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F is for Flame-buoyant: How Pixar Made Merida's Brave Hair Misbehave

Merida's Brave red hair took Pixar more than six months to create -- how long does it take you to do YOUR hair?
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Brave_Merida's hair

I knew a girl in university who had the most amazing thick, untamable waves. It was a time before John Frieda's Frizz-Ease and Carmen Tal's argan-infused MoroccanOil; Nicola's dark mass of springy, below-shoulder-length hair coiled, curved and danced, driving girls nuts with envy, and men wild with desire. "After-sex hair," we called it.

I realize Brave is a family film, but I'ma go see it for that fantastic red mane. Sure, it's nice that Princess Merida is a strong, independent female character -- Pixar's first female protagonist, in fact -- who doesn't need a man to complete her. But I'm mesmerized by. That. Hair.


As bold and determined as she is, Merida's powerful hair sparked Pixar's first major animation-system upgrade. The CGI studio is behind monster hits such as Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up. The technology Pixar's animation wizards masterfully wielded for 25 years helped earn $7 billion, 29 Academy Awards (according to Time; Wikipedia says 26), five Golden Globes and three Grammies. But it wasn't quite up to creating the reality-rich depth and movement required for Brave, particularly for That. Hair.

Aside from spawning a new CGI system, getting the texture right also meant developing an infallible understanding of how unmanageable curls behave -- no small process when one of the initial concepts likened curly hair to "a telephone cord you wave around."


Telephone-cord coils aren't an exactly natural representation, but throw in some realistic colour-and-curl variety -- 1,500 individual curves, to be exact -- and 111,700 hairs, and you're on your way.

"We finally figured out that Merida's hair actually experiences a much lower gravity than the rest of the characters," says the movie's simulation supervisor Claudia Chung in an interview on Animation Magazine.  (You know exactly what that gravity-thing means if you have crazy, bouncy, willful curls of your own, right?)

Pixar artists also had to build five different hairstyles for the film, and figure out exactly how the hair should move in specific circumstances -- apparently the archery-scene sequence in which Merida pulls back her hood was a two-month long labour of love.

The results are spectacular -- that much is evident even in the movie's posters and stills, as well as the trailers.

From just a beauty perspective, perhaps Merida's wonderful hair is already fostering more appreciation for unruly curls that lean toward unkempt (lean is the operative word), and inspiring healthier self-esteem in those who might otherwise live a life too full of bad-hair days.

Are you going to see Brave? For the same reason I am?