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The Incredibles - I like genuine jeopardy in movies

Feature by: Jack Foley

EVER since bursting onto the animated scene with the brilliant Toy Story, Pixar have been setting the standard in family entertainment and breaking box office records the world over.

Last year's underwater adventure, Finding Nemo, has become one of the most successful animated movies of all-time, while previous hits, Monsters Inc and A Bug's Life, have all registered strongly with children and parents alike.

Yet with the chasing pack continuing to up the stakes with the likes of Shrek and Shark Tale, the challenge for Pixar to maintain its high standards becomes more and more difficult.

Enter Brad Bird, the director of Pixar's latest animated offering, The Incredibles, who brings with him a wealth of experience from films such as The Iron Giant and television show, The Simpsons.

The result? Another monster triumph for the animators, but one which marks a bolder direction for the company.

Bird, himself, confesses there were many hurdles to overcome in bringing his super-hero tale to the big screen, not least of which was exploring darker territory.

The Incredibles is the first Pixar film to deal with human characters and to feature death on-screen.

Its super-heroes, although initially retired, must fight tooth and nail to save the world from its latest threat.

And speaking at a recent London press conference for the film, Bird said that it was something that had been discussed at an early stage of the production process.

"We had some discussions with Tom Schumacher, who was the head of the animation division at the time, about either having 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.

"But 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 super-heroes 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, and 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."

Having overcome the first hurdle, however, there were still many more to tackle, especially given the technical challenges of creating many of the characters and the world in which they inhabit.

Indeed, the film has been a part of Bird's life for the past 12 years.

"The truth of the matter was that there were ten huge hurdles and the scale of the project demanded that we all get over all ten," he explained.

"Humans are considered the toughest thing to animate because everybody knows how they move.

"But we also had to simulate fabric, we had to simulate hair, we had to simulate fabric and hair underwater and blowing through the air, we had four times the number of sets of any Pixar movie, and it was our longest film.

"So, it was just one big car crash of a film and, miraculously, we survived."

The ensuing film has already broken box office records in America, and enjoyed a strong opening weekend in the UK as well, all of which has helped to make Bird something of a hot commodity.

But he clearly isn't one to rest on his laurels and is already looking to the future.

"The world may not view me as a film-maker yet, but as some sub-species of animation, but I refuse to stay there - I plan to do a lot of different things.

"There are different styles of animation, I hope to do live action, I hope to do blends of the two.

"I have some small ideas and I have hugely ambitious, crazy ideas. Unfortunately, those always tend to influence me more, at least at this stage in my life.

"All of the crazy impossible ones attract me and it's the bane of my existence."

Bird's enthusiasm for film-making has been with him since an early age.

He started animating at the age of three when, curiously, much of his work was sequential.

"I would tell the story while I was doing this and I think in my own crude three-year-old way I was trying to do movies.

"But I loved animated shows when I was a kid. I saw movies many times when it was not very common for people to see movies, before video.
"So, around the age of 11, it occurred to me that someone was making these things happen and there was an actual job that people went in with adult intelligence and analyse what a stuffed panther might look like.

"It flabergasted me and it amazed me and it made me think that adults weren't nearly as dull as I thought they were.

"I asked how do you do that, how would someone like me do that, and I happened to be with a guy who took an animation class at college and he explained to me that you need an animation camera that shots a single frame at a time.

"So my dad got a camera that shot single frame and I started shooting a movie. It was called The Tortoise and the Hare ­ it was the same story but it was more like a Road Runner film; the tortoise was the bad guy trying to catch the hair and it ends in a five-way tie so it's not the usual version.

"It took me three years to make that film and it's 15 minutes long."

Now, however, Bird can pretty much pick his projects, especially if The Incredibles continues to set the world box office alight.

Indeed, such is the film's critical and commercial success, thoughts have already turned to a sequel, especially given the nature of the ending.

But Bird refused to reveal too much about the possibility, stating merely: "I just tried to make a satisfying ending and when you have a satisfying ending people always think: "You're setting up a sequel."

The Incredibles is now playing in cinemas.

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