From character animation to world building to effects to tailoring, Pixar displayed greater animated superpowers than it was able to achieve on “The Incredibles.”
Brad Bird and Pixar put themselves in a unique situation with “Incredibles 2.” Although the sequel picks up where it left off 14 years ago in “The Incredibles,” the technology and skill set have obviously improved. The challenge: Have it look as incredible as possible without breaking free from the graphically stylized world we first encountered in the original movie.
“One of our goals was to make this one feel like you remember the first one,” said Rick Sayre, the supervising technical director of both movies. “If you watched them back to back, you might feel that the first one suffers occasionally by comparison but this one is a glorious memory of the first one. But by opening with the slight unfamiliarity of Dicker slamming the light on Tony [during the interrogation], it allows you to adjust to this world before we have our flashback.”
Rebuilding the Characters
Since Pixar’s animation system is completely different, built around the Oscar-winning Presto, the character team rebuilt the returning characters with the help of a new rigging tool box. “We had to go back to the original sculptures and drawings and do a lot of things we had wanted to do in the first film but couldn’t,” Sayre added. That included the ability to create new shapes and apply improvements in targeting intermediate shapes. Also, for the first time, Pixar used physically-based human eye models for the characters, even though their eyes are larger and more stylized.
“For the first film, any shape that the character was going to hit, had to be part of the rig,” said Sayre. “And for this film, our approach was to use sculpting tools during a post-animation phase to accentuate the performances and to hit a specific dynamic pose.” Pixar additionally performed post-animation simulation to sell additional weight, mass, and volume during action sequences involving Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), the Underminer (John Ratzenberger), Jack-Jack, and the raccoon.
Meanwhile, with Holly Hunter’s Helen/Elastigirl taking over the Super spotlight, there were new rigging opportunities to show off her incredible stretching abilities. “For example, there’s a shot in the first film when Helen flattens against the tunnel when the monorail pod on the island races by,” Sayre said. “That was a laborious bit of hand work with deformation tools to push the model around to get what we wanted. Those kinds of behaviors could be accomplished with better tools to better finesse the performance. We could flatten her in a parachute mode and, for stretching much beyond what she did in the first film, we took a lot of inspiration from the tentacle rigs for Hank in ‘Finding Dory.’”
Building a Better Municiberg
Production designer Ralph Eggleston upped the future-retro look of Municiberg from the early ’60s with an impressive 38,000 square-foot, tricked out mansion, while also expanding the size of the sprawling urban metropolis to near epic proportions. Then the set simulation team achieved impressive textural detail right down to the terrazzo tile floors of the mansion.
“But also one of our objectives was to make the world that they live in feel bigger,” Sayre said. “The first time around, we were rushing at the edges of our ability. If you moved the camera just a tiny bit, the city would tend to disappear. This time around, the overwhelming Municiberg that Helen travels to is gigantic but it also feels inhabited, and you can look around the periphery of the frame and see that all of the characters walking down the street all have inner lives.”
The mantra was: Stylize the design but not the physics and light transport. “For Brad, that sense of believability is important so that you can sense peril when the characters are in peril,” he said. “If those things don’t feel solid, then you lose, perhaps, a sense of what the stakes are. It takes effort for Bob and Helen to [be Supers] and sometimes it hurts.”
Cloth simulation, too, was vastly improved, not only for cooler-looking Super costumes but for the stylish wardrobes for Winston Deaver (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener). “Deaver wears a sharkskin three-piece suit that looks good but it moves really nicely as well,” said Sayre.
But while touching cloth was a no-no in the first movie, this time around there’s an interesting mix of showpiece and subtle cloth simulation. For example, when Evelyn frantically shows up late for the first meeting with the Supers, her movements are all over the place. “She pulls her coat and hands it to the butler, and there’s multiple layered clothing interacting with other clothing,” Sayre said. “But when Bob and Helen are in bed in the motel, that required the simulation of sheets, blankets, and pillows that just look natural and don’t distract from the performance.”
Super Effects for Jack-Jack
Infant Jack-Jack has his Super coming out in the sequel, displaying all 17 of his powers, especially during a hilarious fight with a raccoon. He can shape shift, teleport, shoot lasers out of his eyes, multiply, grow into a giant, turn into a demon, and become rubbery and sticky. But the most impressive effect was improving his ability to transform into a human torch. And for that, Pixar really upped its game, making the fire look believable, while at the same time allowing us to read Jack-Jack’s features and movements through the flames.
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“One of the bits at the end of the raccoon fight was literally having the animation and effects artists pitch new powers that he might display,” Sayre said. “We set a rule for ourselves that he wouldn’t introduce any new powers during the third act. One of the things that’s delightful at this point is not just the tools, but the skill and artistry of the team.”