It’s the future as seen from 1964, something more futuristic than what we have now,” says Brad Bird of the retro-modern look that inspired his film “The Incredibles.”
“There’s something clean about that Bauhaus school of design and also kind of optimistic. But it also features those awful boxes overtaking cities, like the Insure-A-Care building.”
Design was important to conveying the characters’ inner life.
“Modern-day Bob, he’s an unhappy guy. We designed some of the shapes to be pressing down on him. So the Parrs’ house, it’s the only one on the block where the roof is pointing down instead of being arched. It’s subtle.
“We used the same design elements, where Huff’s desk juts out into the room, pointing at Bob and his chair. It’s about having these symmetrical, boring shapes, but having them interrupted by a pointy thing that’s almost like a person who’s jabbing your chest with his index finger.”
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Bird, who comes from the world of traditional animation, and his team deliberately stayed cartoony when it came to the film’s characters. “Human characters are a very tough area,” he says. “The computer is capable of tremendous detail and you can get sucked into making them as realistic as possible. But it’s not as important as making them believable. If you add too many details they end up looking like deformed people rather than caricatures.”
The island setting of the film was “a little more organic,” says Bird. “We wanted it to feel more like a fantasy, with sweeping lines rather than jagged lines.”
Those organic lines, which Bird likes to call “squishy,” are not a natural equation for a computer, he says. “If we had a feature-length film of cubes rotating in a white void, the computer would be the happiest machine in the planet. We had a movie that was big , heavy and squishy. We had to fight the computer every step of the way.”
Sure, it’s all in the computer says Bird, “but you still have to build it, tell the computer how thick something is, and assign colors and textures. It’s just like you’re building a physical set. It takes time. People think there’s a button you press that says ‘Make Movie.’ We had meetings where we only discussed leaves.”
On such a complex film, the computer can allow too much freedom. Bird and the animators had to learn to make smart choices within a certain budget.
Bird says, “We had about four times the number of sets that any Pixar film has had before, but we didn’t have a longer schedule or larger budget.
“At one point,” says Bird, “Our producer John Walker came in and said, ‘We’re now at the end of schedule, we’ve spent our money.’ We still didn’t have the hair working. One of our tech guys said, ‘At this point, hair is theoretical.’ And John said, ‘Well, our budget isn’t theoretical.’ Fortunately, some genius pulled the hair together over a weekend. I’m amazed we got it done and on time.”