Director, screenwriter, and animator
Born c. 1956 in Kalispell, Montana; married; children: Nicholas, two other sons. Education: Graduated from the California School of Arts, Animation Program.
Addresses: Office—Pixar Animation Studios, 1200 Park Ave., Emeryville, CA 94608. Website—http://www.pixar.com.
Animator, Animalympics, 1979; animator, The Fox and the Hound, Disney, 1981; animator, The Plague Dogs, 1982; creator, Family Dog, Amazing Stories, CBS, 1985; consultant and guest animator, The Tracey Ullman Show, c. 1986; screenwriter, batteries not included, Universal, 1987; series storyboard artist and sheet direction, director, character development, The Simpsons, FOX, 1990; television executive consultant, The Simpsons, FOX, 1990-96; television executive consultant, The Critic, FOX, 1994; visual consultant, King of the Hill, FOX, 1997; worked at Turner Featured Animation (later merged with Warner Bros.), late 1990s; director and story-writer, The Iron Giant, Warner Bros., 1999; hired at Pixar Animation Studios, 2000; director, The Incredibles, Pixar Animation, 2004; director, Jack-Jack Attack (video), Pixar Animation, 2005.
Awards: Annie awards for best animated feature, best directing, and best voice acting for The Incredibles, 2004; Academy Awards for best animated feature and best sound editing, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for The Incredibles, 2005.
Brad Bird has risen from being a basic unknown in the entertainment business to the stratospheres of the movie world with his 2004 film The Incredibles. A precocious child, Bird developed an interest in animation at a very young age and has had quite an impressive career ever since, working for such companies as Disney, Warner Bros., and most recently, Pixar Animation. He has worked on animation shows from The Simpsons to King of the Hill, and he was the brains behind the cult film favorite The Iron Giant. Bird's fans are always eager to see what the animation genius will do next, and he has yet to disappoint, introducing new techniques and fresh ideas into the world of animation.
Bird, who is notoriously reticent about sharing his birth date, was born in Kalispell, Montana. He had three older sisters: Leslie, Susan, and Kathy. Bird's family moved to Oregon when he was still young, and he spent most of his childhood there. Bird became interested in animation very early on in his life, and he started making his first animated film at the age of eleven. He worked on the movie, an adaptation of the old tale about the tortoise and the hare, for four years, finishing it when he was a mere 14 years old. When The Tortoise and the Hare was finished he sent the film to Disney, hoping to come to the attention of someone at the famous animation company. This first of Bird's animated films eventually did indeed catch the attention of executives at Walt Disney Studios. They were so impressed that they invited him to enroll in their mentoring program. Bird graduated from Corvallis High School in Corvallis, Oregon, in 1975. Not long after, he was being mentored by the legendary Disney animator Milt Kahl, one of the group known in the industry as the Nine Old Men, the group responsible for most of Walt Disney's early animated movies.
After the stint with Disney, Bird enrolled in the animation program at the California School of Arts. After he got his degree Bird returned to Disney where he had been offered a job as an animator. He was excited about the chance to work at Walt Disney Studios, applying the knowledge he had gained at the California School of Arts, as well as the information he had gleaned from Kahl. He started out his career as an animator on the Disney feature-length film The Fox and the Hound. Bird, however, soon became disenchanted with the Disney feature-length animation film department. He thought that the quality in recent years had gone down from what it once was and that they had cheapened the appeal of the films they made by allowing them to become television series. Bird had very strong opinions about maintaining a film's integrity and not corrupting the original story by making sequels just for the sake of making a sequel, and that included turning them into television shows.
Bird left Disney in the mid-1980s. One of the things that brought him fame as an animator in the public eye was the work he did for Steven Spielberg. In 1985 he worked for Spielberg on an episode of Amazing Stories. The episode, "Family Dog," was a big hit, and the success of the short had Spielberg asking Bird to write the first draft of the screenplay for batteries not included.
After "Family Dog," Bird started working on other television series as a consultant and guest animator. He began on The Tracey Ullman Show, which is where The Simpsons got its start. He then went on to work as a consultant on The Simpsons when it spun off as its own show. He went on to direct several episodes of The Simpsons and did most of the animation for the scenes with Krusty the Clown. By the mid-1990s Bird was the consultant on other shows, including The Critic from 1994 to 1995, and King of the Hill in 1997.
Bird began working at Turner Featured Animation in the late 1990s and was working there when the company merged with Warner Bros. When that happened Bird began work on his version of The Iron Giant. The animated film of The Iron Giant was based on a children's book by British writer Ted Hughes. Hughes wrote it in 1968 for his children after his wife, fellow writer Sylvia Plath, killed herself, to help explain the idea of suicide to his children. The Iron Giant was released in 1999, and Bird came to the attention of critics immediately with this, his feature film debut. Newsweek called the film "beguiling at once simple and sophisticated," and they were not the only ones to laud the movie. Unfortunately the film was given very little promotion by Warner Bros. and very few knew of the movie at the time of its release, so the film did rather poorly at the box office, making only $23 million in its first three months of release. However, in this day and age of videotapes and DVDs, the movie has since found a broader fan base and has even become a cult classic. According to the IGN website, "Like another Warner title, The Shawshank Redemption, [The Iron Giant's] fan base would grow slowly on the home video market and its fan base didn't just like the movie, they adored it. Such is its popularity that every year on Thanksgiving, Cartoon Network runs an Iron Giant marathon, replaying the movie for 24 hours straight." Part of the success of the movie has been credited to the fact that it was not strictly a children's movie, as Bird incorporated elements from science fiction and added an emotional honesty and depth that made it attractive to an adult audience as well. Bird told critics that he believes that a good children's film is not directed to children, but is just directed to humans in general. Children, Bird contends, know when you are condescending or talking down to them and are insulted by it. Instead movies should discuss difficult issues in a straight-forward manner, making them interesting to people of all ages. The Iron Giant was released in 2005 on a specially packaged DVD.
Bird was next supposed to do a feature-length film based on the Curious George books, and even went so far as to write a draft of the film, but it was still in development at Warner Bros. when Bird moved on. Bird next got a job with the innovative Pixar Animation Studios in 2000. He was the first director hired from outside the studio. Bird was hired to create animated, computer-generated features. The first movie he did for Pixar was The Incredibles, which was released in November of 2004. It was a departure for Pixar and required an amount of work that might have put off anyone else. Bird wanted the film's characters to look almost real, and so Bird and his group of animators had extras walking around the studio just so they could see and get used to the vision of human motion so they could translate it into animated characters. Bird told the IGN website about the film: "We're doing unrealistic stuff all the way through the film, but we're trying to pay attention to real physics when we do the unreal stuff so you believe it. We had a number of people come up to us and say 'Five minutes into the movie I forgot I was watching an animated film.' I don't think the film looks realistic, I don't think it looks remotely realistic. But it feels realistic." Pixar had never done anything like that before, and there was some nervousness during production, but the end results more than compensated for any extra effort required during the making of the film. The film grossed $256 million at the box office. It also swept the awards at the Annies, an award show for animated features, and won Best Animated Feature and Best Sound Editing at the 2005 Academy Awards.
The Incredibles follows the lives of the Parr family, a family whose mother and father are former superheroes and who, because of a few litigious problems, have gone into the witness protection program with their children and are not allowed to use their powers outside of the house. During the course of the film the whole family rediscovers the source of their powers and learn to trust and rely on each other. Bird was quoted in the Birmingham Post as having said of the film, "My goal was to use the superhero theme comment on family archetypes. The dad is always expected to be strong 'for your family's sake', so that was his superpower. Moms are always pulled in a thousand directions, so I had Elastigirl stretch, teenage girls are insecure about themselves so I had Violet be invisible and have defensive shields while ten-year-old boys are hyperactive energy balls so I gave Dash super rocket speed." Another message in the film that Bird admits to is his irritation at a world that has taken away the "specialness" of being special. He has discussed how he watched boys on his son's soccer team who never tried and slept through practices getting the same trophy that the real performers got. It ticked him off, and so he incorporated that theme into the movie where superheroes are forced to act normal because their "specialness" makes others uncomfortable.
Bird not only directed The Incredibles, he also provided the voice for one of the audience's favorite characters: Edna "E" Mode. The Birmingham Post quoted Bird as having said about the character Edna: "Here's the thing. Superhero movies always have these flamboyant costumes but they never explain who's making them. Every once in a while they halfheartedly present a scene where the musclebound hero is sewing in the basement, but I never really bought it. Suddenly this guy's interested in fabric?" During the planning stages Bird had faked an accent and done E's bits to show a potential actor what he would want, but everyone liked his version so much they kept it in, to the delight of many viewers.
In 2005 Bird was still working at Pixar and said that he would love to do his next film with the company. He has thought for a long time that they are one of the greatest studios around. Bird is married and has three sons. One of his sons, Nicholas, did the voice of Squirt in 2003's Finding Nemo. What Bird plans to do next is anyone's guess, but many fans are eagerly awaiting his next project.
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—Catherine Victoria Donaldson