“‘The Incredibles’ and now ‘Incredibles 2’ are really stories about a family.”
Writer/director Brad Bird looked to his own life when he created the original characters of The Incredibles, and he returns to the Incredibles universe with Incredibles 2.
“Everyone’s powers are inspired by their role in the family and where they are in their lives at that time,” says Bird. “We played with traditional archetypes—the strong father figure and the multitasking mother—but in the end, we found that most of us can relate to all of the characters in some way. We’ve all been that impatient 10-year-old or the insecure teenager. We’ve all felt like we’re shouldering an impossible load between home and work or school, and we’ve all felt like we’re being pulled in too many directions.”
As “The Incredibles” adventure came to an edge-of-your-seat finale, Syndrome was foiled—thanks to baby Jack-Jack and an ill-advised cape—and his jet exploded into a fiery ball, destroying the Parr family home. But the family was more bonded than ever; Violet showed off her newfound confidence, and Dash discovered that second place would do just fine. It seemed like a happily-ever-after ending until someone called the Underminer declared “war on peace and happiness.”
Nearly a decade and a half later, fans will learn the fate of the Underminer.
When “The Incredibles” first burst onto the big screen, Mr. Incredible’s super strength and Elastigirl’s stretchy flexibility wowed audiences around the globe—the film grossed more than $633 million worldwide, earning an Oscar® for best animated film.
But according to writer/director Brad Bird, it wasn’t the characters’ powers—or the villains—that fueled the film’s success. “I realized that the super hero aspect of the story didn’t interest me nearly as much as the whole family dynamic,” he says. “I think that people see themselves in these characters and that’s why they fell for them the way they did. ‘The Incredibles’ and now ‘Incredibles 2’ are really stories about a family.”
Prior to joining Pixar, Bird wrote and directed the critically acclaimed 1999 animated feature “The Iron Giant,” which won the International Animated Film Society’s Annie Award for outstanding achievement in an animated theatrical feature.
Bird began his first animated film at the age of 11, finishing it nearly three years later. The film brought him to the attention of Walt Disney Studios, where, at age 14, he was mentored by Milt Kahl, one of a distinguished group of Disney’s legendary animators known as the “Nine Old Men.” Bird eventually worked as an animator at Disney and other studios.
Bird’s credits include acting as executive consultant on “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill”—the two longest-running and most celebrated animated series on television. He also created, wrote, directed and co-produced the “Family Dog” episode of Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories,” and co-wrote the screenplay for the live-action feature “Batteries Not Included.” Bird directed the live-action films “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” for Paramount Pictures and “Tomorrowland” for Walt Disney Studios.
Since “The Incredibles” debuted in 2004, the super hero genre has skyrocketed within the film and television industry with major franchises exploding and new heroes emerging every few months. “The landscape has certainly changed since our last movie,” says Bird. “But the idea of our Supers worrying about getting jobs and paying the rent is still compelling. The challenge of juggling everything life throws at you—even if you have super powers—is still relatable.”
In “Incredibles 2,” Helen is called on to lead a campaign to rebuild the Supers’ reputation, while Bob navigates the day-to-day heroics of “normal” life at home with Violet, Dash and baby Jack-Jack—whose super powers are about to be discovered by his family. Bird knew for a long time that Helen would step into the spotlight in “Incredibles 2.” “I wanted this to be Helen’s adventure,” he says. “And I was intrigued by how Bob would handle that, along with the responsibilities at home.”
“Bob isn’t a bad dad,” says producer Nicole Paradis Grindle. “He’s a little overconfident at first. He thinks, ‘I’m Mr. Incredible, I’ve got this.’ But I think any parent can relate to the idea that kids can wear you down. Add to that a toddler—they want what they want and they don’t like hearing ‘no.’ Jack-Jack is no different, except when he gets mad, he bursts into flames.”
The film introduces a new villain with a brilliant and dangerous plot that threatens everything. “This villain is different,” says producer John Walker. “Helen has her work cut out for her to stop a villain who can manipulate people from a distance. And if Helen fails, her mission to bring back Supers fails. A lot is at stake.”
Story supervisor Ted Mathot finds a lot of yin and yang to Helen’s story. “Supers are illegal,” he says. “In order for her to change the law, she has to break it. In order for her to save her family, she has to leave them.”
According to Bird, the story strives to strike a balance between the adventure and the more ordinary aspects of family life. “It’s a dance between the mundane and the fantastic,” he says. “We don’t do one for very long without doing the other.
“Helen might take a call in the middle of battling the bad guys to help her kid find his shoes,” continues Bird. “Or Violet might use her power of invisibility when she is feeling totally humiliated. Audiences see that and think, ‘Yeah, I’d do that, too.’”
The film is even edited to reflect the duality of the Parrs’ lives. “We are constantly intercutting between Helen’s mission and what’s going on at home,” says film editor Stephen Schaffer. “It’s that combination that makes it so entertaining.”
The idea that the movie is a family film extends beyond the audience it attracts. “We could say that Helen is driving this story or Bob drove ‘The Incredibles,’” says supervising animator Tony Fucile, who helped design the original characters. “But I think that the whole family—the Incredibles as a unit—is the protagonist in this story.”
“The Incredibles” introduced Pixar’s first wholly human cast of characters. But according to Bird, who established the overall style of the characters with Fucile, Teddy Newton and Lou Romano, they didn’t want their humans to look too human. “We put a lot of energy into simplifying the characters and making them graphic,” says Bird. “The farther you get from the center of a character’s face, the less detail there is.”
Though Bird was happy with the end result, the technology available at the time did present some limitations. Character art director Matt Nolte says that 14 years of advances have made the looks easier to achieve. “We went back to the original art and used the technology available to us now to create the looks that were always intended back then.”
According to character modeling and articulation lead Mark Piretti, the “Incredibles 2” team went back to the clay maquettes Kent Melton created for “The Incredibles.” “We mined those sculpts for any details that didn’t make it into the character models the first time,” says Piretti. “We also pulled old drawings from the archives to look for further inspiration wherever we could find it. In the end, we came up with some very cool designs that are fresh and familiar at the same time.”
Adds supervising technical director Rick Sayre, “The eyes of the characters this time around are inspired by actual human eyes. It’s a subtle technical advance that adds a little gleam to their eyes and a sense of life and realness that makes them that much more believable.”
Of course, these characters are Supers with extraordinary abilities that literally defy physics on occasion. Their powers were carefully cultivated to shape and define each character both as Supers and as members of the family. But filmmakers didn’t want them to feel indestructible. “We want the audience to feel their vulnerability,” says Fucile. “We want people to worry about them—despite the fact they have super powers. We had to find the sweet spot between Super and mere mortal.”
Production manager Sabine Koch O’Sullivan says she fell for the characters in “The Incredibles,” but a lot has changed since then. “When I worked on the first film, I was a single young woman who worked all the time,” she says. “The characters really spoke to me then. I saw my own mom in Helen. Now I’m married and a mother of two and I see myself in Helen. I think these characters represent us all. We achieved something really special—then and now.”
“Incredibles 2” welcomes back to the big screen the family of Supers that charmed audiences in 2004, as well as old favorites like Lucius Best (aka Frozone) and Edna “E” Mode. The movie also introduces new characters to its super mix—from billionaire do-gooders to wannabe Supers—creating a dynamic cast of characters brought to life by all-star voice talent.
Holly Hunter and Craig T. Nelson return as the voices of Helen and Bob Parr, who still struggle to juggle their duties as parents and Supers. Sarah Vowell once again provides the voice of the teen-queen of sarcasm Violet, while Huck Milner joins the cast as the voice of 10-year-old Dash, and Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as the voice of Lucius Best – aka Frozone. “Incredibles 2” also features the voices of Brad Bird as fashion visionary Edna “E” Mode, Bob Odenkirk as savvy businessman and Super fan Winston Deavor, Catherine Keener as tech pro Evelyn Deavor, Jonathan Banks as Rick Dicker, Sophia Bush as “wannabe” hero Voyd, and Isabella Rossellini as an influential ambassador and advocate for Supers.
In 2004, fans not only fell for the characters in “The Incredibles,” they also soaked up the mid-century world of the film. Since “Incredibles 2” picks up where the first film left off, the look is back—and thanks to advances in technology, it’s even better.
According to writer/director Brad Bird, the nostalgic look is reminiscent of a movie genre that sparked his imagination back when the first film was in development. But the genre had nothing to do with comic-book heroes. “I was inspired by spy series and spy movies,” says Bird. “James Bond, ‘Mission: Impossible,’ ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,’ ‘Our Man Flint,’ as well as a prime-time adventure cartoon called ‘Jonny Quest.’ There were a bunch of them in the ’60s that had that cool, elegant flavor that we wanted to capture.”
From the architecture to the cars on the streets to the characters themselves, the original film invoked a ’50s vibe—with a contemporary twist and a nod to the future. In short—it had a style all its own. Says production designer Ralph Eggleston, “We aren’t trying to capture the ’50s, but people’s memory of the era. It’s the retro future that never became.”
The team gravitated toward the clean lines celebrated in mid-century architecture—garnering inspiration from a research trip to Palm Springs. Eggleston says it’s all about simplicity. “Brad Bird’s writing of characters and his storytelling skills are such that it allowed us to really caricature the world,” he says. “It’s not about reality. It’s about believability. And the believability in ‘The Incredibles’ was less the look than the storytelling. The characters just feel real—even though Bob’s ankles are about two inches in diameter and he can’t fit both shoulders through a doorway at the same time. It’s heightened reality.”
According to Eggleston, even though “Incredibles 2” takes place at the same time as the original, the team expanded the look to embrace styles introduced in the early 1960s. “The original film embraced the mid-’50s,” he says, “but we wanted to incorporate elements of the late ’50s, early ’60s. It’s not specific, but it feels right.”
Adds supervising technical director Rick Sayre, “The lighting approach to this film is different than it was in the first film, also taking a page from the live-action playbook. We’re setting up the sets in pre-lighting in a new way. We’ve tried this on our shorts before, but for the first time in a feature at Pixar, we’re showing animation blocking with rough lighting that’s representative of what we’re going to ultimately see.”
The cinematography has evolved, too, says director of photography-camera Mahyar Abousaeedi. “There’s a lot more action to choreograph and shoot now,” he says. “Brad’s live-action experience had a noticeable influence on us, and we really enjoyed working with him and the story team. We were encouraged to make camera choices that were physically grounded and motivated by the action.”
Director of photography-lighting Erik Smitt comes from a background of animation, painting and live-action filmmaking. “We used virtual physical lights on the set, allowing more creative and cinematic options,” he says. “We used flags and blocking objects to cast real shadows, adding subtle authenticity to our scenes.
“Brad [Bird] told us to be inspired by the original film, but not be shackled by it,” Smitt continues. “Because of that, we’ve been able to push the visual style of the film while still feeling true to the original.”