Brad Bird talks about why he doesn't need a co-director and big creative decisions for Incredibles 2
At the end of 2004’s The Incredibles our superhero family’s comfortable suburban home was incinerated when the villain Syndrome’s plane blew up on top of it.
So as the sequel, Incredibles 2, begins (pretty much where the first movie left off; you can do that 14 years later with an animated franchise because the actors don’t age) the family is homeless, temporarily living in a motel off the highway. Then a rich benefactor — more on him later — offers to put them up in a lovely new house.
Pixar artists spent six months creating that beautiful Mid-century Modern, 2,300-square-foot house in much the same way a real-life team of architects, furniture designers and interior decorators would. Every colour (a calming palette of muted greens and blues), every chair, every flooring material was researched, discussed and chosen for a reason. Next, each object inside that house was built, virtually, inside Pixar computers so that it could be manipulated, moved around, and “shot” from different angles.
Then the whole house was thrown away.
“It was an idea that Ralph had, Ralph Eggleston, the production designer,” explains Brad Bird, the film’s writer and director, of the destruction of six months of work. The tall, confident blond from Montana who sort of resembles Mr. Incredible (funny how that happens) is sitting in the main building of Pixar’s Emeryville, California, campus just a half-hour drive from San Francisco.
“He prefaced this, Ralph always has these long prefaces before he gives you anything, and he basically said, ‘I have an idea that I’m very excited about. It’s going to be a nightmare. If you choose to do it, it will make your life miserable.’”
They did it anyway.
“The idea was that the house should be initially impressive, and get completely impractical and uncomfortable as the film goes on,” explains Bird, who also wrote and directed the first Incredibles movie, which earned the second of Pixar’s nine Best Animated Feature Oscars since the Academy introduced the category 17 years ago.
The animators had just three weeks to replace that tasteful, 2,300-square-foot house with an imposing, 20,000-square-foot mansion with a striking white and red colour scheme, an indoor/outdoor pool, soaring windows and an enviable cliff-side lot at the top of a winding mountain road. Think of a Bond villain’s lair, if that Bond villain had really good taste and a love of natural light.
Minutes after the family — dad Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), mom Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), son Dash (Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack (various gurgly baby sounds, many of which were stolen from supervising animator Tony Fucile’s infant son) — arrives at the impressive new digs, Dash pushes the wrong button, opening an indoor river and destroying a finely crafted Mid-century living room set that falls into said water feature. Uncomfortable indeed.
That story pretty much sums up Pixar’s philosophy. No matter how wedded to an idea you are, or how much work you’ve put in, if a better idea comes up, do it. Oh, and that tasteful blue and green house wasn’t entirely ditched. It was repurposed as the home of Violet’s friend, Tony Rydinger.
Back to that rich benefactor.
Early in the film, Bob and Helen meet a mysterious billionaire named Winston Deavor ("Better Call Saul"’s Bob Odenkirk) who has a plan to make superheroes legal again. At this point, they’re still forbidden from using their powers because of the collateral damage.
Deavor wants to launch a marketing campaign to show the public what it’s like to fight bad guys from the superhero’s perspective, including live-streaming video of a hero/villain battle, instead of just having people see the aftermath on the news. He gives the job of prime image resuscitator to Helen over Bob because she makes more prudent decisions. That leaves Bob at home taking care of the family, including baby Jack-Jack who is a handful now that his powers — including self-combustion, self-replication, and the ability to move through solid surfaces — have surfaced.
Deavor also has a sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), who’s in charge of technology for their project and the telecommunications company in much the same way that Black Panther’s sister, Shuri, developed technology for the Wakandans.
Except, unlike T’Challa and Shuri, we have some reservations about the Deavors. For one thing, Winston is a telecommunications magnate who thinks marketing is the answer to everything. The movie will surely take some jabs at that idea.
“There’s a little bit of that,” says Bird with a grin. “We put a little bit of niacin in our popcorn.”
Bird, whose second movie for Pixar, Ratatouille, also won Best Animated Feature, is as close to an auteur as you get in the animation world.
His team members say he’s involved in every decision for every scene. But that’s okay, because this guy has the chops. He studied animation under legendary Disney artist Milt Kahl from the time he was 14 years old, helped develop "The Simpsons"’ look in the early years, and his first contribution to the world of animated features was the hand-drawn sci-fi The Iron Giant, which was a flop at the box office, but quickly became a favourite of animation and pop-culture aficionados.
So when he wants a change there’s a reason. “It’s not just, ‘I want this, I want that.’ He explains the motivations behind everything,” says effects artist Amit Baadkar, who worked on the film’s action scenes. And whereas most of Pixar’s films have two directors, Bird always directs alone.
“From my point of view, why would you not direct it alone,” he responds sharply.
Because it’s too much work for one person?
“But it’s not!” he shouts. “Everybody has their own way of working and I am not in opposition, but to myself, I kind of look at them and I kid some of my fellow filmmakers here who do have co-directors and I say, ‘Why would you give up any of the movie? What part of the movie are you not interested in?’”
Ultimately, though, for Bird it’s not really about the breathtaking visuals and special effects — every colour, every line, every strand of hair, every piece of wardrobe, every movement, every camera angle meticulously crafted.
“The technology can only be dazzling for the moment,” he says, “and then later you’re left with story.” Of course, he wrote that too.
Incredibles 2 hits theatres June 15th. Watch the trailer below!