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Mad for Mid-Century Design: Pixar’s ‘Incredibles 2’

From soaring Googie architecture to fabulous terrazzo flooring, production designer Ralph Eggleston, visual designer Philip Metschan, shading art director Bryn Imagire, and sets supervisor Nathan Fariss join forces to create the incredible world of director Brad Bird’s ‘Incredibles 2.’

‘Incredibles 2’ opens in theaters on June 15, 2018. All images © 2018 Disney/Pixar.

The year’s single most anticipated animated feature is looming on the horizon, and it’s going to be nothing short of incredible. In theaters June 15, Pixar Animation Studios’ Incredibles 2 picks up with the Parr family right where they left off in the 2004 Oscar-winning prequel, which saw the incognito superhero family escape its humdrum suburban existence to vanquish super villain Syndrome.

Written and directed by Brad Bird, The Incredibles was groundbreaking for its time, exploring issues such as “midlife crisis, marital dysfunction, child neglect, impotence fears, fashion faux pas and, and existential angst,” according to Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers. The animation itself was also groundbreaking, notably being Pixar’s first film to feature a cast of wholly human characters, an undertaking that entailed years of research and development to design and execute. The original film, which delighted critics and audiences alike, broke records at the box office, ringing up nearly $70.5 million in its domestic debut for a worldwide gross of $633 million, and earned Bird an Academy Award for best animated film in 2005.

Fourteen years later, Incredibles 2 brings a brand-new abundance of riches for audiences to savor -- a new villain, Undermine, for one, and what the heck is going on with Jack-Jack? for another -- but let’s not forget all the lavish details painstakingly created by dozens of artists that converge on the screen with flawless synergy to help bring a Pixar feature to life. In other words, look at THAT HOUSE. The Parrs have relocated to a FABULOUS new 38,000-square-foot home that is an EPIC homage to mid-century Googie architecture.

Concept art by Kyle Macnaughton, Philip Metschan and Shelly Min Wan of the Parr family home in ‘Incredibles 2.’

The Parr family patriarch lounges by the pool in concept art by Garrett Taylor and Philip Metschan.

Upswept roofs, check. Curvaceous, geometric shapes, check. Bold use of glass and steel, check. The Parr family’s new digs evoke Space Age futuristic design infused with motion and a sense of drama that would make architect John Lautner weep with envy. And that view -- priceless.

Production designer Ralph Eggleston, who won an Oscar in 2002 for best animated short for For the Birds, as well as three Annie Awards for Inside Out (2015), Finding Nemo (2003) and Toy Story (1995), teamed up with visual designer Philip Metschan, shading art director Bryn Imagire and sets supervisor Nathan Fariss to notch up the mid-century glam that pervades the world of Incredibles 2. The production design team referenced everything from period photography by Andrew Stoller to case study homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to build a library of visual information for Incredibles 2 that could be accessed by various departments -- sets, lighting, costumes -- during production of the film.

Production designer Ralph Eggleston.

“The new house is a cantilevered house built on a precipice outside of the city,” says Eggleston. “Inspired by a rocket with influence from a lot of different architects, we wanted a heavily caricatured look.”

Because the Parrs’ home was destroyed at the end of the first movie, the filmmakers knew from the outset that they would need to provide need new digs for the family for Incredibles 2. Eggleston’s team originally designed a 2,300-square-foot house, but the story later called for a much larger state-of-the-art home. But while the production design team was able to spend nearly eight months on the design and construction of the first house, the newer, larger version had to be delivered in less than three weeks.

Visual designer Philip Metschan.

According to Eggleston, at about 38,000 square feet of virtual space, the house features multiple rooms and unusual architectural features. “We want the audience to be in awe, but still believe this is a real place,” he says. “So we had to create a layout that would work with what was still an emerging story, which is challenging but really important to establish that believability.”

One element of the Parrs’ new home that elevates the glamour -- and realism -- is the stunning terrazzo flooring. “I really love terrazzo floors,” Imagire says of the aggregate material made from rocks embedded in marble or stone that was popularized by mid-century design. “Terrazzo was a really expensive material back then, and today it would probably cost lots of money to do it right. So we felt like, ‘Ooooo, this house is so fabulous, we’re gonna be putting terrazzo everywhere.’”

According to Fariss, the terrazzo flooring was one of the more complex surfaces his team was responsible for. “Real terrazzo is an aggregate material, with different chunks of marble and stone, and various other things all poured together with filler material, and then ground down smooth. So what you end up with is each little square is a different kind of stone,” he explains.

Sets supervisor Nathan Fariss.

To create the specialized flooring, Fariss’s team first developed a base that could be layered with various colors and textures as needed. The resulting composite was then carefully illuminated to give it depth and sparkle. “So we start adding in reflections and then using those same textures their using for color we also can add a little bit of displacement, a little bit of breakup in the reflections and make it feel like each piece of that rock is reflecting light in a slightly different manner,” he recounts.

“We also then add on a little bit of dirt to make it feel a little more lived in,” Fariss continues. “And because of the way terrazzo is poured, we added some little metal things, because it’s poured in big squares, to make it feel like a real floor. Then we can also then change those textures out if we need green flooring or if we want it to be a mixture of green.”

Shading art director Bryn Imagire.

Previsualization also played a major part in the creation of the new Parr family home, allowing the filmmakers to test new designs within the context of the overall story. “We produce these real estate ad-type videos so Brad can actually see the spaces and imagine how he’ll be shooting there,” says Metschan, who oversaw previs for Incredibles 2.

Given the compressed turnaround time for the creation of the new 38,000-square-foot house, previs proved invaluable to the design process. “Since that change occurred after we had already done so much work on the first one, one of the nice things about previs was that we actually shot some scene sequences in this house with camera angles and characters and them having dinner together, and what we were able to do is actually lift, completely, a lot of that camera work, and that layout, and composition work and put it into the new, new house and arrange the new, new house spaces so that all that work wouldn't have to be completely redone,” Metschan recounts.

Will this amazing new mid-century home go to the Parrs’ heads? At the end of the day, the production design team sought to preserve continuity between the two movies, balancing the fantastic and new with the look and feel of the original film.

“We always imagine the midnight screening of the first film leading into this film,” Eggleston notes, “and we didn't want an immediate jump. We wanted to kind of pull back and, ‘No, let's just hold back and make it look more like the original film,’ and then ease into what we can do now. Find moments in the film where the audience isn’t gonna notice.”

One of production designer Ralph Eggleston’s early designs for the Parr family home.

Concept art by Tim Evatt showcases the curvaceous, geometric shapes and bold use of glass and steel evoking mid-century design.

Interior of the Parr family residence.

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.