Next up in our series of excerpts from the production notes for Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles is a segment that tells about the genesis of the story, Brad Bird’s story pitch to Pixar creative VP John Lasseter, and a glimpse at the technologically groundreaking aspects of the production of the film.

An Incredible Undertaking: How The Incredibles Came to Life

The Incredibles was born in the imagination of director Brad Bird, a filmmaker who wanted to make a motion picture that would capture everything he’d always loved about the movies: grand adventure, unconventional families, inventive thrills, cutting-edge imagery, sharp humor and characters so compelling and true-to-life you can’t help but become involved in their emotional and moral dilemmas. The hitch was that Bird wanted to do all this in an animated feature that would raise the art form to the next level of dramatic achievement. Could it be done? Bird believed passionately that it was possible.
  At the time that Bird came up with the story of The Incredibles he was also a brand new father—with dizzying thoughts about how a person integrates their family life with their personal dreams. This led to the creation in Bird’s mind of a father—indeed, a superhero father—who is forced to give up his passion—in this case saving the world—for the good of his family, much to his chagrin.
  Thus was born Bob Parr, formerly Mr. Incredible, whose family long ago entered the Superhero Relocation Program and are living typical foible-filled suburban lives—until a mysterious communiqué gives Bob a chance to rescue the planet, and his own sense of self-worth, one more time.
  As Bird began to write the story of The Incredibles, he realized that two very different ideas were coming together as one: he was writing the wildly imaginative spy adventure he’d always wanted to see; but, he was also writing a drama about the ties that bind us and how the greatest superpower of all might simply be the power of a family. Ultimately, Bird began to view the Parrs as being pretty much like the rest of us—facing the daily grind of bosses, traffic and minor misunderstandings that get blown out of proportion—but just a little more incredible.
  “At its heart, I saw The Incredibles as a story about a family learning to balance their individual lives with their love for one another,” says Bird. “It’s also a comedy about superheroes discovering their more ordinary human side. As I wrote, I wanted to create a world filled with pop culture references—with spy movie gadgets and comic book super powers and outrageous evil villains using ingenious devices—but at the same time, to create a story within that world that is very much about family. I really poured everything in my heart into the story. All these personal things—about being a husband, being a father, the idea of getting older, the importance of family, what work means and what it feels like to think you’re losing the things that you love—all of these are tucked into this one big story.”
  At the same time that Bird hoped to push the technical limits of animation, he also hoped to push the form’s storytelling potential to a new edge. “To a certain degree, I was inspired most by the classic Disney animated films like Lady and the Tramp which have such indelible characters that they’ve stood the test of time,” he says. “The question was how to do that with the very best tools the art form has to offer today.”
  When Bird finished an early draft of the script, he brought the story to the only people he was convinced would understand his vision for an animated film that he hoped would look, feel and be produced unlike any other: Pixar Animation Studios.
  Innovation has long been the name of the game at Pixar, the company behind many of animation’s biggest blockbuster hits and critical sensations including the pioneering Toy Story, as well as A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo. The studio is always looking for original stories from creative visionaries, and the minute John Lasseter—Pixar’s vice president of creative and an Oscar® winning filmmaker in his own right—heard Bird’s pitch, he knew he had found one.
  “It was a like a homecoming to have Brad here to pitch the story because this studio was created for people like him—people who are passionate about taking entertainment, animation and great characters in unforeseen directions,” says Lasseter. “His idea for The Incredibles was truly breathtaking. I loved the idea of this great adventure about a superhero family trying to do what all families try to do—make one another happy. And I knew in Brad’s hands it was going to go beyond being just an incredibly fun story to have phenomenal style and dramatic power.”
  Lasseter also knew that The Incredibles would be an unmatched challenge for Pixar—not only would it be the first time the studio had tackled wholly human characters, it would be the most technically innovative, logistically complex and overall most monumental production the studio had ever undertaken. The story unfolds on nearly 100 different sets—ranging from a whimsical, modernesque suburbia to the lush and untamed jungles of Nomanisan Island. Furthermore, because the film emphasizes the characters’ humanity, Bird was asking the Pixar team to create the most believable human animated forms in history—with palpably kinetic skin, hair and clothing. Enthusiasm spread like wildfire through the studio to meet the challenge of The Incredibles.
  The process of creating any animated film goes through 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 allow 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—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 indelible personalities, which are, in turn, used to inspire the rest of the creative process.
  At last, the process of metamorphosing these 2-D representations into a 3-D reality begins. The first step in this process 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 camera from the story reel to create the “shots” that will tell the story to its greatest effect. Following this, the characters are fully animated—move by move, shot by shot—coming to life with a full range of expressions, movements and emotions. Then 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.
  With The Incredibles, Brad Bird asked his team at Pixar to innovate, expand upon and find new ways to push this process to its farthest creative extremes.
  Comments producer John Walker: “This film started with a personal vision and a passion that spread throughout Pixar. Pixar is a place that is built on excellence and Brad’s vision was completely supported by everyone there, because even though they could see it was going to be very tough and challenging to make this movie come to life, they also knew it would be highly stimulating. 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.”
  Recalls 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, says John Lasseter, The Incredibles took everyone involved on an imaginative ride. “The creation of The Incredibles required a tour de force,” he says. “Fortunately, our guys at Pixar keep getting better and better. With this film, they’ve really outdone themselves. 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.”