Today’s Masterpiece Monday post is featuring this sketch of Merida from Brave. What makes this sketch special, in my opinion, is that it was created by one of my personal idols, Brenda Chapman. Brenda Chapman was the original writer and director of Brave, before John Lasseter decided to replace her mid-production with Mark Andrews. Before working on Brave she also had an impressive history of working with both Walt Disney Animtion and Pixar as a story artist. In my opinion, Chapman was the greatest source of influence in the creation of Merida’s appearance and personality. While they may not be a whole lot of concept art done by Chapman out there, her guidance as a director was the main force in shaping much of the film and the character.
Like many of the writers, artists, and animators who have worked at Walt Disney Animation and Pixar, Brenda Chapman is a graduate from the famous CalArts school. She initially wanted to become an animator, but after looking at her story reels for her final student film, Disney hired her as a story artist instead. She began her career as a story trainee on The Little Mermaid before becoming one of the major story artists on Beauty and the Beast. She was credited with creating some of the most emotional and realistic romantic moments between Belle and Beast, including the scene where Belle tends to Beast’s wounds. She went on to work on The Lion King and the Hunchback of Notre Dame before leaving the company to work with Dreamworks. At Dreamworks she directed The Prince of Egypt, making her the first woman ever to direct an animated film. She then left Dreamworks to join Pixar where she helped write Cars. It was as Cars was wrapping up production that Chapman first had the idea to make a film about the relationship between a head-strong princess and her mother, the film that would eventually become Brave.
Chapman’s main source of inspiration for the film was her relationship with her then five-year-old daughter, Emma. She and her head-strong daughter were constantly butting heads, and she was worried about what their relationship would be like when Emma grew into a teenager. This gave her the idea for a movie about a teenage princess that would be different from anything made in the past.She wanted to make a film about the relationship between a young princess and a queen, not about a princess falling in love with a prince. For Merida’s personality Chapman continued to look to her own daughter for inspiration. Like her daughter, Merida wouldn’t mind getting dirty and would love to do activities typically meant for boys. Merida was also originally going to be a bit younger and closer to Emma’s age, until the story required them to have a princess who was older and closer to marriageable age. For Merida’s appearance Chapman really pushed for Merida to have wild and unmanageable curly hair, just as she does in her drawing. She wanted the hair to be symbolic of Merida’s wild uncontainable spirit. Thanks to her influence, the hair became a defining feature of every concept drawing done of Merida, and of Merida’s final design.
As you can see Brenda Chapman is an artist and director with a truly incredible career who played a huge role in the creation of Brave and Merida. It’s a shame she didn’t get to oversee the film to its completion. Nevertheless, she is truly an idol of mine and I’m so glad I got to share one of her character sketches with you today.