Interview: Brad Bird

February 1, 2008 10:48 AM
Brad Bird’s tenacity as a young man has paid off.
Born in Montana, he visited the Walt Disney Animation Studios when he was 11 years old and told animators there he would be one of them one day. Three years later, he turned up with a short film.
Not that he joined the payroll immediately — he attended CalArts before taking a job he couldn’t refuse at Disney (despite dropping out of CalArts, Bird says they love to have him back to speak to students).
Now, his films — “The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles,” and “Ratatouille” — offer some of the greatest pleasures of the last ten years in terms of universal appeal, design, and storytelling. “Ratatouille” was denied a Best Picture Oscar nomination despite garnering rave reviews (he received’s Golden Tomato award for the best-reviewed film of the year), but the film still managed five nominations from the Academy.

Brad Bird stands at far left with Patton Oswalt, middle, who voiced Rata’s adorable lead character, Remy, seen here, and with one of the film’s producers, Brad Lewis. Below, Bird stands with Peter O’Toole, who voiced the character of cranky food critic Anton Ego.

On Saturday, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival invites Bird for a “Conversations With” event, preceded by a screening of the documentary “The Pixar Story.”
He first worked on 1981’s “The Fox and Hound.” It was there where he was mentored by some of the best classical animators of the era, but his real break came when Steven Spielberg asked him to script a live action episode of “Amazing Stories” in 1985. That led to a second episode, this time fully animated. “Family Dog” became his calling card: Bird could animate and tell a good story.
This episode led to executive consultant jobs on The Simpsons, King of the Hill, and then finally the chance to write and direct an animated feature, “The Iron Giant,” based on the Ted Hughes book. Pixar took notice and offered Bird the step over into computer animation. In the 12 years since Pixar’s “Toy Story,” Bird says both technology and perceptions have changed.

“It’s amazing,” he says. “Look at the human characters in those (Toy Story and Ratatouille). It’s very different. There’s such control now, and so many controls the animator has at their disposal. (Computer Generation) is a tool like any other, but I think it’s a really flexible, wonderful one.
“We are moving past an unfortunate period where studios thought that CG was the only way to be successful,” he says. “It’s not what you use to make the film, it’s how you tell the story. It’s the characters, and it’s the graphic style. Now we have successful films that are not just CG, but traditional 2D animation, or stop-motion. All kinds of films can and should be made.”
Bird now juggles the mantles of writer, director, and animator. But what of the young boy who wanted to draw cartoons?
“I can draw, I can storyboard, I can even design some characters if you hold a gun to my head,” he says. “There are sections in all my films that I know specifically how it should look. I draw the scenes as I write them, I don’t do it later.
“The writers’ strike is seen by some as a symposium on us directors. But as a writer-director, it’s its own continual process. I’m even writing in the editing room, when I’m reshaping the narrative in the final cut. I don’t know, would you call that directing? Or writing?”
Although known for films that appeal to all ages, Bird says that having kids of his own hasn’t changed the way he writes. He certainly wouldn’t write for kids.
“No good things can come from that,” he says. “You have to write for yourself. But it has helped me as a director in that it’s taught me patience.” As he is accustomed to doing, Bird lets out a hearty chuckle. “Adults, like children, seldom ask directly for what they want. Adults are just like kids, but with an ability to disguise what they think behind sympathetic patter.”
CONVERSATION WITH BRAD BIRD, preceded by screening of ‘The Pixar Story’
When: Screening begins at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, discussion at 6 p.m.
Where: Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St.
Cost: $13
Information: 963-0761 or
©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press

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