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Playback: Brad Bird on ‘Incredibles 2’ and the Iron Giant’s Big-Screen Return

PLAYBACK is a Variety / iHeartRadio podcast bringing you conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films. New episodes air every Thursday.

After the underperforming live-action effort “Tomorrowland,” writer-director Brad Bird is back in the animation realm this year with “Incredibles 2.” He was eager to dive back into the world of his original 2004 creation once again because the work that went into conjuring that Pixar animated hit was some of the most fun he’s had in his career. Fifteen years later, though, animation has obviously progressed quite a bit. So some of the old headaches weren’t there to cause trouble this time around.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

Click here for more episodes of “Playback.”

“We were on the edge of failure the entire time we were making the first movie,” Bird confides. “We barely got the hair in time for Violet. We had some promising tests early on, but they were like strips of rubber. Finally they came to me and said, ‘It’s not getting better and we don’t know how to do it. Nobody else knows how to do it, either.’ All the other CG films had hair helmets, you know? And then some genius insight was had over a weekend and someone was like, ‘If I put a decimal point here, look what happens.’ And we had hair. But we had it at the last possible second. That’s what making the first movie was like. Now all the rigs are much better. They’re more responsive. The lighting tools are better. The fabric, we can do well. It’s more like, ‘Do you know what you want?’ That was a much nicer place to be.”

In hammering out an aesthetic for these films, one that is quite different from the usual Pixar fare, Bird was inspired then, as now, by the spy yarns of his youth. He wasn’t drawing on superheroes and comics books as much, and he even admits to being quite a novice in that realm.

“People think that I’m knowledgable about comic books and I’m really not. That’s the sad truth,” Bird says. “The only one that I know well, where I can hang in there with you, is ‘The Spirit.’ I consider it kind of genius. Will Eisner’s ‘The Spirit’ is sort of the ‘Citizen Kane’ of comic books to me. But I got my superheroes sort of second-hand through movies and TV.”

Bird and his team were in the thick of finishing the film when news broke last fall that Pixar chief John Lasseter would be taking a leave of absence following sexual harassment allegations. Since Bird spoke to “Playback,” it has been announced that Lasseter will be exiting Disney at the end of the year, but prior to that, Bird offered some thoughts about morale at Pixar in the midst of those developments last year.

“It was an odd time,” Bird says. “People assume that we knew or know something beyond what the public knows, but we were all just working. I knew a half an hour before the press knew. I haven’t seen him since. I’ve sent him an email and he hasn’t responded, but he didn’t respond before this happened. He just doesn’t respond to emails! But if you run into him, he’ll have a conversation at any time. I love John. He’s an old friend and I hope it works out in a way that everyone is happy with.”

For more, including Bird’s thoughts on seeing the Iron Giant in Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” earlier this year and his feelings on sequels “taking up too much bandwidth” (funnily enough), listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

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