Highlands & Islands

Artist who worked on Pixar's Brave giving Google AI 'personality'

Merida Image copyright disney-pixar
Image caption Pixar's 2012 movie Brave was set in the Scottish Highlands

A storyboard artist on Pixar's Highlands-set movie Brave is helping to give artificial intelligence developed by Google its "personality".

US-based Emma Coats was an artist on Brave for four-and-a-half years and part of a Pixar crew that made a research trip to Scotland.

Brave, whose lead Merida was played by Kelly Macdonald, was released in 2012.

Coats now writes dialogue for Google Assistant, which runs on computers, phones and a new smart home device.

The 31-year-old, who also worked on Pixar's Monsters University and makes her own short films, has fond memories of working on Brave and Scotland.

'Amazing history'

In an effort to accurately portray Scottish landscapes in the animated film, director Brenda Chapman took a team of artists to Scotland.

During the trip, the team visited the 5,000-year-old Callanish Stones and also traditional thatch-roof blackhouses on the Western Isles and historic Eilean Donan Castle at Dornie, near Kyle of Lochalsh.

Coats said: "I was lucky enough, as an early part of the crew, to be included in the group Brenda Chapman took to Scotland.

"It was amazing to see some of the history, like standing stones, blackhouses, and Eilean Donan.

"It was so valuable as artists and filmmakers to be there for the things you can't see in photos, like how fast the light changes and the colour of everything when the sun comes down under the clouds, or how you can step on moss in a forest and sink to your ankles."

She added: "I worked on Brave for more than four years, so I have a lot of fond memories.

Image caption Eilean Donan Castle was among the historic sites the Pixar crew visited

"The most fascinating thing was seeing the story go from drawings, paintings, and sculptures to the final computer animated film, completely fleshed out and polished.

"If I had to pick one fond memory, it would be hours spent assisting Jerome Ranft, one of Pixar's sculptors, on the maquette (scale model) for Merida's horse Angus.

"Jerome would put on music and then he'd work on the front end of the horse and I'd try to figure out the muscles on the back end of it.

"All the time I spent as a kid drawing horses really paid off,"

Coats is part of a team writing "chatty" dialogue for Google Assistant, one of a number of AI applications available, as well as doing work on other films.

She said: "The Assistant gives a conversational way to access everything Google can do for you, and on the Personality Team we add delight wherever we can.

"The rest of Google has all the useful parts of the Assistant covered, so the Google Assistant Personality Team really supports them by coming up with fun things the Assistant can say and do, whether that's games or things to discover."

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