Brad Bird, Ratatouille, and the art of directing animation.

The joy of blockbusters.
June 28 2007 3:32 PM

Brad Bird, Animation Auteur

How the director of Ratatouille became the Stanley Kubrick of animation.

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Quick, name the guy who directed Shrek the Third. How about the co- directors of best picture nominee Beauty and the Beast? * The mastermind behind the animation in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (No, it's not Robert Zemeckis.)

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You shouldn't be ashamed if you just went 0 for 3. Ever since Mickey Mouse started whistling, animation has been ghettoized as a children's medium and its practitioners condemned to anonymity. Sure, you know Walt Disney, but that's because he was smart enough to scrawl his name on the company letterhead. Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Matt Groening made it big with animated shorts. Ralph Bakshi got some cult fame for ginning up cult cartoons like Fritz the Cat. But what about the poor, faceless animation-feature director? For nearly a century he's been the most anonymous player in mainstream film.

With the rise of Pixar, that's started to change. You might have heard of John Lasseter, the man who directed Toy Story and Cars. The studio's other star is Brad Bird, the writer and director of both The Incredibles and the new rat-in-the-kitchen comedy, Ratatouille. Before he started dabbling in CGI, Bird worked as an animator at Disney, directed episodes of The Simpsons, and helmed the critically praised feature film The Iron Giant. Even as he's flitted from studio to studio and from style to style, Bird has built a reputation inside and outside the industry as an animation virtuoso. Through his screenwriting, his cinematography, his willingness to experiment, and the force of his personality, Bird has shown that an animation director is much more than just a cog in a cartoon factory.

Josh Levin Josh Levin

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.

Click here for a video slide show on the secrets of Brad Bird, animation auteur.

Correction, June 28, 2007: This piece originally stated that The Little Mermaid was nominated for best picture. The sentence should have referred to Beauty and the Beast. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)

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