Audio Lover’s Guide to Disney•Pixar’s Brave
The Seven Most Memorable Audio Moments as Selected by Re-recording Mixer Tom Johnson
Opening Scene (Chapter 1, 0:58–3:20)
Arrival of the Clans for the Highland Games (Chapter 6, 16:10–16:44;
Chapter 7, 18:14–21:26)
Highland Games (Chapter 8, 24:21–27:14)
Merida Meets the Witch (Chapters 10 and 11, 29:24–33:12)
Merida and Elinor (as a Bear) Rest for the Night in the Forest (Chapter 18, 51:03–52:37)
Merida and Elinor Follow the Will o’ the Wisps (Chapters 23 and 24, 57:35–59:12)
Inside the Throne Room with Mor’du (Chapter 24, 59:53–1:01:25)
Chapter 1, 0:58–3:20
The opening scene sets the tone for the entire film. The first thing you hear is a Celtic pipe and fiddle mixed with sounds of a forest in Scotland. This feeling of the music being part of the environment was important for [music composer] Patrick Doyle because the score is an integral part of setting the locale of the film. Listen to how these instruments are set in reverb as if coming from the hillside. This reverb is used to pull the audience into the scene and to give a sense that you’re about to experience something magical. Listen to the background sounds of the Scottish forest; there are birds and crickets all around, creating a feeling of an exotic and happy place. The sounds of the flags and falcons are precisely placed to create a feeling of space and reality.
Listen when Elinor comes to find Merida hiding under the table. As she bends down, you’ll hear a tiny bell-like sound as her necklace falls from her neck—this is foreshadowing an important moment that comes later in the film. Lastly, when Merida is practicing shooting her new bow, her arrows make a very particular sound that we will hear later in a more powerful and fuller way. Then she overshoots the target and runs off to find the arrow, which has landed in the forest. As she runs through the trees, notice a deep, ominous bear growl in the surrounds that gives the sense that Merida is being watched. Then Merida hears the will o’ the wisps. They lead her to safety (or to her fate) and toward the sound of Elinor calling for her in the distance. The sound of the wisps foreshadows later events.
Celtic music as the film starts, with echoes from the hillside to set the audience into the scene
The specific background sound effects that are placed around us to give a sense of beauty, reality, and locale
The sound of a tiny bell as Elinor looks under the table for Merida
A bear growl in the surrounds as Merida looks for her arrow in the forest
The wisp sounds (in specific speakers) as they lead Merida to safety and to her fate
Arrival of the Clans for the Highland Games
Chapter 6, 16:10–16:44; Chapter 7, 18:14–21:26
When this scene begins, you’ll immediately notice the drums in the different channels and how they’re used to signify the arrival of each specific clan. Clan MacGuffin is in the left front; Clan Dingwall is in the right front; and Clan Macintosh is in the center channel. This leads to DunBroch castle, where all the clans arrive and are announced with bagpipes. Pay close attention here because, even though they are off-screen, the bagpipes reverberate in all the speakers to put the audience into the environment and make it sound like the audience is right there with each clan.
A big fight follows, with the chaos of the fight accentuated by the sound effects and vocals that are flying all over the place with the visuals: left, right, rear channels, and so on. Suddenly, there is a moment of silence after King Fergus shouts, “Shut it!”—and then the chaos starts again. This is a great scene to highlight the use of silence to create a contrast between loud and soft, making the loud moments seem louder and the quiet moments quieter.
The sound of drums in the front and center channels
The sound of bagpipes in all speakers to draw the audience into the environment
The use of silence to create contrast during the fight
The sound effects and vocals that fly through the different speakers during the fight to help create the fun of the chaos
Chapter 8, 24:21–27:14
The Highland Games scene has a lot going on sonically. When Young Macintosh enters the scene, a group of girls is swooning. As he walks by, the screaming of the girls is panned into the right speaker. When he shoots an arrow, the sound is very expressive. And when Young Macintosh misses his mark, the sound of his ranting is panned to the appropriate speakers. The same thing happens with the other contestants. Listen to the crowds and to the arrow sounds as the contestants make their shots.
When Merida steps into the scene, you will notice that every one of her bow shots is underlined by the hush of the environment, to really emphasize the importance of each one. With her last shot, you only hear her breathing and the very expressive sound of her arrow as it whizzes to its mark—all sounds except the music collapse to the center. The sound effects of the arrow underline this moment as a very important one.
What you don’t see: crowds that are cheering, with off-screen sounds of the contestants
The use of silence during Merida’s bow shots to emphasize the importance of each shot, plus the power and expressiveness of the bow and arrow sound effects
Merida Meets the Witch
Chapters 10 and 11, 29:24–33:12
Merida runs away from the castle through the forest, and there is a big circling long shot within the large stone structure. The visual pans around, and you get a low-frequency sound effect coupled with music that is in all speakers and ends in the front speakers to underline the importance of this location. The will o’ the wisps then appear, and their sounds are used in both the left and right speakers to demonstrate that the wisps are leading her someplace.
When Merida enters the Witch’s cottage, there are numerous sound effects. The Witch is out of the shot, so a lot of sounds are placed in various channels to hint at her location; plus, her voice is panned to the same place. Later in the scene, Merida is surrounded by knives and sharp objects. Using all channels, you get the feeling of her being surrounded by these dangerous objects. At the end of the scene, the Witch casts a spell that finishes in an explosion. The sounds build to this point, getting bigger and bigger, and then they drop away for a split second, making the explosion seem stronger after that moment of silence.
A low-frequency sound effect coupled with music as Merida enters the stone enclave
The sound of wisps in different channels
The sound of sharp objects and knives as they appear and surround Merida
Sounds building to create the tension of the casting of the spell
A split second of silence just before the explosion
Merida and Elinor (as a Bear) Rest for the Night in the Forest
Chapter 18, 51:03–52:37
This shorter scene is worth noting because of the use of all surrounds when the rain falls. Merida is in a small space, and as the rain falls, it comes into the surrounds, and you feel like you’re in the space with her. The sound of the rain surrounds us, creating a comforting feeling of shelter. Then we hear singing in the back surrounds and in the distance as the shot goes down to Merida sleeping and dreaming. The lullaby travels from the surrounds to the center channel, taking us into a scene from the past when Elinor protected Merida as a young child. As the scene ends, the singing recedes back to the rear surrounds and fades away, taking you out of the dream.
Rain falling all around to create a feeling of shelter
The sound of singing in the back surrounds when Merida is sleeping
The sound of the singing traveling into the center channel, leading us into a scene from the past, and then bringing us back out by returning to the surrounds and disappearing into the distance
Merida and Elinor Follow the Will o’ the Wisps
Chapters 23 and 24, 57:35–59:12
A long journey takes place as Merida and Elinor follow the will o’ the wisps. Listen to how the sound transitions work. As each location changes, notice the subtle differences in the sounds as you travel with the characters.
The sound of wisps in both side surrounds that leads Merida and Elinor through the forest
The background sounds changing to seamlessly lead us from location to location
Inside the Throne Room with Mor’du
Chapter 24, 59:53–1:01:25
Merida falls into the throne room. When she speaks, you clearly hear the reverb from her voice and foley that is created in the front two speakers and rear two speakers—an intentional and crafty trick to create the illusion of her being in a large stone room. Before Mor’du attacks, you hear his low-frequency growl in the surrounds, just as we did in the first scene of the film. As Mor’du attacks, his sounds—voice, feet, claws, breathing—follow his location. The use of subwoofer here makes him seem huge and dangerous.
Reverb in Merida’s voice after she falls into the throne room
The use of subwoofer and different channels to place emphasis on the ominous and large presence of Mor’du