Disney-Pixar's 13th feature film, Brave, debuts in theatres this weekend. The film follows the adventures of a young Scottish archer named Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald), who must break a spell and save her family.
To help articulate the time and mood of medieval Scotland, Pixar enlisted the help of Oscar-nominated composer Patrick Doyle (Gosford Park, Harry Potter, Thor). Doyle turned to the traditional instruments of his native Scotland – harps and bagpipes, bodhrans and whistles – and fused them with modern electronic music to create the score. He emplyed Scottish musicians including Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis. The film also features a song by popular British folk act Mumford & Sons featuring singer-songwriter Birdy.
Working with Pixar creates a full circle for Doyle, who remembers the first film he ever saw: another Disney production called Fantasia.
I reached Doyle at his hotel in Los Angeles, and he spoke about the Pixar process, his favourite film scores, and the pride he feels working with, and sharing, the music of his homeland.
Q: How does one get started with a film, as a composer?
A: Each project has a unique introduction. Sometimes you are sent the script by the director or production company. Or they can call you once it's been completed ... either scenario, you start to discuss the type of music they are looking for. This was the case for Gosford Park – it was quite late on the process, but some people like to work like that.
Q: Pixar is renowned for being very thorough and planned in their filmmaking process, so one thinks you'd have been involved from the beginning?
A: Very much so. The company Pixar is a very well oiled machine. Very meticulous and thorough. They contacted me three-and-a-half years ago. I met the filmmakers to discuss the project, and we all got on very well. They liked my music, and that I was Scottish; as this is a quintessentially Scottish tale. They showed me pictures of my country, from field trips they went on – rock and moss and bits of foliage. We looked at various stages of character movements and costume, lighting and storyboards – we had many meetings about that before I started writing the music.
Unusually, they asked me to write the music for the trailer. They specifically asked me to compose the trailer to create a continuity. The integration of the composer into the process was intriguing for me, and proved to be a great benefit to me and the score.
The recording of the music took place in two sections – one last February and then the following June. An animated film is virtually wall-to-wall music.
[AUDIO] [Listen: Doyle talks about his involvement on set, his cameo in the film and signing Pixar's Wall of Fame]
Q: The score takes traditional Gaelic music and marries it with some modern sounds and techniques. Can you talk about the vision and how you married the two?
A: Everything from the company is character-based – story, narrative and great characters. Once I had the early drawings and movement of the characters, I began to see and hear the score. I could hear certain characters with certain instruments and certain scenes having certain colorations. When I started working on the score I got a whole set of musical chessmen in place, ready to play. I knew I wanted to use certain elements of delay – play a chord, for example, on the harp and have a repeated delay for some of the mysterious aspects of the story.
I knew that a solo Celtic violin would create wonderfully evocative melodies. I knew the Celtic whistles would give haunting, high and elemental music. There's a scene when one of the characters is being taught to be a proper princess. I used a lute too, knowing that would give an aristocratic, courtly feel. The melody was played on a Celtic whistle. So you have the lute representing the mother, and the whistle representing the feisty daughter. These are choices you have in your head before you begin, almost like having a storyboard.
And of course, the bagpipes, I knew they would be used, but not in a gratuitous way. I used them as heraldy instruments, for when entrances were made into grand halls. They became the medieval trumpet, as it were. It was an energizing way to announce people.
[AUDIO] [Listen: Doyle discusses how the score must help shape the characters, including Pixar's first female protaganist.]
Q: What is the first film you saw?
A: I'm a huge fan of animation. And the first film I ever saw, as a boy of 14 in the big city of Glasgow, was Fantasia. There was a private cinema, it's now the Glasgow Film Theatre. I went and sat there, amazed. I couldn't believe the music and animation. I never thought there I would be working for this company.
Q: Who are some of your favourite film composers?
A: John Williams is a master. And an extraordinary man. And Tom and Randy Newman, who have done work for Pixar. I'm delighted and proud to be a part of that stable. And Nino Rota, who did The Godfather. I think that's a masterpiece. I have a particular fondness for that score. It's quite operatic. It's Italian-American and European. He managed to capture both sides of the pond for that one. That made a huge impression on me. I always thought I would be a music teacher.
Q: In a sense, you are still teaching music through the medium of fillm.
A: Absolutely. I am extremely proud to be in the film. In terms of the history of Pixar, and Disney, but also to introduce a new, younger audience to these musicians from Scotland. They are just beside themselves with excitement to be a part of this. To go from a small town in the west coast of Scotland to suddenly playing flute in an international movie that will be there forever. They are bringing their dearne – their soul – through these instruments from this unique country.
And [Pixar] allowed this accent to come through for a worldwide audience. To be – pardon the pun – brave enough to do that, shows the artistry of the company. I'm proud they showed such respect for the culture, and I tried to do the same with the music.
Have you seen Pixar's latest effort? Let us know what you thought of the film's music in the comments below.
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on Jun 22, 2012