John Millar: You were only 11 years old when you started animation. What inspired you?
Brad Bird: I started drawing when I was three. They were stick figures, but they were sequential. In my crude way I was trying to do movies. I loved animated shows when I was a kid. When I was 11 it occurred to me that people thought about what a panther might move like. I happened to talk to a guy who did animation and he explained you needed a camera that shot single frame. So my dad got one and I started my first film, The Tortoise And The Hare, which was more like Road Runner. It took me three years to make 15 minutes. The characters move simply at the beginning and their style improves during the film. So you can see me learning animation through the course of it. I sent it to Disney and it just went from there.
Millar: You are Pixar newcomer. This is your first movie for them. So how did you bring the idea of The Incredibles to Pixar?
Bird: John Lasseter and I have known each other for a while. We both did stints at Disney. He went to Lucas Film after that and I went to Spielberg. Steven Spielberg gave me my first chance to write and direct on his show Amazing Stories and that led me to The Simpsons. I was blown away by Toy Story, which I thought was the greatest thing made since Walt Disney died and I told John Lasseter so. Ever since Bug's Life they started talking to me about working at Pixar. After I finished The Iron Giant, I pitched the idea of The Incredibles and they went for it.
Millar: Where did the idea come from?
Bird: The movie is a blend of all kinds of movies, TV shows and comic books that I liked when I was growing up - spy movies, action and superheroes, combined with my feelings about the family I grew up in and the family I have now with my wife and kids. We began with drawings and nailed those first and then we tried to find the voice. So it is not modelled after any one individual.
Millar: Was there any question of not having the darker moments in the movie?
Bird: We had some discussion in the early days, when I finished the story reel, about toning it down, or saying that we were doing something different and going ahead with flat-out adventure. We said this was what we were going to do. I like genuine jeopardy in movies. Sometimes people are so well intentioned about protecting children that they create these shows that are designed around superheroes bashing each other about for a half hour without any consequence to it. The show is built around violence but no one ever gets injured, no one ever dies and to me that's a far worse message to give a kid than to have a world where there is actual jeopardy and prices are paid. There is no more traumatic movie for a kid than Bambi, because mom dies. But I would not change a frame of Bambi. The ultimate message of that film is that life goes on in spite of terrible things happening. I like a bit of bite in storytelling.
Millar: You had the idea 12 years ago so how close is The Incredibles to your original vision?
Bird: It's very close in that it is the film I set out to make. Some elements changed. The villain is different from the one I started with, but the story is very much what I set out to make.
Millar: In what way is the villain different?
Bird: John Lasseter suggested that I started the film with the family assuming roles of normal people and moving underground. I created this character Syndrome, who invaded the house at the beginning and died in the original opening sequence. But everyone liked this guy better than the other villain, a kind of smooth villain that I had in mind. So I jettisoned the other guy and developed this villain. Even though we ended up reverting back to my original story structure, we had this new villain who changed the course of the film significantly.
Millar: This is a mammoth undertaking. What was the toughest hurdle?
Bird: The truth of the matter is that there were 10 huge hurdles. We not only had humans which are considered the toughest thing to animate, we had to simulate fabric, hair, underwater, through air, four times the number of sets that any Pixar movie has had before. It was just one big car crash of a film and miraculously we survived.
Millar: How did you end up doing the voice for Edna Mode?
Bird: We do temporary voices as we prepare the movie with no intent to use it, just to get a sense of the movie. Andrew Stanton, the writer/director of Finding Nemo, did the voice of Crush, the surfer dude turtle. It was not intended for me to do the voice of Edna. It just stayed in there.
Millar: Was it easy to find Edna's voice?
Bird: When I was describing how I wanted her to look, I found myself doing the voice. Superheroes always have flamboyant costumes, but it is never explained who makes them. Every now and then they half-heartedly present a scene where the muscle-bound hero is sewing in the basement and I never bought that. I thought, if you had a world populated by superheroes someone would have to be designing stuff for them. She couldn't just be a designer. She'd also have to be half scientist. Her background is that she is small and powerful, good at design and technology. So I thought she should be half Japanese and half German and that's kind of where the accent comes from.
Holly Hunter voices Elastigirl, who doubles as Mrs Incredible. It was her first experience in animation.
Millar: The Incredibles must be different from anything else you have ever done?
Holly Hunter: I don't do anything. That's one of the situations where it is so foreign to me. You just go in and they put these pages in front of you and there are no other actors there - the director does all the other lines. They shoot you with a little video camera while you are recording so that the animators can look and see if they want to be influenced by any of your expressions, or behaviour. And it all takes a couple of years! You record some lines every couple of months, or so. It is completely foreign to every other way I have worked.
Millar: How did you adjust to that style of working?
Hunter: I don't know. It was hard for me. The process was not easy. But I had a good time and these guys were really great, but it was not something that I took to like a duck.
Millar: Did you ever get the chance to work alongside any of the other actors?
Hunter: No. I worked with none of them. I never even met them.
Millar: Were you doing Thirteen at the same time that you were working on The Incredibles?
Hunter: Oh yeah! That was tough! And I also did the same with Little Black Book. It's wild to work on something over such a long period of time and really not know how it's going because a movie like The Incredibles is the director's and the animators' movie. They are stirring this pot up there north of San Francisco and I'm doing recordings from Alaska, or Winnipeg, or New York, or wherever I might be. I'm by myself doing some lines and the director would not even be there; he is on a TV screen. Your imagination gets so keen.
Millar: Has it occurred to you that because of The Incredibles you will also be in the toy stores as a doll?
Hunter: This IS different. A doll is a whole other thing. I never ever thought that I would be a doll.
Millar: After the experience of doing your first animation feature might you be keen to do something like this again?
Hunter: I like challenges like this. It's good.
Millar: Is it true that you don't have an assistant?
Hunter: I don't have an assistant. I do all my own stuff. If I have to go to the dry cleaners then it has got to be me that take the clothes along. If there is going to be anything in my refrigerator then it'll be me that has to go out and buy it. I live a very ordinary life, that's just the way it is, and I like my life. I cleaned my own apartment for years, but then I said that I can't do this any more. It just became too nuts! So I finally hired someone to clean my house.
Millar: What do you like about living in New York?
Hunter: I really feel that I am of the people when I'm here. I love the faces, seeing how people dress and sitting on the subway seeing 15 different nationalities. I kind of feel very stimulated and comforted by all that. I know people don't believe it but I do fly under the radar in New York. I don't exactly understand why people don't recognise me. Maybe they expect me to be taller, or something.