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
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.
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?
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
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.
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
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.
not camp at all. It has so much heart. It's got that in common with
your previous film,The Iron Giant.
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
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.
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.
people would say that four years devoted to making a movie is a long
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."
that stuff is great, because in Dash's mad dash, to go back to the
The Flintstones living room where they run in one direction forever
and the same couch goes by over and over.
But in Dash's run through the jungle it's breathtaking-this background
is different, and this, and this, and this.
tried to overstuff it with as many little presents to unwrap as we
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: A nice
word that begins with "b," instead of the other one.
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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opened wide on November 5.