch — marketing

Since 1989, the Master of Science in Visualization program at Texas A&M has provided a steady stream of aspirants for the burgeoning field of digital and electronic visualization.

The program's graduates have achieved success as creative directors, computer animators, university professors and software designers, with the majority working in the animation, visual effects and electronic gaming industries. Aggie Vizzers can be found among the creative talent at Pixar, Blue Sky, Industrial Light and Magic, Dreamworks/PDI, Electronic Arts, Rhythm & Hues, Reel FX and Sony Pictures Imageworks.

After almost a decade of outstanding achievement in visualization education in its Visualization Laboratory, the College of Architecture established the Department of Visualization at Texas A&M, and in January 2009 an undergraduate visualization program was introduced.

The Department of Visualization nurtures a unique, synergetic studio environment combining academic rigor with creativity, fun, camaraderie and collaborative problem solving.

This summer, visualization graduate student teams, under the tutelage of industry professionals from DreamWorks SKG, are creating film shorts as part of the department's annual summer industry course. The course was recently feature in a Channel 13-Houston newscast.

posted August 3, 2012