Brad Bird Talks Iron Giant 10th Anniversary
Almost all of my positive knowledge came though television-- both from directing my first film, Family Dog, and as a consultant on The Simpsons for its first eight seasons. Family Dog taught me how to build a unit and team morale. Working with tight deadlines and brilliant writers on The Simpsons taught me a great deal about identifying story problems quickly and triaging on the fly. These experiences became invaluable on all three feature films that I've made because each project has either had limited resources (Iron Giant), tight schedules (Ratatouille) or massive scope challenges (The Incredibles) that made efficiency vitally important to each film's success. If you can identify untapped talent and build a strong morale where everyone is both pushing and supporting one another, you can create an atmosphere where all are doing their best work.
BD: Talk about this wonderful crew of animators and some of their important contributions.
BB: There are really too many important contributions to give a remotely fair shake to our large and varied crew. The crew ran the gamut from animation veterans like Tony Fucile and Steve Markowski, to wet-behind-the-ears Cal Arts students getting their first chance to work on production, and every level in between. Jeff Lynch did a fantastic job leading the story team, the effects team, the clean-up crew, every single department brought their best game and our learning curve was stratospheric. The crew at the beginning of production was, in general, a bit scruffy and green… but by the end had transformed into a lean, mean, movie-making machine. We were in a tight situation (with Warner's effectively shutting down the division while we were in production) and our hopes for the film were almost unreasonably high, but everyone rose to the challenge in a way that is deeply touching to me.
BB: The story was challenging because we were trying to blend together an unusual elements; paranoid fifties sci-fi movies with the innocence of something like The Yearling; and do it all in a way that was both fun and emotional.
BD: Was the spirit of Milt Kahl guiding you at crucial moments?
BB: Milt was an inspiration, mostly in the way he taught me to expect a lot from myself and my crew and then work relentlessly to meet those expectations.
BD: What's your favorite moment and your most exasperating one during the making of the film?
BB: It's hard to pick a single favorite moment from the making of the film because, for me, the whole ride was a collection of favorite moments. But if I were to name one, I suppose it would be the first time all the lead crew members were packed into the editing room looking the scene where Hogarth tells the Giant about what the soul is. The Giant is trying to process what death is, and he's literally lying on top of scrap metal -- dead machines, and by the end of the scene, he's rolled over on to his back and is looking up at the stars. The film was in rough animation and storyboards, and even with the temporary soundtrack, people in the room were spontaneously crying. It was pivotal; there was an undeniable feeling that we were really tapping into something.