After a record-smashing opening weekend at the box office, Disney/Pixar‘s fantastic follow-up “Incredibles 2” is already a fan favorite. But the undeniable breakout star of the film is baby Jack-Jack, who was sidelined with a babysitter during the bulk of the original “The Incredibles” but finally gets the spotlight in this new installment, as the rest of the Parr family discovers the toddler’s burgeoning powers.
During a recent visit to Pixar Animation Studios headquarters in Emeryville, California, I heard from several members of the “Incredibles 2” character design and visual effects teams about the impressive amount of work that went into creating and implementing Jack-Jack’s adorably hilarious look and profuse set of powers for the superhero sequel.
“This was the first sequel I’ve ever worked on,” said supervising animator Tony Fucile. “A lot of time has passed and a lot of things have gotten better. We’ve gotten more experienced and the technology has improved. My son Eli is the voice of Jack-Jack, in both the first film and this film, believe it or not. One hour session of my wife and I following him around with a boom mic, just one hour [for] two feature films and some shorts and commercials and stuff.”
Fucile recalled the design and development of the characters for the first “Incredibles” movie. “When we starting going from hand-drawn flat imagery into 3D, I was worried because I thought ‘I know how this works. I’ve worked on a lot of films where we have these strong, interesting ideas at first and then as we go through the process, when we start getting into the little nitty-gritty of things, we end up losing some of that original graphic punch that we had.’ And we really wanted to hit that.”
Translating drawings from one medium to another proved to be a difficult process. “We still have this basic shape, but there’s planes here and there that are kind of sophisticated. There’s kind of a soft, rhythmic way [about Jack-Jack’s design]. Rhythm is a big deal in drawing, it’s sort of a natural thing where the line follows through. [That’s] very hard to do in CG. When we built our first Jack-Jack in the first film, at the time it was a different process. It [wasn’t] quite as intuitive as some of the tools are now. Looking at it now in hindsight, there’s things that we could have done better.”
“So we went back to the source and got some babies in here [for ‘Incredibles 2’]. There were a lot of babies running around at Pixar; they were really awesome. It was good just to remind ourselves what we were trying to do on the first film. We looked back and picked spots where we could go back and hit some of the things that were a little bit tricky the first go-round.”
Visual effects artist Jason Johnston then went on to describe the technique of bringing Jack-Jack’s powers to life in the sequel. “[In this movie] we discovered a lot of Jack-Jack’s powers such as walking through walls and doors. He also has telekinesis, laser eyes, [and] multiplicity. What’s great about [the raccoon fight] scene is if you look at every Jack-Jack [when he splits apart], they all have individual personalities, all done by one animator: Jim Brown. But on the film I was tasked with creating the Jack-Jack fire effect.”
“When we first started on the effect, we went back to look at what was done originally [in the 2004 film and the 2005 ‘Jack-Jack Attack’ short]. We decided to take the opportunity to redesign the look [of the fire], the reason being that his role while on fire would be bigger in ‘Incredibles 2,’ and it would have more screen time. We would need to read his animation, especially in his face, and also because technology has changed so much we can really do more and flesh out the look.”
“So we got some test animation to start developing the look of the fire. Before we branched completely off, we needed to prove that we could [replicate] the original look, just in case [director Brad Bird didn’t] want it to look too different. We met with the art director Ralph Eggleston, and he was very specific in that Jack-Jack is the source of the fire– he’s not on fire. What this means is that there will be no smoke and no embers ever coming off of Jack-Jack, but things that he has lit on fire can have them, though.”
“Having smoke or embers conveys that something is burning, and we wanted to steer away from that as much as we could. We also didn’t want it to be scary. We looked for reference of objects that are fuel sources of fire that when they’re burning, they don’t actually look like they’re on fire. One of the first things we thought of were those barbecue fire starter cubes. So our first set of tests was to match [that] look. We liked how you could see the source inside and also that the flames are very small-scale. By having the flames small-scale we could be a lot more stylized with the look.”
“We wanted to achieve the transparent center of the fire to see the performance. [Jack-Jack’s] glowing eyes were from an idea that his core was extremely hot. We [also] introduced a change in color to his actual skin. We though that previous tests has too much of a separation between his body and the fire, [so] we hoped that changing the look on his body would bridge the ideas. This was a step in the right direction, [but] we felt like he looked too much like a red devil baby.”
“We played with allowing the flames to be more apparent over his body. We liked being able to see them flow over him, even though they covered his face at times. All of these tests helped shape the final look, but it’s also really important to do tests that push the visual into a space that’s completely wrong. You may find something you didn’t expect, [and] it’s really good to explore all options, even if they seem wrong in concept.”
“We decided to take the look of Jack-Jack and add a new fire simulation over his body: something separate from the other fire, something we could control the look of without affecting the other fire. We used the new fire simulation to affect the appearance of his skin. He also has a bright fringe around his body. The art director loved this, but he wanted it reduced a bit around his face for readability. So we made those changes and we put it all together. The final version of the effect was approved by Brad.”
“Besides the fire, Jack-Jack has a goo effect in the sequel. It’s an effect where he turns himself into a sticky gum or honey-like substance. We wanted [it] in the first film, but because of technical limitations, we had to scrap the idea. So given where technology has come, we decided to give it a go again for this film. Unfortunately, [our first attempts were] a little too disgusting. It also wasn’t stylized enough, but luckily technology had also increased in the animation department and they were able to [achieve] the look [we wanted].”
“Jack-Jack has many powers, and they’re all so fun to see how he uses them in this film. They were equally as fun to create, and we had a blast working on them.”
Disney/Pixar’s “Incredibles 2” is now playing in theaters nationwide.