The production of "The Indredibles" followed a familiar Pixar process. Here's a look:
Creating an animated film involves multiple, carefully planned stages. First, the story is written and preliminary storyboards are drawn to help tell the story visually in the earliest stages. The storyboards are then turned into a form of early animation -- known as "reels" or "animatics" -- that allows the filmmakers to fine-tune the sequences before actually animating them.
Simultaneously, the art department is hard at work, illustrating every last physical detail of the individual characters and the entire universe in which they exist while also brainstorming the design of "virtual" sets, props, buildings, surfaces, and color palettes. Once the story and look of the film are decided upon, actors are brought in to record the voice performances -- giving the characters distinct personalities, which are, in turn, used to inspire the rest of the creative process.
Then the process of metamorphosing these 2-D representations into a 3-D reality begins. The first step is for the modeling group to build the characters and sets in the computer. The layout crew is instrumental in the next phase -- fine-tuning the characters and the shots to create environments that will tell the story to its greatest effect. Following this, the characters are fully animated -- move by move, shot by shot -- and they come to life with a full range of expressions, movements, and emotions.
Nuanced shading and digital lighting complete the production phase, and the entire movie is rendered. In rendering, all of the information that makes up the motion picture is translated from digital data into actual frames of film. Finally, the film is completed much like any other motion picture -- via final editing, scoring, and the addition of sound and special effects.
Technical Challenges of "The Incredibles"
With "The Incredibles," director Brad Bird asked his team at Pixar to innovate, expand upon, and find new ways to push this process to its furthest creative extremes. Says producer John Walker, "This film started with a personal vision and a passion that spread throughout Pixar. It's an exciting thing to break new ground, pioneer new techniques, and invite audiences into an experience that is as emotional and fun as it is innovative."
Adds Bird, "As director, I became well acquainted with what I called the 'Pixar Glaze,' where these complete technical geniuses would just grow pale and start looking at each other like, 'Does he know what he's asking?' But no one ever gave up. Every problem found a solution that kept pushing the film's creativity. It's a real testament to Pixar that they kept coming up with magic from thin air."
In the end, "The Incredibles" took everyone involved on an imaginative ride. "The creation of 'The Incredibles' required a tour de force," executive producer John Lasseter says. "Fortunately, our guys at Pixar keep getting better and better. When you see the characters in this movie act, and you look into the pools of their eyes, you can feel what's going on inside their soul. The subtleties of their facial animation and their body gestures are remarkable. You get so caught up with the characters and the story, you don't think about what genre of movie it is. You simply know you are watching a remarkable story."
Production Design of "The Incredibles"
The filmmakers first set out to build the richly stylized world of "The Incredibles." The design scope of that world turned out to be unprecedented. Unfolding on more than 100 virtual sets, an eye-popping world, both futuristic and nostalgic, was created.
"I saw the world of 'The Incredibles' as looking sort of like what we thought the future would turn out like in the 1960s," says Bird. "During that period, there were all these shows that promised people that, in 10 or 15 years, we would all have jet packs or use hydrofoils to travel across the water and then drive up on land. It didn't turn out that way, so this film is the 1960s view of what we believed life was going to be like today."
To help capture this very special "suburban mid-century tiki" look, production designer Lou Romano and art director Ralph Eggleston (the Oscar-winning director of the Best Animated Short for 2002, "For the Birds," who previously served as the production designer on "Toy Story" and "Finding Nemo") were faced with the enormous task of creating human emotion through the shape and color of the sets. They borrowed forms from contemporary architecture and used color to subtly reflect the story and mood.
"The film starts off very bright and saturated during the golden age of superheroes, but then the color drains out as we find Bob working away at his boring job," says Romano. "As the film progresses, we brought in more color until we came full circle to the big confrontation scene at the end."
Set sequence supervisor Nigel Hardwidge worked alongside Romano and Eggleston to make sure their vision was clearly communicated to the technical crew. This meant a lot of problem-solving.
"My job is to ask a lot of questions about each environment -- what it looks like, how much are we going to see of it, what time of day is it, and how are we going to create it in a way that will satisfy these guys who dreamed it up in such wonderful detail," Hardwidge explains. "Right off the bat, we knew this film was going to be an unprecedented undertaking because 'The Incredibles' has nearly three times as many sets as we've dealt with on any previous film. One of the first big challenges was the scene where Dash races through the jungle to escape from the Velocipods. Dash ran at about 200 mph, which meant we needed literally to create twice as much ground as originally planned. It was just one sequence, but we quickly realized how massive this project was going to become."
With the dozens of sets completed, the next task was for the layout team to establish the staging, blocking, and timing of each scene, and to start transforming ordinary 2-D drawings into a 3-D world. To allow for maximum creative flexibility with the camera and the character action, Pixar changed its typical layout process for "The Incredibles." For previous films, Pixar first built detailed models of the sets and then figured out camera positions, just like on a live-action film.
With this film, Pixar did things in reverse. On some of the big scenes, it filmed using a simple geometry model. After the director approved the shot, more complete models were built out to the camera. This allowed more flexibility. For example: The final battle scene in the city was so big that it made no sense to build a city and then figure out how to film it. So the Pixar team pre-visualized the scene and then filmed the action. Only then did the filmmakers build a final model that added more detail.
From a lighting perspective, "The Incredibles" was an enormous job because of the unusually large number of sets and shots: "The Incredibles" had nearly 600 more shots than "Monsters, Inc." The lighting crew also had the tricky job of trying to create cinematographic lighting schemes that would match the unique look of the film. This meant less light, and more contrast, like a live-action thriller or adventure story -- something not typically done in animation. This gave the crew a chance to create more delicate lighting effects that added to the overall photo-realism and impact of the film. For example, there is a sequence in which Mrs. Incredible is in shadow in a car, but there's still enough fill light to read her eyes.
In the next section, we'll show you how the animation came together to create realistic human characters.