And perhaps the peak scene reflecting such superior action choreography centers on Elastigirl (again richly voiced by Holly Hunter) as she clings to a speeding train. As Indiewire writes, this is a “Spielberg-level monorail chase that reaffirms Bird’s lucid gift for kinetic and character-driven action filmmaking.”
Bird, to be sure, fully takes comparisons to Steven Spielberg’s skills as the highest compliment.
“Those are the filmmakers that I admire in terms of action,” the Oscar-winning Bird (“Ratatouille,” “The Incredibles”) tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “I love Spielberg and James Cameron and George Miller. Those guys are very adept at choreographing so that you know where you are every second of the fight.
“And they do it in a way that they are still moving rapidly, but they are giving you all the information that you need to know as an audience.”
Ah, the audience. Part of Bird’s brilliance is that he continually keeps the viewer’s precise perspective in mind — and then respects it. Compare that with, say, less artful superhero movies that obscure too much of the action in muddy, too-dark lighting, or that resort to Cuisinart cinematography that tries to dazzle — or patch over gaps — by cranking up the speed till it’s faster than the filmgoer can possibly follow.
“People oftentimes in these films, they shoot a ton of coverage,” says Bird, pointing out how some directors “fling” a large pile of action footage at their editors, who must work it out. In other words, he says, the film editors are told: “You make sense out of it.”
Bird, by contrast — like some of his fellow visual wizards at Pixar — has long delved into how filmmakers such as Cameron and Spielberg solve the cinematic mysteries of what can feel like competing visual goals. “Clarity and speed are not always good friends,” Bird says.
Bird also relishes the brilliant visual choreography that comes out of classic animation, including Looney Tunes legends like Chuck Jones.
“Jones would do hard cuts to [the] action,” Bird says of the animator who guided such characters as Bugs Bunny and the Grinch. “The character would give you the side eye, and then — cut — it would be the same character, but he would already be scrambling to go.
“Because you’re missing about 16 frames a second of the preparation of that action,” he notes, “it’s hilarious. It’s more about how it feels.”
And whether the film is animation or live-action, or even some CG hybrid of both, Bird (“Tomorrowland,” “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”) is forever seeking new and sharper techniques for delivering the action.
“There are so many great filmmakers out there,” says Bird, who studied at the Disney pipeline that is the California Institute of the Arts. “I feel like I’m always a student.”