The landscape in which "Brave," Pixar's latest film, unfolds is not merely a dream conjured by the studio's talented animators, but a lovingly recreation of a singular landscape. In fact, Pixar sent two teams to Scotland starting in 2006 to explore the country's castles, glens, forests and coastline.
Many aspects of "Brave" ultimately came out of those trips. The will o' the wisps that the film's heroine, Merida, finds awe-inspiring, come from a combination of Scottish legend and strange physical phenomenon. The film's producer, Katherine Sarafian, explained to The Huffington Post that "there is also bog gas in the region that disappears as you get closer." Movie magic was born of swamp vampor.
The DunBroch family seal is also partially lifted from a Celtic legend that, to rule the kingdom, you had to gather four magical items that each had powers.
According to Safarian, the studio's staff ended up following a specific itinerary defined, oddly, by the honeymoon of Mark Andrews, the film's director.
"A cab driver told them all these under-the-radar places and that's where they went on their honeymoon," say Sarafian. "So, when we went to Scotland for research, we basically replicated his honeymoon trip."
Huffington Post Travel spoke with Mark Andrews and Katherine Sarafian ahead of "Brave"'s release to talk Celtic legends, castles and their favorite parts of their journeys.
HuffPostTravel: What impressed you most about Scotland?
Mark Andrews: You can’t escape the grandeur and beauty of Scotland. It’s so wild and rough. You don’t find anywhere else on earth that has mountains like that. All the lochs and the trenches are so rugged it evokes the mysteries and legends that have come out of Scottish culture. The grey, cool mist mixes in with the russet mountains. The variation of landscape and ecosystems makes everything feel very touchable, everything has texture. We could only have found out all of it by actually going to Scotland. We wanted to collect enough details so we could bring them back to make it all very Scottish. The film has the character of Scotland, which is what you want when doing a periodesque piece.
HPT: What was the inspiration for the DunBroch family castle?
MA: We went to several castles while there, such as Urquhart on Loch Ness, and Dunnottar on the east coast (where Mel Gibson’s “Hamlet” was filmed). Dunnotar gave inspiration to the family castle in the film as it was also built on a cliff. The style of castle we drew, though, is like Eilean Donan, the most photographed castle in Scotland. We were able to go inside the castle, which is usually only reserved for VIPS, and spent hours walking around. We noticed that they had a well inside the castle so no one could poison it and so that they could last if they were under siege. From that visit, we took the grandeur of the great hall, the circular rooms because they were built in spires, and the tapestries and hearths in every room to keep them warm.
HPT: What are the Callanish Stones like in person?
MA: Seeing the Callanish Stones in person was a spiritual moment. In person, they feel very satiny, like dribbled, dry wax. We were all very quiet, very solemn while there. There’s an ancientness there that seems to be listening. We drew and took photos for hours while there.
Katherine Sarafian: The standing stones embody a lot about the story. They are deeply rooted—there is so much stone on the ground and so much under it--and we are reminded of the family in the film. The stones sit on an exposed hillside, exposed to the elements, which shows the characters’ vulnerability. Also, it's freezing up there.
HPT: What was your favorite part of the trip?
MA: My favorite part of the whole trip was when we went to the ancient spot of Dal Riata, an ancient Celtic kingdom area. There is this rock on a hill in the middle of a field where kings over the centuries have been crowned—this is like stuff out of King Arthur. There are these footprints in the stone where kings stood over the centuries waiting to be crowned. Legend has it that the rock will sing if you are meant to be king. We all took off our shoes, held a fake sword and stood on the rock one by one and asked if we were the rightful king. We weren’t.
KS: My favorite spot was the Callanish standing stones. They are so unexpected. For the love of God, they are huge and so imposing! There were 12 story artists on the bus with us as we went through the Highlands. It was very loud. And as soon as we got out of the bus everyone just shut up. I loved it for the silence.
HPT: Is there a scene that you think you just nailed what Scotland looks like?
KS: The prize scene when Merida shoots for her own hand in marriage. We went to Scotland during the Highland Games and we walked where the clans walked, watched the games and sports and looked at the people, we got a feel for the layout. A lot of the background character faces in the film are based on what we saw.
To celebrate the film's release, Adventures by Disney is launching a 9-day, 8-night trip through Edinburgh, the Isle of Skye, the Isle of Lewis and Inverness so Disney fanatics and regular travelers alike can experience the Scotland replicated in "Brave."
All photos courtesy of Pixar.
The site on which Dunnotar Castle sits has been inhabited since roughly 5000BC. Mary, Queen of Scots and William Wallace, among others, visited the castle. It was opened to the public in the early 20th century.
"Scotland is the right place to tell a story about change as so much about it is about change--the light, the landscape," says Katherine Sarafian of the film's location.
Set on the Isle of Lewis, the Callanish Stones are said to be have been built around 3000 BC. "Someone on our team had a theory that they were once weigh stations. They all pointed a certain way. He said it was like a street sign or marker," says Mark Andrews on the Stones.
Chennoir:Callanish at sunset, Isle of Lewis
andyjan:Stone hugging at Callanish
andyjan:Look how big the stone is!