The Incredibles' Brad Bird

"The minute I finished the film, I plunged into the dvd."

Toon Town has a new sheriff, and his name is Brad Bird. On small screen and big, Bird has always brought tremendous heart and an offbeat comedic sensibility to his work, most recently his Oscar-winning The Incredibles, the only opus in the Pixar canon with a sole "Written and Directed by" credit. Here, the humble auteur shares some insights on his unique creative spark.

You're a good person to ask: When will we finally get to see your "Family Dog" on DVD?

On Amazing Stories. There was a laserdisc that came out with the Zemeckis episode, "Go to the Head of the Class," and my episode,"Family Dog." I've heard some rumors that they're coming out with Amazing Stories on DVD this year, but you would probably have to call Universal and ask them.

[Which I, intrepid correspondent, did: Universal is not ruling it out for later this year.]

When you directed the "Krusty Gets Busted" episode, did you know that it would be a turning point for The Simpsons?

Oh, really? I was so absorbed in trying to get it right. I didn't have an assistant director on that. That was really before we figured out how to work overseas. We were just one of a million shows that they were doing, and they basically ignored a lot of our instructions. It's amazing the episodes turned out as well as they did, so I can't say that I was aware that it was a turning point.

With that episode, We really caught a glimpse of how good and how clever that show could be.

I love both the characters of Krusty and Sideshow Bob, so whenever a Krusty—or Sideshow Bob—episode came up, I requested certain scenes to do the key drawings for. Those two characters are both really absurd and strangely real to me.

It Was Great to see The Iron Giant get its due on last year's special-edition DVD.

People are discovering it all the time, and I think the most gratifying aspect is that, when people see it, they tend to be very aggressive about getting other people to see it. No one really knew what it was or why they should see it. And if we were able to get them to sit down in the theater and watch even just the first minute of it, people were in. That's what's nice about the DVD.

And it's still the best thing that Jennifer Aniston has ever done.

[laughs] Well, thanks!

I assume it's No coincidence that The Iron Giant was released just as The Incredibles hit theaters.

Yes, The Incredibles is one more thing that has helped people find The Iron Giant. If they have a good experience with The Incredibles, they look for what else those people have done. I mean, it wasn't just me; a lot of key creative members of The Iron Giant team came up to Pixar with me and did The Incredibles.

How long was the idea for The Incredibles percolating?

Before The Iron Giant. I had the idea about 12 years ago. I kept tinkering with it. Films take so long to make because, if you have more ideas, they keep stacking up. So I hope to get to do a lot more of them before I "shuffle off to Buffalo."

What's been your experience in moving from cel animation to computers?

Let's start with the positive first. With computers, you can control really, really small movements with the eyes and face. That's impossible when it's hand-drawn because it's less than the width of a pencil line between frames. Whereas, with pixels, you can move something a pixel, which is a tiny amount, and yet it reads on the screen. I love the aspect of being able to control the lighting, much like a live-action film. And I love the freedom to move the camera around.

What's the downside?

The frustrating part is the time it takes to build the world. It takes forever to build characters: Each face has to be custom because people smile differently. And, if you're really going to do CG animation on the level of great hand-drawn animation, you have to be able to recognize that everybody's face works in its own way. But once you've got them, CG is actually quite flexible. You can do variations on a scene, you can animate a scene and then decide to change a camera angle, and it can accommodate that pretty easily. It's quite a malleable system.

So designing all the subtle details is the hardest part?

I'll actually quote the technical supervisor of the film, Rick Sayre, in saying "The hardest thing about The Incredibles is that there was no one hardest thing." If you were to name the ten most difficult things to do in CG, we had all of 'em. We had human characters, which are considered the hardest thing to make convincing on the screen. We had fire, we had water, we had three to four times the number of sets than any other Pixar film has had. We were longer than any animated film.

So you broke some of "The Rules."

One unwritten rule is: "You can't make an animated action movie," because animation as an art form is constantly showing you characters who fall off cliffs and then just dust themselves off. Add superheroes on top of that, and you've got a double problem if you want the audience to worry about the characters. And we somehow managed to make a film that had people on the edge of their seats.

I imagine that you're very satisfied with the results.

Yeah, I'm shocked, really, that I got everything on my wish list. I'm very proud of the team that we had, and I couldn't be more grateful and impressed by Pixar as an organization.

And public response must have been overwhelming.

The film was written about in the Op-Ed page of The New York Times several times. Sometimes I felt like the film was misinterpreted, but, most of all, I was delighted by the fact that a mainstream animated film provoked that kind of discussion at all.

Your DVD looks great, it sounds great, and it has some genuinely interesting extras, most notably the "Making of" sections.

Those documentaries often—particularly with animation—are done after the fact. They re-create shots of animators working and then intercut that with people reflecting on the film. While we have some of that, we also had cameras around when we were making it. They got to be so familiar that people stopped paying attention to them, which is, of course, when you get the best stuff. Like when there's conflict: Talented people have strong points of view, and they're not always in agreement.

What's next? The Incredibles 2?

[laughs] I really love the characters, and, if I could come up with a story idea that would grab the screen as well as the first one and be able to use the original team, I think it would be really fun to do something new with those characters.

Although you're still pretty busy with your last movie.

The minute that I finished the film, I had to plunge into the DVD. And the second the DVD finished, it was about screening stuff to the press, and then it became screenings and previews and premieres as the film opened around the world. And then it's about award season, and then it becomes about the DVD release. For me, it's been just non-stop.

Maybe it's not always good to be the king.

[laughs] Well, there's tradeoffs, definitely. But I love making films, so I have no complaints.

* Special thanks to Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Carl Samrock Public Relations for their help.