Brad Bird Interview, Ratatouille

Posted by: Sheila Roberts
First off no your brain is not suffering from deja vu. We posted an interview with Brad Bird earlier in the week and Brad decided that he would like to flesh out some of the answers more. So here is round #2 of our  interview with Brad Bird! It's packed full of goodies including info on his upcoming potential projects like a new Toy Story and The Incredibles.
We caught up with Academy Award-winning director Brad Bird at the Los Angeles press day to promote his new animated feature, "Ratatouille,” the most original comedy of the summer about one of the most unlikely friendships imaginable. The film’s protagonist is a rat named Remy who dares to dream the impossible dream of becoming a gourmet chef in a five-star French restaurant. Together with a down-and-out garbage boy named Linguini, the pair carves their own imaginative path to becoming the greatest chef in Paris.

Bringing to life a wide-ranging roster of memorable characters is a sensational voice cast that includes popular stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt, Golden Globe Award winner Brian Dennehy, Emmy Award winner Brad Garrett, comic star and Emmy nominee Janeane Garofalo, Academy Award nominee Ian Holm and the legendary eight-time Academy Award nominee Peter O’Toole.

The amazing storytellers at Pixar Animation Studios have repeatedly taken audiences on totally original adventures with a host of cinema’s most surprising and unforgettable characters. From toys coming to life ("Toy Story” and "Toy Story 2”) to a group of monsters terrified by a little girl roaming their world ("Monsters, Inc.”) to a tiny fish lost in a vast ocean ("Finding Nemo”) to superheroes trying to lead suburban lives ("The Incredibles”) to a hot-shot race car waylaid on Route 66 ("Cars”), the cutting-edge animation studio has consistently presented unique stories full of emotional and visual excitement.

Says Bird, "I think we all have impossible dreams and we do what we can to pursue them – and Remy’s dream might be the ultimate impossible dream of them all.” John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and a two-time Academy Award-winning director, agrees: "The idea of following one’s creative passion against all odds is one that Brad Bird cares deeply about. And it shows because he’s created an amazing film that’s deeply funny in an original way and has a real emotional core to it, which is so important to us. There’s a level of depth, complexity and humor to this film that I don’t think any Pixar film has had before.”

"Paris has been seen many different ways, but never from a rat’s point of view,” muses Brad Bird. In revealing this whimsical vision, Bird worked closely with production designer Harley Jessup to distill the essence of the City of Light into a CG world and create a landscape that is more than just a backdrop, but a character that breathes passion and life into Remy’s world. Brad Bird is a terrific guy and we really appreciated his time. Here’s more of what he had to tell us about his new movie:

MoviesOnline: You weren’t involved with this project at the beginning? When did you come on board?

Brad Bird: It started with Jan Pinkava who won the Oscar for a short called "Geri’s Game” and he was working on it when I first came up to Pixar in 2000 to do "The Incredibles” and was developing it through the whole time I was making "The Incredibles.” As part of Pixar’s sort of story group, we look at each other’s work during the time that films are being developed to give each other fresh eyes. So I was aware of the film and participated in the development of the film from that sort of perspective the whole time it was being made. But, a little over a year and a half ago, everyone loved the film, they loved the idea of the film, they loved the world and the collection of character types. But, the story was not coming together the way they wanted it to. John Lasseter and Steve Jobs and Ed Catmull came to me and the film that they kept mentioning was "Toy Story 2” which was another idea they really loved, but also one which they felt wasn’t being developed to its fullest extent. So they asked me to come on board "Ratatouille” and write a brand new script starting from the premise.

When the heads of Pixar, the founders of Pixar came to me and said, "We’re in trouble here. The curtain is ready to go up on the production of "Ratatouille” and we’ve got to get this story solved,” I dropped what I was planning to do and jumped in to help out because I have a huge respect for those guys and this really amazing company that they’ve created. The film had a huge amount of effort put into developing everything and working on the food prior to my arrival. The team was in place, but I entered it late. For me, it was like laying tracks in front of a moving train.

MoviesOnline: When you were a young boy, did you have a dream that people tried to discourage you from?

Brad Bird: Sure, my dream of going into the film industry from the very beginning. I started drawing at an early age, at the age of three. I didn’t figure this out until later, but the very first drawings that I did were sequential. They were meant to be viewed in a certain order. They weren’t animation though. They were more like a comic strip. They were simple drawings you know, circles and squares and dots for eyes. I would tell the story while I was showing these pictures. I was trying in my own crude 3-year-old way to make movies. So I actually started making movies at 11 and that’s when I started animating. When I had to decide whether something was to be drawn or presented in a close-up or a medium shot, that’s when I started discovering the world of film and great filmmakers. I started realizing that most of the time; chills went up my spine when some guy named Hitchcock was involved. Then I started going, "Wow! There’s all these great films out there.” I knew what I wanted to do at an early age.
My parents supported me 400% the whole time. But, in my town, it was considered a very weird thing and I’ve mentioned it to some other people but I had a very frustrating half hour with a guidance counselor in junior high where the guy was trying to get me to be a floor manager at Buymart or something like that. He said something like, "What do you want to do with your life?” Then I’d say, "I want to make films.” Then he’d go, "Well what else do you want to do with your life?” Then I’d said, "Well I’d probably try to find a way to make films.” "If you couldn’t do films, what would you do?” "Well I’d have to find a way to do films.” "If films didn’t exist, what would you do?” "I would have to invent them.” We went this way for half an hour and finally we just agreed to disagree. But my parents, God bless them, could not have been more supportive.

MoviesOnline: What town did you grow up in?

Brad Bird: I grew up in Corvallis, Oregon which is a college town, a great place to grow up and I had a great time, but the movies were considered another universe. We had three terrific movie theatres in our town, but that was probably the height of my achievable aspirations with those people. Maybe I could run one of those theatres. Actually working in the movies was not considered possible.

MoviesOnline: Do you talk to that guidance counselor now?

Brad Bird: No. He was a good guy. He wasn’t trying to be difficult; he was trying to help me out. Things happen. I remember Sydney Pollack came to Oregon State University when I was still in high school and my parents allowed me to play hooky to join the college audience listening to him talk. It was three days and by the end of it, I kept asking three questions to everyone else’s one. By the third day, I was raising my hand and he would go, "Hey Brad, how you doing Babe?” I kept saying, "What should I do?” and he saw that I was doing photography and I told him I was drawing and making films and he said, "Just keep doing what you’re doing.” I’ve never seen him since, but he was encouraging and the fact that he came to the town and was like, "Yeah you can be a filmmaker, why not?”

MoviesOnline: Did you bring rats to the office to inspire your creative team?

Brad Bird: We had rats, yeah. They were nice fluffy lab rats though. They weren’t germ ridden sewer rats. They’re actually quite sweet and when they crawled around on us, we saw how they kind of led with their nose which was perfect for our rat. They experience things first with their nose which is kind of perfect. Yeah, they’re kind of sweet.

MoviesOnline: Have you ever had to trap one?

Brad Bird: No, nor have I been cornered by one or woke up with one gnawing on my elbow. I’m not trying to tell the world that they should bring rats into their homes and allow them to cook. But, I am saying take a little crazy journey with us here for two hours. You’ll have fun.

MoviesOnline: Can you talk about how this film raises the bar for cutting edge animation?

Brad Bird: I wouldn’t presume to say that. That’s for other people to say. I know that we try to push the envelope with every film at Pixar, but that said, I think the thing that made me want to come to Pixar was not the technology, but the fact that they protect stories. They want original stories and they allow you to develop them without focus grouping stuff to death or making you take out everything that is interesting and all the things that you deal with in a lot of the film industry. It’s a little pocket of sanity in a crazy business and I really love the people there.

MoviesOnline: The production notes talk about how you spent a lot of time in French kitchens experimenting with cuisine.

Brad Bird: In American kitchens too.

MoviesOnline: Would you say that was one of the biggest perks of working on this project?

Brad Bird: [Laughs] It was and how stupid was I to get involved that late because I missed most of it. I only got one trip to Paris. While it sounds like a great gig and in many ways was, I had to go to a bunch of three star restaurants in a row, which again sounds wonderful, but I approached eating there like an American. If I see a small plate with dainty little things and they taste good, I’m going to eat every one of them. And so I ate every one of them and then another plate came out, again not too many of them, and I ate all of them. Another plate came and about half way through this endless meal, I’m starting to go, "I’m going to die.” So you start not eating and then they come out, "Is there something wrong?” And then you go, "Oh no, it’s delicious. Please God, help me.” Then they bring out the cheese tray and here are six cheeses and they are to be eaten in this order and this is preceding the dessert tray. [Screams] So thank God it was short because I would have either died or weighed 400 pounds by the time I left Paris.

MoviesOnline: Paris was just so stunning. Can you talk about how you animated those scenes?

Brad Bird: Oh thank you. We had an amazing group of talent. The goal was to not be realistic, but to give the impression of Paris. Sharon Calahan was our director of photography. We were after a lush looking film that was kind of sensuous which is not what you connect with animation usually. Harley Jessup, our production designer, led a very talented group. They went to Paris. They went all over the place. They looked at the light. Do you know who Al Hirschfeld was? He was a famous caricaturist. When Al Hirschfeld did a drawing of a celebrity, it often looked more like the person than the person did? That’s our goal in animation. If we’re going to capture Paris, we aren’t trying to perfectly reproduce the actual Paris; we’re trying to reproduce the feeling of being in Paris. When we do movement for characters, we’re trying to give the impression of a character, rather than perfectly mimicking reality. So that’s our goal, to give the feeling of being under water in "Nemo” or in a kitchen in a 5-star restaurant in "Ratatouille.”

MoviesOnline: What about the scene with all of the rats cooking in the kitchen? That must have been a nightmare to composite.

Brad Bird: There are many nightmares, but hopefully they’re not your nightmares. Hopefully, they’ll be very easy to observe. They were hard for us.

MoviesOnline: Didn’t you voice a character in the film?

Brad Bird: Oh, I’m just Ego’s assistant. It’s not anything big.

MoviesOnline: Is "Toy Story 3” really going to happen?

Brad Bird: It really is. It's going to be good. We wouldn't do it if we didn't think it could be good.

MoviesOnline: Has anyone asked you about an "Incredibles” sequel?

Brad Bird: Sure, they've asked.

MoviesOnline: Would you do another "Incredibles”?

Brad Bird: I do if I can come up with a story that is as good or better than the original one. If I can come up with an idea as good as "Toy Story 2” was in relation to the original "Toy Story,” then I would do it in a second. I have pieces of a new "Incredibles” story that I think are good, but I don't have them all together. People think that we're against sequels and we're obviously not. We've made one and we're going to make another, but it isn't part of Pixar's business plan. We don't make it for any reason other than it's a movie we want to see and a story we're excited to tell. We don't do it for money. Walt Disney once said that he doesn't make films to make money, he makes money to make films and that's very much Pixar's philosophy. That's why we're in the game.

MoviesOnline: What did you have to do with "Lifted”?

Brad Bird: I didn’t have anything to do with it. All I had to do was just sit there and munch popcorn and laugh like the rest of the audience. Gary Rydstrom wrote and directed "Lifted.” Here’s some trivia. He used the Linguini model for the little guy who elevates out of the bedroom. Another piece of trivia as I’m leaving because I’m getting the signal, is that Lou Romano who art directed "The Incredibles” and who voices Linguini in "Ratatouille,” also did the cover of The New Yorker this week. These are multitalented people.

MoviesOnline: He had one, but he didn’t show us.

Brad Bird: Oh, he’s kind of bashful. He didn’t tell me. I got that information through email and I’m like, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ He said, ‘I wanted to be sure they were going to use it.’ It’s a great cover.

MoviesOnline: Thank you.

Brad Bird: Thank you very much.

"Ratatouille” opens in theaters on June 29th.


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