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THE INCREDIBLES

Animation & Technology
After tackling the sheer scale and intricacy of production design for THE INCREDIBLES, the filmmakers at last turned to their most difficult and essential task: animating the characters so that they would be far more than "cartoon cutouts” but people you actually care about. The bottom line was finding the soul in the characters through the broadest possible gamut of human-like movements and expressions. This would take the film's crew into an infamous forbidden zone. After all, it is widely believed that computer animation and such human qualities as hair and skin aren't quite ready for one another.

Brad Bird, however, was convinced the technology existed— or could be invented—to allow his characters far more "life” (that intangible essence of energy, verve and humanity) than previously thought possible. Using the rich shadings of the cast's performances as a guide, the technical wizards at Pixar were inspired to rethink their limitations—and attempt some of the most advanced computer modeling work ever used in a motion picture.

Although computer animation has progressed by leaps and bounds over the last decade, it has still lagged behind in achieving many key human characteristics. It was previously considered downright impossible to ask an animator to create muscles that would flex and ripple like true muscles, hair that could flip and bounce like authentic hair, skin that might pucker and stretch like actual skin and clothing that could move independently of a body just like the real thing. Indeed, computer animators have long avoided human-like characters because of previous results that fell far short.

As Tony Fucile, one of the supervising animators for THE INCREDIBLES, notes: "Human characters are fairly impossible to animate because we spend our whole lives watching other humans and we know right away when something, even the smallest little thing, isn't quite right.” Adds character supervisor Bill Wise: "There's something about human beings, even stylized human beings, that really raises the bar for animators. We're so keyed into subtleties of emotion and expression in human faces and bodies that they have to be pretty close to perfect—or our brains simply quit believing in what we're seeing.”

From the beginning, Bird's aim was to forge characters who aren't quite human—after all, The Incredibles exist in a unique hybrid universe in which superheroes can live in the suburbs! Instead, Bird aimed for characters who were clearly born in a comic strip world yet who can smile, grimace, worry, leap, run, have family arguments and save the world with complete physical believability.

For John Lasseter, this was the key to his faith that Bird's vision could be achieved. "Everyone at Pixar knows that the closer to reality you try to make something, the easier it is to fail—but the secret Brad uses with THE INCREDIBLES is to produce something that the audience knows does not exist, something so stylized that they are ready to believe in it if it all works seamlessly,” he explains. "With the technology that we've been pioneering at Pixar, I felt we were ready to achieve that. Our goal on THE INCREDIBLES was to create very stylized human beings who could never pass as real humans but have hair, skin and clothing so true-to-life that their reactions have a stronger, more dramatic impact.”

Pixar has been building up to this breakthrough for the last decade. Indeed since the debut of "Toy Story” in 1995, Pixar has consistently set the standard and pushed the envelope of computer animation with each of their subsequent films. "A Bug's Life” introduced organic environments and characters that squashed and stretched; "Monsters, Inc.” ventured further into the world of round organic shapes and successfully tackled the previously unthinkable

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