Brad Bird is an animator, writer, producer, and director who developed a love for animation at an early age. He was mentored by Milt Kahl (one of Disney‘s legendary “Nine Old Men”). He attended the California Institute of the Arts and was part of one of its earliest graduating classes alongside John Lasseter and Tim Burton. Bird then went to work as an animator for Disney, but left in 1981 after working on The Fox and the Hound. For the next several years he worked on various animated TV series. He joined Klasky Csupo in 1989, assisting in the development of The Simpsons from one-minute shorts to an animated television series. He would then serve as a creative consultant on the show during its first eight seasons. During that time, he signed on with Warner Bros. Animation to develop his first animated feature, 1999’s The Iron Giant. After its moderate box office performance, he joined Pixar in 2000 (reuniting with Lasseter), and pitched his next film. For this latest installment of Animation Corner, I’ll be looking back at Bird’s second and third animated features, the Oscar-winning The Incredibles and the Oscar-winning Ratatouille.
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Written and directed by Bird, 2004’s The Incredibles centers on a family of superheroes who live a quiet suburban life, hiding their powers until patriarch Bob Parr (aka Mr.Incredible) is dragged into battle with an evil villain and hiskiller robot, forcing his family to join him in stopping the nefarious plan. Featuring the voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, Spencer Fox, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Peña, Brad Bird, Bud Luckey, Wallace Shawn, and John Ratzenberger, this critically acclaimed computer animated film grossed $261 million domestically on a $92 million budget (it added another $370 million internationally for a worldwide gross of $631 million). Bird, who was Pixar’s first outside director (having not risen through the ranks at the company), brought an auteur approach to the film. It was the first Pixar film to feature humans as the main characters, requiring the creation of new technology to animate detailed human anatomy, clothing, and realistic skin and hair (much, much further than what had been done for Monsters, Inc.). Additional new technical challenges included the animating of fire, water, air, smoke, steam, and explosions. This film also marked the first Pixar film to be scored by Michael Giacchino (as well as the first collaboration between Bird and Giacchino). John Barry had been the first choice to score the film, but Bird wanted a ’60s sound for the score and Barry didn’t want to recreate the sound of his earlier scores, resulting in Giacchino replacing him. Among the film’s accolades are 16 Annie Award nods (including 10 wins), as well as several Best Animated Feature wins from the Florida Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the National Board of Review, The Phoenix Film Critics Society, the New York Film Critics Circle, the San Diego Film Critics Society, the Seattle Film Critics, the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association, the Saturn Awards, and the Academy Awards.
Co-written and directed by Bird, 2007’s Ratatouille centers on an anthropomorphic rat who dreams of becoming a chef and forms a partnership with a Parisian restaurant’s garbage boy to achieve this goal. Featuring the voices of Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Janeane Garofalo, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Peter Sohn, Brad Garrett, Peter O’Toole, Will Arnett, James Remar, John Ratzenberger, and Jake Steinfeld, this critically acclaimed computer animated film cost $150 million and grossed $206 million domestically (it grossed $417 million internationally for a worldwide total of over $623 million). Bird replaced original director Jan Pinkava, who also co-wrote the script with Jim Capobianco. Bird’s changes included expanding some roles, killing off one character, and making the film a physical comedy. A lot of study went into gourmet food in order for the animators to properly animate them. Patton Oswalt was cast in the lead role after Bird heard Oswalt’s food-related comedy routine. Michael Giacchino re-teamed with Bird to provide a French-flavored score, garnering his first Oscar nod in the process. Among the film’s accolades are 13 Annie Award nods (including nine wins), as well as several Best Animated Feature wins from the BAFTAs, the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the Chicago Film Critics Association, the Las Vegas Film Critics Society, the National Board of Review, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the Saturn Awards, the Producers Guild of America (PGA), the Golden Globes, and the Academy Awards.