Producer John Walker produces the animated adventure, The Incredibles
Committing to produce an animation film requires a person with the ability to support a director's vision and manage a team of creative people. The type of creative folks who are always trying to add that extra touch on a character's eye, and swearing that it will improve the shot five thousand percent. It's like the old saying, "Art is never finished, just taken away." This is the world of animation, and it takes a special producer, like John Walker, to push the team to completion.
What sold you on the idea of producing this film?
John: Brad [Bird] asked me to. I was like ‘okay, man'. I really admire him. I think he's a first class director and writer and I loved working on ‘The Iron Giant' and if he asked me to do something else, I'll do it in a moment. I think he's a really gifted artist and I love working with him.
Do you think there will be comparisons between this one and ‘Iron Giant'?
John: Yeah, I hope so. I mean I think they are coming from the same guy. Both of these films are very personal visions and I think that part of it is Brad and yeah, why not? ‘Iron Giant' is incredible. Compare and contrast.
Was it the machine guns that got you the PG rating?
John: You know, they don't tell us what gives the –we always assumed it would be PG.
Do you think that will cut into business or do people really care?
John: I don't think so. I think, you know, perhaps the film isn't for three or four-year-olds. I think that's a little young. I wouldn't have taken my three-year-old to this film. But, I've seen five and six-year-old kids who have watched screenings, sons and daughters of people who work at Pixar, and they've been like [he stares, wide-eyed] the whole time but they haven't been running for cover or crying or anything like that. I think it really depends on the kids and parents ought to pay attention to the PG rating and know their own kids. I think, listen, there is nothing in here that wasn't in ‘Star Wars' or ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark' or any of those kinds of movies. So, if your kids like that, they'll like ‘The Incredibles'.
The film didn't seem set up for a sequel necessarily. Are you guys planning for some direct to video films or a sequel?
John: No. We just made this movie and it wasn't like ‘ah, part one of the franchise'. It wasn't anything like that.
Would a sequel be owned by Disney or Pixar?
John: I don't know. I don't have the particulars on the deal between Disney and Pixar. I'm a producer of a specific film. The clash of the Titans happens above us and we just make the movie.
But if one of them ended up owning it and asked you to produce the sequel without the other side, would that put you in a bad position?
John: Personally? I don't know. I honestly don't know what that would --- I'd have to call an attorney [laughs].
When you gave the project over to the animators, what things did they bring to you and say ‘we can't do that?
John: There was a long list of things. The biggest one is human characters. Pixar had never done human characters front and center. These are the main characters in the movie. You often see humans as secondary characters in Pixar films or you see them from the waist down or you see their feet walking through because they are really hard to do. Doing human characters is really tough. Everybody at this table and in the world are experts at human locomotion and emotional ---we spend all day long looking at people, reading their body language and their expressions and how they move. We pick up all sorts of clues and cues from that. You know, you can watch a bad character animation, especially bad CG character animation, and you'll look at it going ‘that looks a little weird. That just looks weird' and you don't know exactly why. But, oftentimes it's weight. There's no weight to the characters or their movements are a little floaty or they have that sort of walking dead quality. And, the acid test, the real creep factor comes if you have two CG human characters kiss. That will send the hair on the back of your neck up if it's not done well. I think the talent of the animators and the level of the technology came together on ‘The Incredibles,' and allowed us to do the kind of work that we needed to do to have human characters be our main characters. But, that was something, at the beginning of the process, that we really didn't know how to do and we had to invent that at Pixar.
When you are doing something like this, are the voice talents still an influence on their individual characters?
John: Yeah but we design the characters first. Then we go look for voice talent that will be good for those characters. It isn't like, ‘okay, we cast Holly Hunter then we design the character to look like Holly Hunter'. That's not what we do. We go find a great actress to play Helen. We know who Helen is. Now let's go find a voice, an actress that will fit Helen. What we do do, in the filming of them is—the animators need information. They need the track, the vocal track but what they did pick up from Holly is a little bit of her movement quality in her face. There is a touch of her in there visually but it's the way Holly moves. It's not the way Holly looks. And, that's not the only place they get inspiration. They get inspiration from paintings. They do a lot of videotaping of themselves and others doing certain actions and analyzing the movement and figuring out how that's going to be caricatured in what they want to do.
Can you talk a bit about how you choose the actors to match the characters? Do you match them to actual scenes the actor has been in?
John: We'll lift stuff from people. We'll think ‘oh, yeah. Craig T. Nelson, he'd be good. Let's go grab some of Craig and stick him into Bob. We'll go get a couple of lines and animate his lines from ‘Poltergeist' coming out of Bob and we'll go ‘oh, yeah. That works'. Then, we'll send that off to him and say ‘see, see. Cool, huh?'
Did any of the voice talent work with each other in the same room?
John: Only once. We had Sam Jackson and Craig T. Nelson together to do that scene in the car but that was it. We always want the cast to be together but we just could never make it work. People's schedules don't work. We'd like that. I would love to be able to assemble the whole cast and do the whole movie but you just can't make it work with people's schedules and we do it over such a long period of time. We record people over a two or three year period so, to bring them all together just doesn't work. It's unfortunate because I think it's a little better when you can do that.
What was your personal greatest challenge on this?
John: My personal challenge is always the same; trying to create an environment where really talented artists can do their best work but they can also do their best work on time. We need to finish the film and Pixar is filled with extremely talented, highly intelligent, over-achieving perfectionists. And, if you let them really go and do what they want to do, we'd still be working on the film. They want to change stuff all the time. They'd go, ‘hey, you know we could do…'. I'm ‘no, no, no. You can not change it. It's done'. Or I'd say ‘it's over. It's done. You're finished now'. It used to be easier, in 2-D, in traditional animation because the scenes are literally huge stacks of drawings that travel from department to department. If I decided it was over, I could actually go get the physical scene and I did that. I could go grab it and take it and lock it in my office so they would stop working on it but, in the virtual world there's all these back ways in there. They can get into the scene and I can't stop them. So, that's my biggest challenge. You also have to have a gentle touch. I love these guys. I respect them. I think they have an enormous talent and I want them to do their best work and you can't get flowers to bloom by hitting them with hammers. So, that's my biggest challenge, to walk that line. I say Brad makes notes and I make decisions. His job is to make it better, make it better, mine too. But, I also have to get it done.
What are the plans for the DVD?
John: DVD is almost done and I won't tell ya. It's a big secret right now the things that we have on the DVD but it's gonna be great.
So many animated films we see today are full of pop songs. Can you talk about the musical decisions?
John: Brad is very specific on what he wants on just about everything and he knew exactly what he wanted in the music and it was this gumbo of ‘60's spy movies and action films and that big brassy, jazzy sound of Henry Mancini and all that great stuff. So, we went looking and Michael Giacchino had a great demo tape that had some of that stuff on there and we met with him and he was really into those composers from that time period and knew what we were talking about, did some demos that were just great. We couldn't be happier with the score. Just love it.
How hard was it to keep control of your budget? Was it comparable to Finding Nemo?
John: You know they are expensive movies and we were trying to keep it in line with the other movies at Pixar and I think we succeeded in that but it's a long movie. It's 107 minutes and ‘Nemo' is 93 and fourteen minutes is a long time in animation. What did it cost? Another big, fat secret.
Was there ever any talk of doing the Pixar tradition of fake outtakes?
John: We talked about it but we thought, ‘let's do a really cool credit sequence'. That's what we thought we'd do. You don't want to do the same thing over and over again. I think that's one of the great things about Pixar. What other company in the world is five for five. And, you could easily become complacent and say ‘well, we've got this licked. We don't need to change anything. Let's just keep crankin' guys. It's working really well'.
Do you just stay in your office all day or roam around checking on people?
John: I roam around a lot although I spend a lot of time in meetings yakking. The day to day of the movie is just going to review sessions. People are bringing things up, ‘what do you think?' And it's for Brad but we're all there so that's typically what we do. I always say I like to go to meetings that have pictures. If we're looking at something, that's a good meeting. It's the meetings without pictures that I hate.
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Dont't forget to also check out: The Incredibles