Brad Bird

OSCARS/

Born Sept. 11, 1957 in Kalispell, Montana, Phillip Bradley Bird set his sights on a career in animation at an early age. Brad and his family soon moved to Corvallis, Oregon where he spent his formidable years. On a tour of the Walt Disney Studios at age 11, Bird shared his enthusiasm and announced that he would someday become a Disney animator. Brad created his own version of The Tortoise and the Hare. Three years in the making, Bird sent the finished product to Disney and became a protégé of Milt Kahl, one of Disney’s legendary “Nine Old Men” and the revered designer of such iconic characters as Pinocchio, Peter Pan, and Tigger.

Brad’s parents were extremely supportive of his dream, but there wasn’t a lot of ambition in Corvallis, a college town.  His high school counselor attempted to persuade Brad to look for other career opportunities.  Undeterred, Brad skipped school on day to attend a speaking engagement with legendary film director Sydney Pollack at Oregon State University. The whole experience was very encouraging for Brad, but he was unable to express his gratitude to Pollack, who died in 2008.

After graduating from Corvallis High School in 1975, Disney offered Brad a scholarship to their animation program at the California Institute of the Arts. As a freshman, Bird met and befriended another future animator, John Lasseter. After graduation, they both went to work at Disney, but just like Lasseter, Bird left to work for Steven Spielberg on his Amazing Stories anthology series. There he wrote and directed two episodes, including the animated Family Dog.  Bird also supplied the voice for the dog in the original episode – his first of many vocal performances in his own projects.

Bird also penned the script for *batteries not included, a Spielberg-produced fantasy that was originally intended as an episode for Amazing Stories, but was expanded into a feature film for director Matthew Robbins

Bird turned down the chance to work on the short-lived Family Dog spinoff series for CBS-he thought it would be impossible to maintain the original’s quality in a weekly series. Instead, he took a job as an executive consultant on The Simpsons (with fellow Oregonian Matt Groening), feeling that the show’s humor and visual style translated better to a harried TV schedule. Brad also animated and directed a few episodes of The Simpsons (usually when his favorite character, Krusty the Klown was involved) during his eight year involvement with the show. Bird also served as an executive consultant on two other Fox animated series, King of the Hill and The Critic.

In the mid-1990s, Bird finally got the chance to helm a feature. The Who’s Pete Townshend had pitched his concept album, The Iron Man (based on Ted Hughes book) to Warner Bros. as an animated musical. Bird liked the basic idea, but had his own ideas on how the story should go. That meant no songs. Townshend and Warner Bros. agreed,

Bird’s version is loosely based on Ted Hughes book. The stunning film about a lonely young boy who befriends a giant mechanical man from space yielded a wave of positive reviews from critics. Sadly, Warner Bros. was closing its animation wing while the film was in release and did little to promote the picture. The film took top honors for animated films from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and Annie Awards, winning nine of 15 nominations in 2000.

Fortunately, The Iron Giant would eventually find its audience on DVD. Among its admirers was Bird’s old college friend, John Lasseter. He invited Bird to pitch a project at Pixar, and Bird’s idea about a family of retired superheroes captured the company’s imagination. Bird was tapped to write and direct The Incredibles. Bird was even allowed to bring in outside artists – a first in Pixar history. The film’s impressive retro look, terrific performances (including Bird as Edna Mode) and memorable score by Michael Giacchino made the film a huge box office success around the world. The film received four Academy Award nominations including Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Animated Feature Film. It was rewarded with Best Animated Feature Film and Best Sound Editing. To coincide with the DVD release, Bird also wrote and directed Jack-Jack Attack, a short about the youngest member of the Parr family from The Incredibles and the havoc he wreaks upon a hapless baby-sitter.

Bird also served as executive producer on One Man Band before being asked by John Lasseter to take over as director for Ratatouille, which was deep into production. Director Jan Pinkava was originally assigned to the project, but left the company in 2006 when the direction of the film could not be agreed upon. Bird rewrote the script and brought Mark Andrews onto the project (story supervisor on The Incredibles). They completed a whole new story reel, re-did the sets and changed the lighting.

Ratatouille opened to almost universally positive reviews in June 2007. Its worldwide box office gross was an impressive $621 million dollars. It also earned several critic’s awards, a Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature and five Oscar nominations including the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

In March 2008, Brad signed on to make his live-action feature directorial debut with 1906, a co-production between Warner Bros. and Disney/Pixar, with the historical San Francisco earthquake as its backdrop. The story centers on a college student who begins to investigate the murder of his father, uncovering a web of deceit that has left the city vulnerable to the sort of fire that breaks out when the Great Earthquake of 1906 hits San Francisco. The project was ultimately shelved due to budget concerns, but Bird recently directed Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. The film garnered excellent reviews and has become the most successful in the Mission Impossible franchise. His next film is also live action and entitled Tomorrowland written by Damon Lindelof and starring George Clooney.

Filmography

  • Amazing Stories (1985-87) (Family Dog writer, The Main Attraction, writer)
  • Batteries Not Included (1987) (screenplay)
  • The Simpsons (1989-97) (director, executive consultant)
  • The Critic (1994-95) (executive consultant)
  • King of the Hill (1997) (executive consultant)
  • The Iron Giant (1999) (story, director)
  • The Incredibles (2004) (screenplay, director, Edna Mode)
  • Jack-Jack Attack (2004) (screenplay, director)
  • One Man Band (2005) (executive producer)
  • Ratatouille (2007) (original story, screenplay, director)
  • Your Friend the Rat (2007) (executive producer)
  • Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) (director)
  • Tomorrowland (2014) (director)

Tidbits

  • Bird is part of  Pixar’s “brain trust”, a small group that provides guidance and feedback on every film in development at the studio.Brad flirted with the idea of animating a scene of Krusty for The Simpsons Movie,
  • Brad wrote a screenplay for Frank Miller’s The Spirit in the early 80s (before comic films were hot properties).
  • Some of Brad’s contributions to Ratatouille including casting Peter O’Toole (Anton Ego), expanding the role of Collette and making changes to the character of Emile so that he would blend better with Remy.
  • Brad and is wife are happily married with three boys

Interviews

birdhunter birdsb

birdincredibles birdratatouille