The Art of Brave Book Review

The Art of Brave Book Cover

Much like other “Art of” books, The Art of Brave certainly lives up to the expectations of the other books released by Chronicle Books. Author Jenny Lerew does a fantastic job setting the stage for what we will see on the pages of each chapter. Lerew had the (most likely) overwhelming, but the amazing task of sorting through years of Brave artwork and personal interviews with artists/directors to pull together the book which soars in its ability to give us just the right amount of written detail while still letting the art speak for itself. So, let’s break it down one chapter at a time and dig into the details of this book and why you should own this if you are a fan of Pixar, animation, or are looking to get into the field yourself.

The Art of Brave inside book cover

Overall Book details, dust jacket, and hardcover details

The book is similar to the other “art of” books in that it is still 11.1875″ wide by 9.25″ tall – which we like since it matches the rest of the collection on our bookshelf.  This rendition contains 160 pages of beautiful layout work (from the text to the imagery).

The dust jacket contains great concept artwork by the uber-talented Steve Pilcher, as well as the typical brief write-up of the background of Brave and details about Jenny Lerew, Brenda Chapman, and Mark Andrews.

The hard cover of the book itself, with its gray-blue color and embossed DunBroch Clan Emblem (by Steve Pilcher), is very subtle and beautiful.  Personally, I think books look better without the dust jacket – I just love the simplicity.

The Art of Brave Book Embossing
Embossing on the cover of the book


John Lasseter takes the reigns of writing the preface and discusses how far the technology has come to allow them to be able to make a film like Brave.  He mentions the difficulty of the moss, jutting rocks, the bears – the list goes on and on, but he’s really highlighting that they are using a medium (computers) that wants things to look perfect, but moss and jutting rocks can’t really look too perfect or they won’t look right.  He also talks about (and I agree totally) the importance of the “art of” books and how they show an in-depth look at the characters and their design.  I would also continue on in his explanation and say that this version also gives us great insight into the overall process of the building and tearing down of making a Pixar film.


Brenda Chapman first talks about connecting to the story of Brave because it’s about the struggle between a Mother and a Daughter.  She recounts the story of her own young daughter and their struggles – I’m sure this helped her in her ability to craft Brave‘s story and underpinnings.  She noted that while creating the story, she thought of her Scottish heritage (although she said she’s a mutt – ha) and mentions that Scotland is truly like a woman, “we may look soft, but we’re made of much tougher stuff underneath”.  Finally, she also mentioned that there was no room for a prince to come save the day in the script.

Mark Andrews also does a brief write-up in the foreword and mentioned that he was a huge fan of the movie before he ever started working on the picture (from Brenda’s early work).  Mark mirrors Brenda’s comments by mentioning that the heart of the story is something that everyone can relate to because it’s about a relationship between a parent and a child.  The struggle in Brave is that Queen Elinor tries to find the right balance between guiding her child and letting her find her own way.  Personally, I think Mark says something quite profound in his write-up that really struck a chord for me when he said, “Everyone struggles with the tension between being shaped by your surroundings and wanting to reshape them”.  Wow – that is something that everyone “walks the line” with daily.

Introduction – Setting the Arrow

Before digging into the art, Jenny steps back and sets the stage for the process of the book by helping the reader take note that even though the movie is made on a computer, the base of the movie is generated through more traditional means – on paper, through research and development, through the use of paint (whether digital or traditional pigment-based).  I appreciated this opening sentiment as it slowed me down and although I already know this information and respect the process and its artists immensely – sometimes going back to the basics is a great reminder to highlight all of the years of hard work that shape these films we consume for a brief ninety minutes. 

Chapter 1 – Drawing the Bow

The first chapter sets up how some of the initial players got involved with the story and also expands on some of the additional story details that Brenda Chapman was building early on.  Interestingly, she mentions that the story was originally going to be set in some northern European mythical place, but she kept coming back to Scotland.  She also talks about her initial pitch to John Lasseter and an impromptu pitch over lunch with some story artists.  From that impromptu lunch pitch, Steve Purcell took it upon himself to provide Brenda with some sketches he did of Merida the next day and she immediately knew she wanted him as the head of story for Brave.

The Art of Brave book Merida Concept Art

Chapter 2 – Wind, Weather and Ruins

The production team packed their bags and went on an amazing research trip to Scotland and this chapter dedicates itself to their journey and the artwork that was inspired by that trip.  The team soaked in Scotland while drawing, painting, and photographing everything on their journey to try and capture the spirit of their trip.  In addition to learning the landscape, they talk about the camaraderie that grew between them as a result of their studies.  I really recommend this chapter as it is well written and really shows a lot of in-depth art of the castle, the highlands, the standing stones, and a few other areas I won’t dig into because they reveal too much of the story for people that haven’t seen the movie (so you’ll have to pick up a copy to see everything in Chapter two).

The Art of Brave Book Photos
photos by Brenda Chapman (top row, right), Craig Geasso (Middle row center) Steve Pilcher (remaining photos) 2006-2007

Upon returning to California, Steve Pilcher oversaw his team of designers and told them to take “a shot at anything they might have an urge to try while letting them know there’s no blowback if an experiment doesn’t work”.  I’ve heard Ed Catmull mention something to this effect before and in my opinion, this is what makes people respect Pixar…and want to work at Pixar – it’s the ability to shape an idea without fear of someone thinking your incapable…followed by fear of demotion or the shame that exists in so many other corporate cultures. 

Within chapter two, I was also excited to see the original artwork for the winter scenery and thought to myself how amazing it would look to see a Pixar film set entirely in snow.  I was saddened to read that the snow scenes were completely cut from the movie – but at least I was able to see the beautiful concept artwork.  I especially connected to the digital winter scene that Noah Klocek created.

The Art of Brave book Noah Klocek Concept Art
Noah Klocek – Digital 2009

Chapter 3 – Kith, Kin and Bears

This chapter delves into the characters of the film and Jenny Lerew starts by discussing how character appeal is something that has challenged artists since the early days of Disney but notes that when the appeal is there you know it viscerally.

The Art of Brave Book Bear Concept Art
Top – Matt Nolte, Pencil, 2009 – Lower Left – Matt Nolte, Pencil 2009 – Lower right – huy Nguyen, Digital 2009

After the initial overview of character design, the book shows an enormous amount of artwork as it breaks down the details of the characters, such as Merida, Queen Elinor, King Fergus, the triplets, the bear cubs, Angus, the wisps, Mor’du, the Lords (Macintosh, Dingwall, and MacGuffin), the various animals in the film, the warriors and the villagers.  Through these character breakdowns, you will not only see a great variation of artwork, but you will also get great character insights like one that I was totally amazed by when I read it (and I totally should have noticed from the previews).  King Fergus lives in the past, always discussing adventures he lived – Merida lives for the present as most teenagers do – and Queen Elinor lives with the future in mind, always looking at what you can do today to help shape your tomorrow.  That is a great such a great base for a story and such a realistic view of how a family actually could be.

As a side note, this chapter also shows quite a few clay sculptures which for some reason always amaze me – I think it’s because the characters feel so “real” when you see them in this manner.

Chapter 4 – Fighting with Broadswords

This chapter discusses the struggles of the storyboarding and story development process.  Brian Larsen quoted Toy Story 3 screenwriter, Michael Arndt when he said, “Story is like building a house.  Expect that every two weeks, somebody comes in and throws a grenade at it, and it blows up.  And whatever’s left standing is what you keep working with.”  I could only imagine how frustrating this position could be at times for the artists – but keeping that phrase in mind could potentially help keep things in perspective. 

This chapter also shows a lot of the storyboards from the movie and these are really the most revealing to the entire storyline than anything else that is shown in the book, so if you’re reading the book prior to the movie coming out – you shouldn’t really dig into these unless you want to learn a lot about the plot.  You can also check out this post we did (not a spoiler) of a clip from the movie paired up to see how the storyboards translate to a final product.

The chapter rounds out with a review and description of what the color scripts are and what they mean to the film.  The book notes that the color scripts (presented in the book in the same manner as the storyboards) highlight the look of the film by setting the mood for the lighting, color, weather, and time of day.

Chapter 5 – Taming the Elements

Chapter five digs into the technical elements of the film and how all the departments work together.  I think this is a great chapter to read for anyone looking to get into the industry – it’s certainly not an all-encompassing look at animation, but it really does give some great bits of knowledge that could help those looking for more information on what area they would like to enter within the field. 

The chapter starts by digging into the simulation department and notes that this is where they handle hair, fur, clothes, etc, and how those elements move when the character moves and also in relation to how they move in the wind.  The chapter then sways into some details around the directory of photography for lighting and layout as well as the editing process for the film.  I always have a sweet spot for the lighting department (I’m partial to it since I’m a photographer), as I love the way light can set so much of the mood for a scene.  Sure, everything plays a part, but ever since I saw Ratatouille and Wall-E, I’ve been hooked on that aspect of the Pixar process.

The book is finalized with a great Epilogue that adds additional insight into the teams and how they work within Pixar as well as Jenny Lerew’s Acknowledgements.  I think it’s obvious from the writeup that, much like the other “art of” books, we would highly recommend getting this book for anyone that loves, Brave, animation, or wants to learn more about animation.

As a final personal comment, I was truly pleased to see a few sketches from the great Carter Goodrich (screenshot below) – I can’t explain why (maybe it’s his simply-amazing pencil work), but every time I see his work I immediately say, “Wow” out loud.  His characters just seem to have so much life in them from his simple sketches – thanks Carter for some more great looks at your work.  This is not to say that I am not amazed by the other artist’s work in this book – I truly am – I think that Noah Klocek’s digital work is astounding and some of the sketch work that Matt Nolte did are truly cartooning at its best (Screenshots above and below).  Steve Pilcher shows his breadth of talent with his range of mediums he worked in (Digital, Digital Oil, Clay sculpt, marker, pencil, photography, acrylic, and ink – yes, all from one artist)…and many, many of the other artists also captivated me with their work – sorry I can’t mention them all!

We’d love to hear what you thought of the book or of this write-up – just add a comment below or send us an email.


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