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Director Brad Bird Soars Over Limits of Animation

‘Incredibles’ Writer Shares Love of Film

By Vijay A. Bal, Contributing Writer

Come Oscar time, nominations for The Incredibles, Disney and Pixar’s latest foray into the CGI world which they created, will likely be relegated to a single category: “Best Animated Feature.” More than the actors or the creative team, the film’s computer-generated content will be the draw for the vast majority of its young audience. No matter how photorealistic the images, how human the voices, for most viewers the movie will primarily be seen as pixels on the screen. But not for Brad Bird.

“Animation is merely a medium,” says writer-director Bird. “The Incredibles may be animated but that’s not its genre. It is an action movie, a superhero saga, a family drama. It’s a film.”

Fortunately for Bird, it is being treated as such, but that is due as much to the producers of the project as to the buzz around the project itself; since Toy Story, Pixar has rightfully earned the attention and respect of serious film critics, appealing to thumbs-uppers and thumbsuckers alike. The studio’s well-crafted canon, which also includes Monsters, Inc. and last year’s instant classic Finding Nemo, has had a profound influence on the world of animated film, pushing traditional two-dimensional animation into commercial obsolescence.

All the while, they have stuck closely to their core belief that the wit, heart and characters of a film are the keys to a film’s success, not merely expensive actors on voicework or eye-popping technological achievements.

Though this is Bird’s first 3-D animated film, he is no stranger to animation. For several seasons he collaborated on the groundbreaking television show, The Simpsons, and he looks back fondly on the experience.

“It was wonderful working on The Simpsons,” says Bird. “They were just about to close down and not many people were concerned with their remaining films.”

Though this may come off as a complaint, Bird continues, “I’m actually really happy with my experience with Warner Bros. Because of the studio’s lack of interest I was able to make The Iron Giant exactly how I wanted to and that was the most important thing to me.”

During the making of The Incredibles, Bird was again caught in the midst of a company restructuring, due to Pixar’s recent split with Disney. But Bird isn’t bitter. “I enjoyed working with Disney…I’m just sorry things couldn’t work out,” he says. He adds that the split will probably not affect most of the Pixar staff, as in most respects they were already fairly removed from the Disney studio.

The Incredibles is the first time Pixar has featured humans in every major role, and Bird pulls it off expertly. His success can be attributed to his approach to directing to the movie.

“I don’t set out to make animated films,” declares Bird, “I simply try to tell a story; animation just happens to be the medium I used.” He goes on to describe other films he plans for the future—which run the gamut from animation to live action to a fused mixture of the two.

Bird’s interest in plowing across traditional divisions is clearly rooted in his movie fanaticism.

“I love all movies: Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Chinatown,” says Bird. “I’m just a movie lover, it doesn’t matter whether they are animated or not.”

Though The Incredibles is poised to be one of the biggest hits of the year, Bird retains an aura of modesty, as if he can hardly believe that he is part of the same medium as the films that have meant so much to him.

For a man so personally responsible for the content of the film, Bird somehow still seems awed by the final product. “One of my favorite parts of the film is the setting—it takes place in a retro type city but sill has many high tech gadgets…it’s this wonderful fusion that our animators were able to achieve.”

Bird laughs at the notion that The Incredibles is based on any source, exclaiming, “wherever I go people ask if The Incredibles in based on this or that…it is amazing to me how many different connections people find.”

In truth, the film actually evolved from Bird’s own family life. When he had his first child and had to balance his work and home life, he recalls, “I was struggling to raise my family and balance that with the unusual hours my work demanded, I wanted to be a father and still continue my career but found it very difficult.”

Once Bird realized his troubles with duel identity resembled the problems of superheroes, the story for The Incredibles flowed easily. In honor of the projects’ personal genesis, the Incredibles’ baby is named after what he and his wife used to call their own baby.

Perhaps the best aspect of The Incredibles is the clear love for cinema that everyone working on the film, Bird included, brings to the project. This joy for filmmaking is practically contagious; even though the narrative occasionally falters, it is always an enjoyable cinematic experience.

And ultimately that is Bird’s goal. He says it best as the interview draws to a close: assuming the voice of the Incredibles’ suit designer Edna Mole, he belts out in his most nasal pseudo-Euro accent, “I hope you enjoy the movie, dahling.”

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