Almost 15 years after being a vital part of The Incredibles, shading art director Bryn Imagire returns to her beloved universe with the film’s sequel, Incredibles 2, that’s all set for release next Friday. During this time, technology has underdone a seachange. Superhero films have become dime a dozen. Bryn herself has transformed into a veteran in her field. And yet, she says the Incredibles franchise is quite unlike any other film she’s worked on.
Excerpts from a conversation with the Pixar artiste:
You’ve been at Pixar for over 20 years now. At a time when career progress is thought to be interlinked with inter-organisational jumps, what’s kept you going at one company for so long?
When I started off at Pixar in 1996, I’d just arrived from an art school (Art Center College of Design, California). I wasn’t trained in computers, but the company invested a lot of time and resources on me. Over the years, I feel fortunate to have got the opportunity to work on interesting originals. The story’s always different, and always challenging.
So, there’s no question of monotony then?
Nuh-uh. Each time, the characters and the directors are different. It’s just like doing live-action films; only without all the travelling.
As a shading art director, part of my job is to figure out what the overall look of the film will be. For instance, in Coco, which is set in Mexico, we had to remember to be true to that location. The work’s always different.
But even going by how unique each film is, returning to the Incredibles is special. I love working with director Brad Bird. He’s my best coach, and always pushes me to deliver my best work. Also, Incredibles 2 has some cool female characters. It was great to design all their costumes. Trying to make a superhero film right now is quite challenging too, given the number of superhero films we get.
How did your being part of The Incredibles (2004) shape your future work?
It’s a design-intensive film. The period is inspired by the the 50s and the 60s, and the-then prevalent mid-century modern movement. I love that period. People then lived with optimism, and looked forward to the future. I think it’s a quality that’s missing today. We seem too jaded, and are cynical about the future. Coming back to your question, working with Brad helped me understand how to get to the essential design of a film.
How do you translate an emotion like nostalgia into visuals?
It’s a combination of several things. You can use colour to do that. You can also use motifs. Among other ideas, we’ve used astronaut-themed designs. I’m older than a lot of people at Pixar, and look back with nostalgia at that time period. I’ve used things I remember, and hopefully it all comes through.
Given how the technology has evolved in the last 15 years, how do you balance between making use of what’s available, while not becoming disconnected visually from the first film?
It’s something we are extremely conscious about. The film picks up from where the last film ends. If people see 1 and 2 together, we’d want it to be pretty seamless. And hence, we had to be conscious of how much detail we added. The first one didn’t have too much. Also, we decided that after The Underminer (the villain of this film) comes in, we’d utilise the full power of technology.
I’m not a big fan of today’s films adding so much detail. CG is infinite. It’s too easy to add too much. Thankfully, we had the first film as a marker.
How do your design choices convey the increased importance of Edna’s character in this film?
Brad mentioned that she’s half-Japanese, half-German. He never said that in the first film. I took advantage of this revelation. I infused Japanese design ideas into the clothes. I was thinking of origami, the colour indigo, Japanese fabric designs… It was clear that Edna needed to have a lot of colour.
While on the subject, could you speak about the colour schemes used in this film?
The colour decisions remain mostly loyal to the conversations Brad and I had about the first film. The Incredibles costumes are mainly made of red, black, orange and yellow. We have made sure that these colours are present in some form in their everyday wear -PJs, t-shirts… Also, the main characters look more saturated, and in high contrast, so your eye goes to them when they are on screen. The background characters get pushed back with low contrast. The furniture, rug, and other household designs are treated as abstract shapes in a modern painting.
Did you feel the increased pressure on account of the first film doing so well?
Working on a sequel is actually easier in some ways. You have the original design idea to fall back on. It’s not easier in terms of production though, especially with a curtailed schedule. What I loved best about Incredibles 2 is that I get back to that family. I love all those characters. I love that world. The production schedule was crazy, but I loved being back.