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The Incredibles - Brad Bird Q&A (Part One)



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. Where did the voice of Edna come from?
A.
We do temporary voices when we prepare the movie. We do story boards, we do temporary soundtracks, we do bits of music from other films with no intent to use them to get a sense of the movie.
Pixar's a large enough company to actually cast within Pixar and get in the ball park of every character in the film. So we do that with the intention of replacing everybody with more qualified people and every once in a while people like the voices that are in the temp track.
Andrew Stanton, the writer-director of Finding Nemo, did the voice of Crush, the surfer dude turtle.
When he did the temp track he was imagining that they would replace himself with an actor and the people that he went to, people didn't like as much as him, so that was not the intent for me to do the voice. It just kind of stayed in there. But that wasn¹t my idea.

Q. Was it easy to find the voice?
A.
You know, when I was describing how I wanted her to look I found myself kind of doing the voice to describe her. Here's the thing: There's super-hero movies and they always have these flamboyant costumes and they never explain who's making these.
Every once in a while they half-heartedly present a scene where the muscle-bound here is sewing in the basement and I never really bought it. 'Suddenly this guy's interested in fabric?'
So I thought that if you had a world populated by superheroes, someone would be designing stuff for them, and she couldn't just be a designer, she'd have to be half scientist.
When you get to thinking about it [it's like]: 'okay she's half-scientist, half-designer, what background is she?'
So I thought, 'she's small and she's powerful and she's good at design and also good at technology'. So I thought, what two small countries are small and are great at design and great at technology and are much bigger than the size of their countries and it's Japan and Germany.
So I thought I'd make her half-Japanese, half-German and that's kind of where the accent comes from.
I don't know if it's close to the actual reality of her or not, but that's where she comes from.

Q. Edna ­ is the look Edith Head meets Anna Wintor?
A.
Eh, I've been talking about the film for about three weeks now and these are two names that come up fairly regularly. I also hear Patricia Highsmith and Linda Hunt and ba ba ba ba.
She's all of them I guess and none of them. Much like the movie is a conglomeration of familiar elements. Every one says this is just like this movie I saw called DA DA DA DA ­ and I'll go, 'oh that's intersting'.
And they'll say, 'You didn't do DA DA DA DA'. And I'll say, 'no, I haven't seen DA DA DA DA'.
You know, it's a kind of a secret base on an Island, hey Jules Verne has it in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Come on, it's a secret base, the classic place to put it is.
It's like what are you gonna do with all this ice cream? You're going to put it on a cone, you know.'
The movie is a blend of a lot of kinds of movies and TV shows and comic books I like growing up.
Spy movies, action movies and superhero things combined with my own feelings about the family I grew up in and the family I have now with my wife and kids, so all of those things.
The characters are kind of types. But we usually begin with drawings and we try to nail the drawings first and then we try to find the voice.

Q. Do the voices then influence other aspects of the look?
A.
Sometimes people think they look more like the actor than they do, just because the voice and the face tend to go well together, which is the whole point.
Every once in a while, I'll use some element of the actor if it strikes us as fun or useful.
Holly Hunter tends to talk a little bit off-centre and we used that a little bit in the animation because in the sessions ­ we tape the sessions ­ the animators like that idea of talking off the centre of their mouth.
But other things they take from their aunt or the guy down the street, or a guy they saw on TV this morning or a guy they played ball with in High School.
They're mixing and matching from all kinds of different parts of their life and putting them into the character. So that's only one element.

Q. You're an outsider in Pixar but you go a long way back with John Lasseter, tell us the story of how you brought this idea to Pixar.
A.
John and I had known each other for a while. We'd both gone our separate ways after school and we both did stints at Disney.
He went to Lucas film and I went to Spielberg. He worked at Pixar, which was the computer graphics division of Lucas film.
Steven Spielberg gave me my first opportunity to write and direct on his show, Amazing Stories, so I did Family Dog, which led me to The Simpsons.
Anyway, we kind of went our separate ways and when I saw Toy Story, I thought it was the greatest thing made since Walt Disney died and I told him so and we were back in touch.
Ever since Bug's Life they started talking to me to see if I would be interested in coming up there and when I finished Iron Giant I had this idea and I pitched it to them and they went for it so happy for me.

Q. In the credits the name Michael Bird pops up...
A.
Yes, that's a son.

Q. Was that a bit of nepotism there?
A.
Oh yeah. Well Jack-Jack is named after my middle son when he was a baby. That's where I got the idea. We named him Jack-Jack and I just liked the idea.
Sure, nepotism is alive and well. Michael did the voice of the heart-throb guy at the end, the guy Violet likes. He was just at the right age and had this awkward sound in his voice. I thought I can exploit this [does mock evil laugh].

Q. The dry wit of the script seems very English?
A.
That's purely DNA. Bird is an English name so it comes welling up.

Q. Did it evolve through the writing?
A
. Well you know, when I get in a room with smart people I tend to want to say that everything was purely intentional and planned out and sound very deep. But the truth of the matter is very simple.
You're really just writing something that you'd want to see and hope that other people will feel the same way.
There wasn't any conscious effort to go: 'I'm going to make them do a dark film and they're not even going to know it'.
The goal was just to give thrills and chills and all that good movie stuff that goes nicely with popcorn.

Q. There are quite a few deaths in the film, was there any resistance to that, particularly from Disney?
A.
You know we had some discussions with Tom Schumacher, who was the head of the animation division at the time, and he left about a third of the way through production, but he said we now see what the story reels are so it's time to talk.
We either have to tone this down so it's what everyone expects, or holding hands and saying that we're doing something different and it's a flat out adventure and we're going go for it.
So I went like this immediately [holds out his hands] and we all held hands and said this is what we're going to do.
I like genuine jeopardy in movies. I think sometimes people are so well-intentioned about protecting their children that they create these shows that are designed around superheroes bashing each other about for half and hour, but there's no consequences to it.
The show's built around violence but no one ever gets injured. No one ever dies. So to me that's a far worse message to give a kid than to have a world where there's actual jeopardy and prices are paid.
I think there's no more traumatic movie to a kid than Bambi because mom dies.
But, you know, I wouldn't change a frame of Bambi. And I think the ultimate message of Bambi is that life goes on in spite of great, terrible things happening. I like a bit of bite in story-telling.

Q. Would you like to make a James Bond movie?
A.
Oh, yeah, but Sean Connery's too old. If I could go back in time and have Sean Connery in mid-1960s ,I would do it in a second. But to me he's Bond, just as Errol Flynn is Robin Hood. Case closed.

Q. There are clearly some beautifuly observed nods to Connery-era Bond?
A.
Yeah, but again I was kind of going for a general style. I think that Bond is the best of that style. But there were a lot of films and TV shows from that era - Man From UNCLE, The Secret Agent, Mission Impossible, In Like Flint, Matt Helm, you know. There's a lot of stuff.
But Bond is probably one of the best examples of that style. And there's a lot of musicians doing that style too - Lalo Schiffrin. Henry Mancini.
Even in comedies like the Pink Panther there's a certain sweet, jazzy quality that just felt right for the film. The composer, Michael Ciccino, was able to recapture that style and still do something origninal. I love the score.

Q. We sat through the credits and there was no end gag...
A.
No that's it man. You didn't feel there was enough?

Q. You had the idea for the film 12 years ago. How close do you reckon the finished article is?
A.
It's very close in that it's the film I set out to make. Any movie that you work on goes through various steps.
When you first have the idea you're just, it¹s the most fantastic thing.
You can talk to people about it and have some beer and say it's going to be this and it's going to change the way people think about this and it's the most fantastic thing ever and everyone will believe you, or think you're full of crap.
But you can fool yourself into thinking that you can do all these things. And those things can remain as long as you don't define it.
But once you start writing it and putting words in characters' mouths and deciding what the shots are and it has to be roughtly two hours, all of that, you start throwing things away and the film starts getting smaller and smaller and smaller and it's depressing because for everything that you do there are five things that you can't do because if you make one decision you have to support that and go down that way.
Then, once you've just about given up all these goodies, the film starts getting better because other people start getting involved; things start getting fleshed out, you have visuals.
You have sets and the movie gets bigger and bigger and better and better, so there's this whole process of letting go and rebuilding that you go through.
Things did change. The villain is not the one I set out with, but the movie is really what I set out to make.

Q. What was the original villian going to be like?
A.
Well, it was one of those situations where there was going to be a middle man who talked everybody into it and was the mouth piece for this evil genius guys.
But when I got to Pixar I pitched the opening the way it is now, with the superheroes young and at their best, and John said what would happen if we began it with them underground and they're normal people then we reveal them as having super powers.
I said that's not going to work because we're going to advertise that they're superheros so they're going to be now surprise to it.
But I gave it a try. So I started with Violet as a baby and they were just moving underground and having normal lives, and I needed a threat to say that the old superhero life is following them and endangering them.
So I created this character, Syndrome, and he invades the house at the beginning and dies in the original sequence.
Everyone liked this guy better than the guy in the film, so I gave him the backstory and jettisoned the other guy so I had a new villain.
Even though we reverted back to my original pitch, in terms of story structure, we had this new villain who changed the course of the film significantly.

Q. Brad are you frustrated actor?
A.
I'm very frustrated, not sure about the actor part. No, I'm not a frustrated actor. Here's the thing, I love the medium of film because I love the arts and the more I work in one area, the more I want to work in another art.
I start seeing things that are in common with other things. Certain rules you see actually work with the other.
Repitiation and variation. Less is more. Small medium and large. Those simple rules work whether you are designing graphics or lining out a plot, or working on a picece of music. I like film because it allows me to participate in all the arts under one roof.
You know, I've got a bit of ham in me.

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