Q&A with INCREDIBLES 2 Director Brad Bird and Producers Nicole Grindle & John Walker

INCREDIBLES 2 Q&A with Director Brad Bird, Producers Nicole Grindle, John Walker

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Producer Nicole Grindle, Director Brad Bird and Producer John Walker at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

Q&A with Director Brad Bird and Producers Nicole Grindle & John Walker

While in San Francisco in April, we sat down with INCREDIBLES 2 Director Brad Bird and Producers Nicole Grindle and John Walker to discuss the upcoming film.

These three had a lot to say about INCREDIBLES 2 and how they’ve handled a quick production schedule, along with other tidbits I’m going to share with you. Let me start by saying how excited Brad Bird, Nicole Grindle, and John Walker seemed when chatting about the new film. They had nothing but smiles and laughs throughout the 30-minute interview.

A little background on the director and producers of INCREDIBLES 2.

Brad and John have worked together for 20 years and INCREDIBLES was the first film with Pixar for both of them. Neither of them had ever made a computer-generated film, nor had they worked for Pixar prior.

I think one of the reasons they brought us here was to sorta shake things up a little bit. So, we have been doing that for 20 years in different places.” – John Walker 

Nicole’s first feature at Pixar was A Bug’s Life and first started working there in 1995. She’s been there ever since!

An Incredibles 2 art review, including Joshua Holtsclaw presenting to Director Brad Bird, as seen on June 22, 2017, at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

Why wait so long to create INCREDIBLES 2?

Brad thinks there’s a tendency these days to not enjoy the experience, but want what they want now with no waiting.

“I don’t know. I think that for me it was not intentional. I just don’t think it’s maybe the greatest idea creatively to follow-up a successful film with its sequel. You know, I think that you wanna take time. You wanna think about it. You wanna enjoy the process.” – Brad Bird

Throughout the years he was always thinking about creating INCREDIBLES 2 but other things took priority. When he finally got the chance we’re 14 some odd years later and he decided it was time!

It’s not intentional and it’s not calculated in any way. It probably would’ve been smarter if it were a cash grab to do it a lot sooner. I just was mulling on it and it finally seemed like the right thing to do. I didn’t want to wait any longer though, because it was clearly too long.” – Brad Bird

Was it easy to get back into writing the INCREDIBLES 2 characters?

Brad says that it was “easy as pie.” That even though the movie appeals to mass audiences and seems like it’s a commercial movie that to him it’s personal.

It has a lot of the things that I loved at the age of ten, which a lot of ‘em I still love and combined with the family that I grew up with and the family that I have with my wife and sons. So, it’s kinda all the stuff I love combined with both families that I’ve had in my life. And so, for me, even though it seems brightly colored and pop confection, it’s actually really personal to me.” – Brad Bird

He says that the characters are comfortable to write because he likes them and he has “fun hearing them talk.” Brad also mentions that after he made INCREDIBLES he now hears the voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sam Jackson, and Sarah Vowell’s voices when he writes and that makes it easier to write the dialogue. Producer John Walker agrees with Brad that it is easier to write, in terms of the dialogue with their voices already known. But, Brad pointed out that in terms of writing the story it’s hard.

The character part is fun. The plot part is painful. – Brad Bird”

Director Brad Bird during Incredibles 2 film production, as seen on February 28, 2018, at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

Technology has advanced in the years between INCREDIBLES and INCREDIBLES 2. What does that technological advancement mean to the newest film? 

Brad starts by reminding us that Pixar invented the feature computer animation and there was a point in time where they were explaining this breakthrough. They were just creating these films at the beginning, using the basic computer animation. As times change and computer animation improves, they created more complex shapes, blue fur, and underwater scenes. INCREDIBLES was the first computer-animated feature that featured all humans.

Now the medium has passed its infancy, and you can talk about the stuff, but it tends to be smaller stuff. I can tell you that the characters look more like our original designs in the first film than they did in the first film. We got close, but we didn’t get them bang on. And on this film, they’re bang on. – Brad Bird”

He says that this film is what they wanted to create when they were creating the first film. They came close on the first film, but Brad said they didn’t get it.

“Like the first film, the big deal was that there was no single big deal. It was everything. We had three times as many sets as any Pixar film before. We had everything that [computer generated] animation was bad at. You know, we did the bad at humans, bad at hair, bad at fire, bad at water. And we just had a whole film that was filled with everything that CG couldn’t do well at that point.

So, it really almost broke the studio in terms of like the absolute cutting edge of what could be done on the first film. On this film, it still was a real challenge. But the medium has improved so much that you can do good fire now. You can do good water. You can do good hair. It was just the amount of it. We had a lot.” – Brad Bird

Producer Nicole Grindle, Director Brad Bird and Producer John Walker at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

“The thing that changed the most from the first to the second film here was people talk about the technology, and the technology’s definitely improved and that makes a big difference, but the level of artistry and competence of the people that work here is just off the charts. I mean it’s stunning to watch. It’s completely different from when we were here before. Everybody was great before, but they’ve worked together for – some of them for 15, 20, 30 years.” – John Walker

John says that on the first film there was a circular process. Meaning, the artist would bring something to Brad, he would have notes for them, then the artist would go back in an attempt to make changes and get it the way Brad wanted it, they’d come back to Brad then if it wasn’t where it needed to be, they’d go off and come back.

“This time it’s just like the stuff just comes in the first time and it’s like, oh, my God, that’s great. And whatever notes he has, they’re hit like just right away. And that’s stunning.” – John Walker

Producer Nicole Grindle and Director Brad Bird at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

“I’ve had the benefit of watching this evolution, and I should say our Supervising Technical Director, Rick Sayre, is one of the founding technical people at the company and has continued to stay on the cutting edge. So, it’s a combination of the technology has developed. We’ve had new talent come in, and some of the original genius talent has remained and continued to push us further and further.” – Nicole Grindle

“I agree the difference on this film from the last film is that we’re not inventing new things so much as we’re trying to stuff as much creativity into the time that we have. And it’s been a huge challenge for this team to go as fast as we have. In many ways, both films have felt similar to me in that there’s been this enormous pressure. It’s just come from different places. The first one was trying to invent it in time, and on this film, it’s just trying to move as quickly as we can to put all of the great ideas Brad has onto that screen.” – John Walker

Between the end of INCREDIBLES and now, was there an idea that just changed dramatically when it came to INCREDIBLES 2?

Brad confirmed that the ideas of a “role switch between Bob and Helen, and the fact that the family didn’t know of the baby’s powers and that they would learn about it in this film” dated back to the first film’s release. He says that the superhero plot changed all the time and “changed radically.”

With a fast looming deadline for release, “if something didn’t pay off immediately, you had to abandon it.”

“This doesn’t work. Kill it. It was this binary process. So, that was tough. The superhero plot changed a lot. The core idea of Helen getting the mission and Bob staying at home and them having to cope with the baby’s powers, that’s my oldest idea for this film.” – Brad Bird

©2018 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

When INCREDIBLES released there weren’t as many “Super” movie franchises as there are today. How does that affect the story development? 

Brad brings up the fact that when they did the first film there were only a couple of big, active franchises. One being Spiderman and the other was X-Men. Chuckling, he adds “Batman had gone dark after the nipple Batman. […] And Superman had gone away for a while, and Marvel was not kicked into high gear with Ironman.”

So really they were only competing with a few films at the time. Now, “every six inches there’s a superhero.”

If you throw a rock, you’ll hit a superhero, who will punch you in return. I think that it’s much harder to do a unique story now. Not only are there scads and scads and scads and scads of superhero films, but there [are] television shows like Heroes where they have maybe 20 superheroes, each of whom has a storyline every week.

So, they’re chowing through potential spins on the genre at an ungodly rate. I think that if we thought about this as a superhero movie, we probably would’ve been stymied. But we didn’t. We always felt like what makes our film unique is that it’s about a family. The roles — their superpowers were based on iconic roles of men and women and children in the family. The dad is always expected to be strong. The mom is always stretched in a million directions. Teenagers are defensive and insecure. So, she has force fields and invisibility.

Ten-year-olds are energy balls that just, you know, can’t not be on — eleven or off, that’s what they are. And babies are unknowns. They could have no powers at all, or they could be the next leader of the free world. Where they were in the family was how we chose their powers. And that was a unique approach, because it was more about stages of your life. And I think one of the reasons we’ve been successful is that everyone connects with at least two of the characters, and that’s because we’ve all been teenagers. We’ve all been children.

Many of us have kids, and so we’ve dealt with little babies, which are really challenging to keep up with. And teenagers, which are also a handful in a completely different way. We’ve had parents that seem kind of clueless at moments and the dad that maybe speaks before he really knows what he’s talking about. And the mom that manages everything. So, that’s where our strength lies, and that’s what makes us different. And if we thought about it in those terms, it became a lot easier to make our film.” – Brad Bird

Photo Credit: Disney

How did the cast react to news of INCREDIBLES 2?

Holly Hunter and Craig T. Nelson were happy to come back as Bob and Helen Parr.

They know who their character is, what the characters look like, how the animators respond to what they vocally. They were all just like the band’s back together. It was really fun.” – Brad Bird

Brad says about the actor who plays Violet, “Sarah [Vowell] was really funny because she said, I think I have three more years before I can’t play a teenager anymore.’ So it was really great.”

They had a cute story about Samuel L. Jackson, who voices Frozone before they were even in production for INCREDIBLES 2.

“Sam [Jackson] was talking about us like we were in production before we’d even attempted to make the film. He was like, oh, sure, there’s gonna be an Incredibles 2. Of course. Now we’re lookin’ around, oh, geez, if Sam says we’re makin’ a movie, I guess we better start makin’ a movie.” – Brad 

Yeah, he’s startin’ to talk about another sequel. We’re like no, no, no.” – Nicole

“No, no, shut up, Sam. Shut up.” – Brad

“Shut up, Sam.” – John

“We have to finish this one first, please.” – Nicole

Obviously, Samuel L. Jackson was onto something there since we now have a sequel coming to theaters on June 15, 2018.

Two very important characters [Dash Parr and Rick Dicker] needed to be recast for the sequel. What was the recasting process like?

Bud Luckey, the original voice of Rick Dicker has to be replaced because when they were recording he wasn’t able to match the work he’d done before. He was sick and since that time, he has passed. The did try recording him, but it didn’t work and they weren’t able to find anyone who sounded like he did in INCREDIBLES.

So what did they do?

The started over with the Rick Dicker voice and cast him from scratch. If they were looking from scratch who would they approach? That’s when they found Jonathan Banks from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.

He dropped in beautifully. And his Rick Dicker is not exactly the same as Bud’s, but it’s every bit as cool, I think. And maybe a little tougher edged.” – Brad Bird

They knew going in that Spencer Fox, the voice of Dash in INCREDIBLES, wouldn’t be able to voice Dash in sequels because he’s older and wouldn’t be able to still have that 10-year-old boy voice.

They went back to New York

They went back to New York, where they originally found Dash and found Huck Milner who was cast as Dash in INCREDIBLES 2.

Dash doesn’t have a New York accent or anything. It’s just that there’s somethin’ about the city or somethin’ that –” -Brad

“Makes him move fast.” – Nicole says through laughs

“Makes him move fast. We got lucky with Huck. He just sorta sounded right, but his personality was muted. I just had a feeling that he would be right. Once he got the part, he just let it out and it happened to be totally right. He was the same kind of energy that Spencer had. It was like, fasten your seatbelts. You know, we’re gonna record Dash today.” – Brad Bird

Yeah, yeah, yeah. He does laps around the studio between lines.” – Nicole

he was so into it. He was so into it. Beause we didn’t say what it was for, and when he found out it was Dash he came in one day actually wearing a Dash outfit. He was zippin’ about the studio and it was really great. He had a blast, and I think he did a magnificent job.” – Brad

How do you expect people to feel when they see Incredibles 2?

“I am a lover of all kinds of emotions connected with movies. I think that movies are an emotional medium. They’re kind of a dream language. They’re less intellectual really. You can have a smart movie, but movies, in general, are more about dream language. I don’t think that this meant to make people cry at every —  I think we have emotional moments here and there, but I hope people just consume huge amounts of popcorn and soda and have a really great time. That’s what this is meant to be.

Hopefully, it’s smart and there’s some stuff in there that you can chew on later, but the main goal is just to entertain the crap outta people.” – Brad Bird

©2018 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Why do you think Bob is having a difficult time staying at home with Jack-Jack? 

“[…]Because of Jack-Jack” – John

“Yeah.” – Nicole

“Anybody would have a hard time with Jack-Jack.” – John

“But, Helen says in the movie [that] any baby is a challenge. But then to put it on a quantum level with a baby that can go through walls and turn into a little devil, or…” – Brad

“Catch on fire.” – John

“Yeah. To me, that’s just an abstraction of what babies are.” – Brad

“Right. I’ve always felt that this was a representation of what we all feel as parents. You all go into it like, ‘oh, it’s a little baby. How cute. How hard cood that be?’ Right. Then at every turn, they’re more and more difficult.” – Nicole

“Cut to six months later and you’re screaming. What [Nicole] said I agree with 100%.” – Brad

Wait until you see everything that Jack-Jack can do! I’ll have a special post with all the details after the June 15th release date.

Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar

What can audiences expect from Edna Mode in this sequel, and how easy it for you to find that voice?

For those that aren’t aware, INCREDIBLES 2 Director, Brad Bird voices our favorite fashion designer Edna Mode.

“It’s not hard at all. It’s strange that a half-German half-Japanese bossy midget is something that feels very natural to me. I think that at my most confident moments, I’m sort of like E. She exists in that most confident moment all the time. That is something I wish that I could do. It always cracked me up that she’s this tiny little person with no superpowers at all that can cowl superheroes and make them feel inadequate somehow or like they can’t keep up.

And I’ve known some people like that that just emit this confidence that just does not take in anything that is humbling or they just operate on that level. She’s a lot of fun to write and — yeah, what can they expect? Hopefully some surprise, but the same character.” – Brad Bird 

What is your favorite part, scene, or character in the film?

Nicole starts by saying “the first thing that comes to mind is Voyd.”

She’s a new character played by Sophia Bush. And I love her as somebody who sees Helen as a mentor. She’s got this really great, fresh energy. And I love her superpowers. So, that’s what comes to my mind like that.” – Nicole

John mentions that he’s a new grandfather of a one-year-old granddaughter. While laughing, he says “My daughter came to me and said why didn’t you tell me it was so hard.”

I said, well, because then you never would’ve done it. I said and the caveat to that is have I got a movie for you.

I love all the Jack-Jack scenes and how Bob has to try to deal with this crazy baby, which is, just a great metaphor for what my daughter and son-in-law have been going through the last year. When will this child sleep? I said I don’t know. Hang in there. So, that’s my favorite part are the Jack-Jack scenes, especially the raccoon fight.” – John

Brad has it a little tougher – he laments that “at any given moment I can love any part of the movie.”

“It’s all stuff that I love. I love action scenes. I think that I enjoy putting Helen through action scenes just because her power’s uniquely suited to a certain approach to action scenes, which is fun. I loved dealing with Bob having his self-esteem undercut a little bit by not being the first choice, which he’s never dealt with in his life before. That just made me giggle while I was writing it.

There is a part of men that always assumes that we’re the best ones for the job and there’s something funny about that. It’s fun to poke a hole in that. It’s like men hate asking directions. It’s just a thing. It’s a primal thing that goes back to the beginning of time. We’re deathly afraid of looking like we don’t know what we’re doing. I think that because it’s deep in our DNA, it’s just right for comedy.

That was fun. I loved writing Violet because she’s the permanent, cynical teenager who’s always looking for the power structure to be upended and I love Sarah Vowell as a person. She just cracks me up and she’s so smart and funny that I love working with her. And I love chase scenes with Dash. I like stuff with Frozone. He’s just a funny, very particular voice. And knowing that Sam’s gonna say something gives you an automatic shot of energy because you know that no one can do that better than Sam. 

For me it’s just the whole thing is a delight. The most fun I ever had – but I’ve only made six movies – and the most fun I’ve ever made making a movie was the first Incredibles. And so, to be able to return to this world was really fun for me.” – Brad

What a fun 30 minutes and there was just so much information. I hope you’ll join me at the movies on June 15th to watch the Supers, including Jack-Jack don their Super Suits again!


Pre-sale tickets now available!

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