Gary Dretzka
..Leonard Klady
..David Poland
..Ray Pride



The Incredibles, the latest Walt Disney release of a Pixar film, is a four-year labor of love from director and screenwriter Brad Bird, who started his training as an animator when he was only 14. He went on to a highly successful career in television (The Simpsons, The Critic, King of the Hill); his 1999 feature, The Iron Giant, was a marvel of 2-D animation that critics loved, but it suffered a mismanaged theatrical run. What a difference a Disney release makes: the studio is pushing for Oscars in BOTH the Best Picture and Best Animated Picture categories, and just about everything in between. The movie breaks new ground as the first computer animated feature to have humans as its central characters--except they're really super-humans: a whole family of superheroes, including Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), his wife Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), and their feuding offspring Violet (NPR's Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Spencer Fox). Samuel L. Jackson voices super-cool superhero Frozone, and Brad Bird nearly upstages them all as the voice of their diminutive, authoritarian costume designer, Edna Mode.

ANDREA GRONVALL: If I were Mr. Incredible, I'd be looking at the script for the sequel very carefully to see how much screen time Edna Mode gets next time around. You gave yourself the best part in the movie.

BRAD BIRD: You know, I didn't intend to. We did temporary tracks for the film, casting within Pixar, just to get a sense of the pace, and we would put that up against storyboard drawings of scenes from the script. You add temporary music and you kind of get a sense of the film. And sometimes the voices stick. Joe Ranft, who's the top story guy at Pixar, did the voice of Heimlich in A Bug's Life and he did Wheezy, the asthmatic penguin in Toy Story 2, and Andrew Stanton, the writer and director of Finding Nemo, was Crush, the surfer dude turtle. I actually went out to [pitch] an actress who I love, and she kept asking me to do the temp voice. So I kept doing it over and over, and she said, you know, you should do the voice. It was really other people telling me to leave it in. I was being kind of stupid about it. [Laughs] But it was fun to do.

AG: You seem like such an easygoing guy, but is there a little bit of Edna in you? Like her, are you a very hands-on creative, watching everything every step of the way?

BB: Yeah, yeah. I respect it when people feel easy enough to preside over arbitrating a lot of other people, but I love the process too much not to get in there every step. In the storyboarding, I'm very active, and the shot planning-I don't turn it over to other departments that much because I love to do it. When I write things, often at the moment I'm writing, I'm thinking of camera angles; it's not a separate part of the process, it kind of comes out all at the same time. So I have really strong opinions about how things are presented, but at the same time I'm thinking about things that I want to present. It's like when somebody speaks, they assemble words in a certain way, but it's not always that conscious, it just comes out. That's the way film is for me.

AG: I was kind of surprised at the Q&A after last night's screening that you claim not to have read very many comic books, that that wasn't really your inspiring medium-although you do admire Will Eisner's "The Spirit."

BB: Well, I like superheroes, but I'm not one of those guys who knows what issue 437 is of "Whatever." And I think people assume that because The Incredibles is about superheroes, that I know all that stuff. I kind of got it second-hand, from the movies. I'm happy to hear from anybody that does know that stuff, but I'm fairly oblivious to that really large volume of comic book lore that's been generated. What's interesting about the response to The Incredibles - and I'm just starting to get people's reactions, because I've been so deep into making the movie, I'm only now getting above water and finding it strange because for so long there was just that relatively small group of us-is that the movie seems to remind people of other things, but what it reminds them of is different every time. That makes me feel that we've succeeded, because we're not trying to go for any one thing, but kind of a pop mythology gumbo.

AG: It reminded me in a strange way of The Jetsons, even though it's really nothing like that TV show at all. But it's about a family, like The Jetsons was, and a lot of the fun comes from the tongue-in-cheek humor.

BB: But hopefully not insincere. I think there's a tendency [among some animators] to wink at the audience so much that you feel that you're above the world that you're presenting-like the filmmaker doesn't really believe in the world that he's putting on screen. And there's a safety in that, because if you try to make the audience feel something besides comedy-like if you try to make them feel moved-you risk looking really silly if it doesn't work. I wanted to have fun with the world I created and still believe in it utterly. I wanted to believe in these characters and worry about them. I'm not trying to be camp with it.

AG: It's not camp at all. It has so much heart. It's got that in common with your previous film,The Iron Giant.

BB: Thank you. It's coming out on DVD, two weeks after The Incredibles opens. It's a special edition; it's got some extra stuff on it. But thank you, though; I'm happy when anyone sees The Iron Giant. A lot of the key creative team on Iron Giant came up to Pixar with me to work on The Incredibles: the head of story, the producer, the editor, the production designer, the character designers, the supervisor of animation. It was really fun, because we got to bring this group up, but also work with this amazing studio and all the geniuses at Pixar.

The goal was to do something that was stylized and caricatured and still felt real. We weren't interested in being photorealistic. To us it was much more important to make it real feeling. In other words, stylize the exterior of the characters but make it feel like they have lives and feelings and emotions and flaws-so that was a real challenge. It was fun to work in a three-dimensional world and still try to keep a very graphic look.

AG: Well, it may not be photorealistic, but there are great touches--like when Mr. Incredible goes about doing his work, he gets dirty. You have a medium shot where we can see the flecks of soil on his red costume.

BB: See, that's the thing. We were fighting the computer. I felt that the computer had an agenda on this film. The agenda was the computer wants to make everything look really clean, really small, really weightless-and hard. It likes hard surfaces; it doesn't like soft surfaces. And we had a whole movie where we wanted things to be big and heavy and squishy and dirty. It was like we were fighting it every step of the way. It was like having a really clueless waiter, where you say, "I'd like to have the chicken tonight," and he'll go, "Steak?" And you'll go, "No, I would like the chicken," and he goes, "Yes, the steak." To people who think these things are easier to make because there's a computer involved, I'm here to tell you, the computer wants to go its own way, but if you can coax it, it's a fantastic tool.

AG: Some people would say that four years devoted to making a movie is a long time.

BB: It IS a long time! Not some people-I think it's a long time! It's just that if you want to do stuff that's this elaborate, you just have to put in the time, because you're building every single thing you see on the screen. You literally are designing every leaf on every tree. You can repeat them, with variations if you like, but you have to make these decisions. So, I had infinite meetings, where it was, "Is this leaf good? How about this leaf?" And it got to be, like, "How many kinds of leaves are we going to have?" And they'd say, "Well, we need to have a variety of leaves, otherwise it looks like there's only one kind of plant."

AG: But that stuff is great, because in Dash's mad dash, to go back to the Hanna-Barbera comparison-

BB: [Nodding] The Flintstones living room where they run in one direction forever and the same couch goes by over and over.

AG: Right! But in Dash's run through the jungle it's breathtaking-this background is different, and this, and this, and this.

BB: We tried to overstuff it with as many little presents to unwrap as we could.

AG: There's one character who appears in The Incredibles only three times, but he really says it all, that little kid on the tricycle. When Mr. Incredible yells at him, "Well, what are you waiting for?" the kid replies, "Oh, I don't know. Something amazing, I guess." That's what we're ALL waiting for. That's why we go to movies, is for that something amazing.

BB: I love, love, love the medium of film. But that is the strange dichotomy of film, is that the medium is so unbelievably magical and wonderful, and the business is so--UGH! It's kind of the price you pay. Some friend of mine said you're not getting paid to work in the medium; you'd almost do that for free. But you're getting paid to suffer all the, you know-[Laughs].

AG: Bureaucrats.

BB: Yeah! Yeah!

AG: A nice word that begins with "b," instead of the other one.

BB: Yeah, there are so many! That's why it was fun to come to Pixar, because it's this biological fluke that it's a company that has managed to survive and do very well with a bunch of people that just love film, and are in it because they love it, and it's run by really creative people. The Disney company when Walt was alive was a fluke, too, because it was a company that was run by an artist. Certainly it wouldn't have gone anywhere if there hadn't been Roy protecting Walt business-wise, but the yin and yang of their relationship made this miracle happen-and that body of work is tremendous. I felt wonder when I saw those films for the first time; they didn't feel mechanical, but something that was heartfelt. And I think this medium of movies is what keeps people going; it's certainly kept me going.

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The Incredibles opened wide on November 5.

November 10, 2004


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