With a project like “Tomorrowland,” Brad Bird naturally found himself thinking about the future, but in his case, that meant more than filling the movie with jetpacks and other gee-whiz inventions. From the moment he signed on to direct the Disney tentpole, he resolved to make a movie that would hold up for posterity, the way a classic like “The Wizard of Oz” has more than three quarters of a century later.
“There are some movies that age very quickly, while others do not, and I try to pay attention when something that I liked when it first came out seems to have gotten very old,” says Bird, citing the way the first James Bond movie, 1962’s “Dr. No,” plays better than “Diamonds Are Forever,” which came out nearly a decade later.
Giving Bond sideburns didn’t help, Bird jokes, but the lesson he took from studying such cases was simple: “Don’t go for the momentarily trendy; try to dig a little deeper. Try to make things that are always going to feel good and feel right.”
That principle informed creative choices made at every level of the production, from cinematography to music. To give “Tomorrowland’s” score that classic feel, Bird reunited with composer Michael Giacchino (“Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol”), but took his example from composers like John Adams, who create music for large orchestras but have a style that’s stripped down and, by extension, more likely to endure, Bird says.
The same philosophy applied to Bird’s vision for Tomorrowland itself, a retro-future city where an elite group of thought leaders have attempted to create a utopian society — Ayn Rand by way of Walt Disney. While it was Entertainment Weekly journo Jeff Jensen and “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof who hatched the concept of a secret society, the story arc and visual aspects were still in flux when Bird came aboard. “It’s kind of like the iceberg was figured out, but which tip we were going to show and what the film was going to focus on was up for grabs,” the director says.
He imagined a utopian city in which forward-thinking architecture and technology from different periods might stand side-by-side. “When you go to a place like Chicago or New York, you see buildings from all sorts of eras, but they play well with each other,” says Bird, who entrusted production designer Scott Chambliss to create a place that blended eras while remaining faithful to its mission of pro-gress and invention. Together, Bird and Chambliss looked at Futurism from different periods, so that the towering monoliths architect Hugh Ferriss imagined in the 1920s might coexist with Streamline Moderne, as seen at the 1939 World’s Fair.
“We didn’t get to explore it to the extent that we would have liked,” Bird says. “You have your idea for a city, and then you realize (you’ve) got to move the story along.”
Although outsiders gain entry to Tomorrowland by acquiring a special pin, the city itself changes over the decades. For example, the pin Britt Robertson’s character finds is from 1984, so that’s the version of Tomorrowland she sees when she touches it: “People are wearing ’80s colors, and it’s the future as seen from the ’80s,” Bird explains. As in the real world, however, characters each have different fashion tastes, and their wardrobe reflects a variety of forward-thinking styles, rather than matching uniforms.
Meanwhile, to design the film’s costumes of the future, Bird tapped Jeffrey Kurland (“Inception”). “His only brief was ‘It’s a version of the future, and other than that, go wild,’ ” says Bird, who was delighted with the range of looks Kurland brought to the table. “There are the equivalents of T-shirts in that era, and the most runway model-worthy things you’ve ever seen, all coexisting like you would see on the street in Manhattan.”
The idea wasn’t to spark a fashion trend, but to create something with timeless appeal, he explains. “ ‘Dr. Strangelove’ may be an early-’60s movie, but it’s still modern, and you just want to be in that world, because it’s so vividly imagined,” Bird says. Ultimately, the trick wasn’t to anticipate the future, but to make creative choices that would still look good tomorrow — and for decades to come.