Brad Bird is one of the biggest names in animation today as the writer and director of "Incredibles 2" by Walt Disney's Pixar, which hit theaters on Friday. The sequel to Oscar-winner "The Incredibles" (2004, also with Bird at the helm) was 14 years in the making and has already set records for advanced ticket sales, putting the movie on track to pull in as much as $140 million in its first weekend at the North American box office. Bird has also had other blockbuster hits, like Pixar's 2007 "Ratatouille."
But it was a gutsy risk Bird took as a 14-year-old that set him on a path to unimaginable success.
He's now 60 and a famous and award-winning writer-director-producer. But Bird was once just a kid growing up in Oregon who dreamed of a career as a Disney animator.
"Like most kids, I loved cartoons and watched them constantly on television. I loved their broadness and imagination, that they felt so vital," Bird told "The Simpsons" actress Nancy Cartwright in an interview in 2009.
Bird specifically loved Walt Disney movies, which he called "spellbinding," and which inspired him to start drawing cartoons at a young age.
When he was 11, Bird started working on his first animated short film — an adaptation of the classic tale "The Tortoise and the Hare." At the time, a family friend who had attended college with Disney composer George Bruns ("Robin Hood," "The Sword in the Stone") arranged for Bruns to give young Bird a tour of the Disney studios in Burbank, California. During the tour, Bruns told some of the Disney animators about Bird's own animation project. The seasoned animators gave him "this patient smile," Bird said in 2009.
"Those guys were shocked when I sent them a completed 15-minute film three years later," Bird said. Indeed, the then 14-year-old Bird mailed his unsolicited finished animated short to the animators at Walt Disney. And the movie was good enough to catch the attention of some important people at the iconic animation studio.
Bird told Cartwright in 2009 that he made the short movie in his parents' basement with an 8mm camera in a workroom his father built for him. "He'd bought a used 8mm camera that was capable of shooting one frame at a time for me, and he jury-rigged it into a camera enlarger stand pointing down at a place where I'd slide my drawings into position to photograph," Bird said.