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Immersed in Movies: Composer Patrick Doyle Talks Pixar’s ‘Brave’

Immersed in Movies: Composer Patrick Doyle Talks Pixar's 'Brave'

Patrick Doyle isn’t new to animation but his first taste of working with Pixar on “Brave” brought him even closer to his Scottish roots. Doyle, in fact, was in Scotland when he was first approached to compose the quintessentially ethnic score accentuated by Highland bagpipes.

That was three and a half years ago when Brenda Chapman was still at the helm (she was subsequently replaced by Mark Andrews during the last 18 months of production). But much of the film was in already in place: Merida’s conflict with her mother, Queen Elinor, the magic and monstrous Mor’ Du, and the flavor of medieval Scotland.

“I wrote ‘Song of Mor’Du’ fairly early on and that was a main constant,” Doyle recalls. “And how much of it was used was entirely up to the story. I made many trips to Pixar and saw evolutions of the drawings and these revolutionary costumes.”

Chapman described the central familial tripartite of the father, mother, and daughter to the composer. “He was impetuous and strong and powerful,” Doyle explains. “The mother was very strict and insistent that the rules and traditions be followed to keep the kingdom from falling apart. And Merida is her mother’s daughter. These were ding-dongs that could actually look in the mirror at each other.”

Doyle was particularly struck by the fluidity of movement and great depth in the animation. But, of course, when he glimpsed the rich colors, skies, and seasons of Scotland — the way the sun peaks out after lunch and the fluffy white clouds roll in — it just kindled all the Celtic connections in him. Doyle was inspired to write basic ideas for a lullaby, a lament, and a duet for Elinor and Merida, which continued to evolve organically.

“But I said to them there was a lot of moss everywhere,” Doyle continues. “Is there that much moss in Scotland? And they said, ‘Yeah.’ I didn’t think so but when I went back to Scotland, I went, ‘Oh, my god, it’s everywhere!’ I live in London and I’d forgotten. So I came back and told them how proud I was of how well they captured this. And there’s a great evolution in the story between the mother and the daughter — it’s a wonderful narrative, a real crucible. And each of these characters has a life of their own.”

The marathon-like schedule for animation provided a lot more time to ruminate. Doyle had eight months to hone the score: weaving in ancient sounds with the indigenous bagpipes and flute. He drew inspiration from the musical culture that he grew up within his home. His father was a folk singer and everyone was made to sing in his family. At the same time, the composer added a slight contemporary vibe with homemade drums by Jim Sullivan, who additionally whacked pieces of deer hide with a mallet. Doyle also tempered the use of orchestration, preferring to rely on alternate small groups recorded with close mics with additional larger groups recorded with other mics to provide an intimate chamber sound.

The bagpipes were especially fun to work with. “It’s an incredible instrument that’s been around for 2,000 years and you could hear it for miles. For me Medieval meant using open fifth and third; they had pentatonic scales. It’s standard for those songs and laments and jigs. The early pipe is chromatic so they could do more symphonic coloration with the orchestra. Sometimes I wanted a gentle bagpipe played quietly near you. These were the things you had to consider.”

Of course, it all revolves around Pixar’s first female heroine, the feisty red-head, Merida. Doyle wanted to evoke an arrow running through the air with her music. And even though there’s a dark undercurrent in “Brave” in terms of the rift between Merida and Elinor and the resulting curse that turns the Queen into a bear, Doyle didn’t want to make his laments too lamentable. “When the danger came, I wanted to make its mark by not having us go too thick unnecessarily. For me, I wanted the beautifully detailed imagery to come through. I wanted to be delicate and careful not to overwhelm what was wonderful about it.”

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