One of the most celebrated figures in modern animation, Brad Bird was the Academy Award-winning writer and director of the hit feature films "The Incredibles" (2004) and "Ratatouille" (2007). Bird's movies stood apart from other big-screen animated efforts, due to the quality of both the visuals and the writing; in both "Incredibles" and "Ratatouille," as well as his debut project, the well-loved cult favorite "The Iron Giant" (1999), Bird brought together exciting action and eye-popping visuals with stories driven by real and palpable human emotions. For many critics and moviegoers, Bird's animated movies were the perfect example of what an animated film could achieve. Later in his career, Bird moved into live-action films; though they were greeted with less universal critical praise, Bird's signature visual style remained strong in the changeover.
Born Sept. 11, 1957 in Kalispell, MT, Phillip Bradley Bird set his sights on a career in animation at an early age. On a tour of the Walt Disney Studios at age 11, Bird proudly announced that he would someday join the ranks of its animation team, and soon thereafter, commenced on his own 15-minute animated short. Within two years, he had completed the picture, and the venerable cartoon company quickly recognized his talents. While still in high school, Bird was mentored by Milt Kahl, one of Disney's legendary "Nine Old Men" and the revered designer of such iconic characters as Pinocchio, Peter Pan, and Tigger the Tiger.
Bird attended the California Institute of the Arts, where he met and befriended another future animator, John Lasseter of later Pixar fame. Like Lasseter, Bird joined Disney's animation team after graduation, but his tenure there was brief. After contributing animation to two projects - "The Fox and The Hound" (1981) and the little seen "Plague Dogs" (1982) - Lasseter jumped ship and went to work for Steven Spielberg on his "Amazing Stories" (NBC, 1985-87) anthology series. There he wrote and directed two episodes, including what was arguably the show's best episode, the animated "Family Dog" (1987), which was later developed by Spielberg and Tim Burton into a short-lived series for CBS in 1993. Bird also supplied the voice for the dog in the original episode - his first of many vocal performances in his own projects. Bird also penned the script for "*batteries not included" (1987), a maudlin, Spielberg-produced fantasy that was originally intended as an episode for "Amazing Stories," but was expanded into a feature film for director Matthew Robbins.
In 1989, Bird joined the TV animation company Klasky-Csupo to serve as a consultant on an animated series based on characters that appeared in one-minute sketches on "The Tracey Ullman Show" (Fox, 1987-1990). "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ) quickly blossomed into a pop culture icon, with Bird directing several episodes, as well as contributing to storyboards and character design for the show. He then graduated to consult on other animated series, including "The Critic" (Fox, 1994-95) and "King of the Hill" (Fox, 1997-2009).
In 1999, Bird was tapped by Warner Bros. to direct the feature film "The Iron Giant." Based loosely on the children's novel by poet Ted Hughes, the simple yet affecting story of a lonely young boy who befriends a giant mechanical man from space yielded a wave of positive reviews from critics, all of whom found its warmth and humor a welcome alternative to the spectacle-like product from Disney Studios. The film took top honors for animated films from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and Annie Awards, winning nine of 15 nominations in 2000. Sadly, Warner Bros. was closing its venerable animation wing while the film was in release, so did little to promote the picture. According to Bird, the film did not even have a one-sheet, which spelled its quick demise at the box office.
Fortunately, "The Iron Giant" would eventually find its audience on DVD. Among its admirers was Bird's old college friend, John Lasseter, who by 2000 was a sensation in the feature animation world, thanks to his company Pixar Animation, which produced "Toy Story" (1995) and "A Bug's Life" (1999). Lasseter invited Bird to pitch a project at Pixar, and Bird's idea - about a family of retired superheroes - captured the company's imagination. Bird was tapped to write and direct the film. Titled "The Incredibles," Bird was even allowed to bring in outside artists - a first in Pixar history.
Buoyed by its impressive retro look, as well as terrific performances by its voice cast - Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, and Bird himself in a scene-stealing supporting role as the Lotte Lenya/Edith Head-like Edna Mode - "The Incredibles" also scored, thanks to the genuine emotions exchanged between its dysfunctional but loving family of caped heroes. Audiences, clearly charmed by this affectionate nod to '50s-era cartoons and comic books, made the film a monster hit worldwide, leaving Bird showered with awards. These included the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film in 2005.
During this time, Bird also found time to direct "Jack-Jack Attack" (2005), an amusing short about the youngest member of the Parr family from "The Incredibles," and the havoc he wreaks upon a hapless baby-sitter. He also served as executive producer on Pixar's "One Man Band" (2005), an Oscar-nominated short that was shown at screenings of the company's "Cars" (2006).
In 2006, Pixar announced that Bird would take over as director for "Ratatouille" (2007), their latest feature-length project. Director Jan Pinkava was originally assigned to the project, but left the company in 2006. Bird, who was serving as a consultant on the film, rewrote the script and streamlined the character design to make its main character - a Parisian rat (Patton Oswalt) who aspires to be a great chef - more human. Bird also called in scores of top chefs to consult on the dishes created in the film, bringing in another impressive list of actors to give life to his characters, including Janeane Garofalo, Brad Garrett, Peter O'Toole, Ian Holm and John Ratzenberger, who had provided voices in all of Pixar's movies. "Ratatouille" opened to almost universally positive reviews in June of 2007, and signaled what would likely be another banner year for Bird and Pixar. When awards season rolled along, "Ratatouille" earned several critic's awards and a Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature, leading to Oscar nominations in the animated feature category and Best Original Screenplay.
Bird next moved into live-action films, directing Tom Cruise in the action sequel "Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol" (2011). Although Bird merely served as director on that film, he co-wrote (with Damon Lindelof) and co-produced the science-fiction fantasy "Tomorrowland" (2015), starring George Clooney and Britt Robertson. Returning in part to animation, Bird was announced as the screenwriter of "The Incredibles 2," scheduled for 2016.
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Wrote, directed and produced an episode of "Amazing Stories" (NBC) titled "Family Dog"
Directed episodes of the animated Fox series "The Simpsons"; also served as consultant
Wrote and directed the segment of "Amazing Stories: Book Two" titled "Family Dog"
Created the short-lived animated series "Family Dog" based on the segment he created for "Amazing Stories"
Helmed the animated feature "The Iron Giant"
Wrote and directed the Pixar animated feature "The Incredibles," about a family of undercover superheroes; earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay
Helmed "Ratatouille," a Pixar cartoon about a skinny rat who lives in a Parisian restaurant; also scripted; earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay
Directed Tom Cruise in the action feature "Mission Impossible ¿ Ghost Protocol"