Brad started his first animated cartoon at age eleven and finished it at fourteen. The film attracted the attention of Disney Studios which offered the young legend a chance to come be mentored by Milt Kahl, one of the Nine Old Men. After graduating from Cal Arts, Brad started a job at Disney but left shortly after working on The Fox and the Hound. From there, he assisted in developing The Simpsons from the one-minute shorts on The Tracy Ullman show into a regular series.
Eventually, Brad was given the chance to make his first feature, The Iron Giant. It received much praise and acclaim from critics and artists alike. Bird was finally contacted by his fellow Cal Arts graduate and co-founder of Pixar, John Lasseter and offered the chance to make his second feature, The Incredibles.
Family and early life
“I started drawing at a really early age, and the very first drawings that I did — I didn’t realize this until years and years later, but they were sequential. I would show a guy walking in in one drawing, picking something up in the second drawing. They were little comic strips, the very first ones that I did, and I didn’t realize until later, but I was trying to make movies. When I got a little bit older, I figured out that people made these cartoons. They didn’t just happen from cartoonland. There were adults sitting down somewhere and making them happen. Once I did that, once I realized that, my parents were cool enough to get me a camera that could shoot single-frame, and I started making movies.
When I started making animated films, I then noticed the language of film in all the live action movies. At that point, it was guys like Kubrick, Welles, Kurosawa, Hawks, Hitchcock… they became big influences as well. I became really interested in film in general. The first animated film I did, I started when I was 11, and I finished it when I was almost 14. It starts out with the characters kind of crude, and they get more sophisticated and their movement gets more sophisticated by the time it’s over, so it’s kind of funny. It did bring me to the attention of Disney, though, and it all kind of went from there.
Disney threw open their doors, and I got to work with Milt Kahl, who was a tremendous influence on me. He was my first teacher of animation. He showed me the ways of the Force.”
After graduating from Cal Arts, Bird went back to Disney, this time to work on the feature, The Fox and the Hound. Brad directed the half-hour Animated episode “Family Dog” which appears on Steven Speilberg’s “Amazing Stories” Brad was hired by Klasky-Csupo to develop The Simpsons from a one-minute short on the Tracy Ullman Show to a thirty-mintue series on the Fox network. He stayed on there for about eight years as an ‘Executive Consultant’ Brad also worked under the same title on “The Critic” and “King of the Hill”.
Brad was eventually hired by Warner Brothers to direct “The Iron Giant”. Unfortunately for Brad, WB was closing down that department, though they let him finish his film. The film was given little help and advertising from the company, for that reason, “Iron Giant” did not do well at the box office. However, It received much praise, Awards and critical acclaim. After a few years, Brad was contacted by his fellow Cal Arts alumni and Pixar co-founder John Lasseter. John offered him the chance to come and direct his second feature, the Incredibles. And Later, Ratatouille.
When asked if “Family Dog” could be done as a weekly TV Series, Brad’s response shows his analytical approach to visual narrative: ” I always felt that you couldn’t do FAMILY DOG well on a weekly basis… This is pantomime. Even though the drawings look simple and the designs are simple, it’s acting, which means you’ve got to animate it here in the United States, and it takes time… Also, the FAMILY DOG series is hard to write because the comedy is built around a real dog’s point of view. It’s not like ‘Garfield’ where he looks at the camera and then a voice-over tells you what he’s thinking. This is a dog dog. As extreme as it looked, and as designy as it was, the joke was it was a real dog. He doesn’t talk. You had to be able to tell what he was thinking by how he moved. All of that is completely the opposite of the way you need to design animated productions for a weekly television show.”
Brad Bird is famous for bringing Live-Action inspired cinematography to American TV Animation. His contribution to the look and feel of “The Simpsons” is very well described when asked “What is a Creative Conslutant”? “When Sam Simon introduced me to the crew on the show, introduced me as “our secret weapon.” I often kick myself that I didn’t take that as my title. A lot of those titles are sort of meaningless.
Jim Brooks basically didn’t like the way conventional television animation looked at the time. A lot of things have happened since then. REN & STIMPY has happened, THE SIMPSONS happened. At that time, most of TV animation was you open with a wide shot, you go to a medium shot if they’re moving from one place to another, and you go to closeup whenever they talk. Whoever talks, that’s who you cut to, and it all done from eye level. What THE SIMPSONS’ producers liked about “Family Dog” was the fact that it was made even though it way very caricatured, it was more like a live action film in that there were long takes, there were pans, there were a lot of little camera moves, there was quick cutting, etc.
Once they started telling bigger stories, the visual style needed to grow as well. I was originally brought in to consult on the scripts as well, and I did a little bit on the first season. Basically, though, I was there to learn. I just sat there in awe of the writers. It was like, “You guys don’t need help in this area. You’re doing fine. What you do need help in is how to bring it to the screen, and in the style of filmmaking.” Because it’s not an elaborate show movement-wise, I always pressed that the filmmaking be more elaborate to make up for it. Very few people notice that the show is actually pretty elaborate filmmaking. There’s a lot of Kubrick references, other filmmakers and even other cartoons.
Essentially, any time we went into a new area, that’s where I’d concentrate my attention, because you would start to develop a visual style for each kind of joke, and then that style would be set, like panning up to Homer’s head for his thoughts. All that stuff had to be figured out, but once it was figured out, then that became something I didn’t have to pay attention to after the first season. Any time we did something new — and they were constantly throwing new stuff in there and really pushing it — that’s where I would turn my attention.” Brad’s comment on compositing the hand drawn Hogarth and CGI Giant to look as if both were drawn: We noticed that the (Cel-shade Render) line was perfect, and so we actually created a computer program to wobble the line so that to a certain degree, the line would jitter a little bit on the Giant, or not be exactly the same from drawing to drawing.
That took months to create, because the computer didn’t want to do that. We even built it with variable line wobble. We could add a little wobble or a lot of wobble depending on the scene, and we found a sort of midrange there, and hopefully it’s not enough that you’ll ever notice. It wobbles in the way the hand drawn stuff wobbles. Hopefully it just looks like a really, really good artist did it, and he or she was able to just nail it.”
Live Action: Kubrick, Welles, Kurosawa, Hawks, Hitchcock… Old Cartoons: Milt Khal & Disney Animation, Chuck Jones, Michael Maltese, John Hubley, Bob Clampett… Current Cartoons: “I love Nick Parks’ work. the Gromit character doesn’t even have a mouth, and yet, to me, he can convey any emotion known to man because the animation is so damn good. I’m impressed by my pal Henry Selick’s work. I just think there’s incredible artistry on display. I love John Lassiter and the folks at Pixar’s work. I think some of the best acting in animation happenin now is coming from Pixar.”
Honors and awards
Annie Awards: Outstanding Individual Achievement for Directing in an Animated Feature: The Iron Giant (1999) Outstanding Individual Achievement for Writing in an Animated Feature: The Iron Giant (1999) Shared with Tim McCanlies LAFCA Awards: Best Animation: The Iron Giant (1999) Annie Award: Best Directing in an Animated feature: The Incredibles (2005) Best Writing in an Animated Feature: The Incredibles (2005) Voice Acting in an Animated Feature: The Incredibles (2005) As the voice of Edna Mode BAFTA Childrens’ Award: Best Feature Film: The Incredibles (2005) LAFCA Award: Best Animation: The Incredibles ( 2005) Oscar: Best Animated feature of the year: The Incredibles (2005) Saturn Award: Best Writing: Ratatouille (2007) BSFC Award: Best Screenplay: Ratatouille (2007) Christopher Award: Best Feature Film: Ratatouille (2007) LAFCA Award: Best Animation: Ratatouille (2007) Annie Awards: Best Directing in an Animated Feature: Ratatouille (2007) Best Writing in an Animated Feature: Ratatouille (2007) Oscar: Best Animated feature of the year: Ratatouille (2007)