Bob and Helen Parr of Pixar's Incredibles 2 have more troubles than the average married couple. Being superheroes in a world where superheroes are illegal will do that. Luckily, Pixar had a couple of experts on what it means to be a married couple working together on one of Bob and Helen's most pivotal, underrated Incredibles 2 scenes.
Jessica and David Torres, a husband-and-wife duo, are both character animators at Pixar. You might recognize David’s work on How to Train Your Dragon, as he was the supervising animator on Hiccup. He got his start at Pixar working on 2015's The Good Dinosaur and has worked on most of its movies since then.
Jessica, also a character animator, began her career at Pixar on 2010's Toy Story 3 and has since worked on Brave (2012), Monsters University (2013), The Good Dinosaur, Coco (2017), and more.
Both were working on Incredibles 2 when they crossed paths in an unexpected way: They animated a sequence together.
Remember that scene in Incredibles 2 where Bob and Helen Parr are arguing about whether or not Helen should take the new job? Bob is in bed and she’s brushing her teeth and there’s frustration writ large on the both of them…
Jessica and David did that work together.
SYFY WIRE got a chance to speak with the duo about their work on this sequence, working with your spouse behind the scenes, and the kind of animation that blows their minds.
When you two decided to jump into doing the sequence together, did you have any idea that they would make you start doing interviews about it?
David: I don't think we ever thought of that at the time. You know? We just were in production and we saw that moment coming up and we found a lot of similarities in our life and that life, and we just said, "Hey can we do the scene?" and luckily they were like, "Yeah. Sure. Go ahead and do it."
So is that not a normal thing, having people who are involved romantically working together that closely?
Jessica: No, it's not. This was the first time for us.
David: First time in our career.
Jessica: I'm trying to think of the other couples in the department, I don't think... Yeah, it was the first... I tried to make it happen on Cars 3 with us, to try to give us a scene together and it didn't happen. And then this time we were like, "Okay, here it is. Let's do this scene together.
David: I think actually all the other couples are they all asked us if we were crazy, "You guys work together, you're home together and, you wanna do shots together? Okay... "
Jessica: But it worked out really well.
David: Yeah, I think it has a lot of benefits.
Tell me about those benefits, working on this scene in particular.
David: It's the ability to bounce ideas off each other. We have our professional lives but we also have our home lives. There are things that we're at home that we can just see and stop and say, "Oh! You're doing that, you should do that in that scene!" We can talk things out, not only here but outside of work. We brought our selves to it, but not to mention the honesty between each other, and she's able to be really honest with me and be like, "Oh, that's not working."
Jessica: You don't have to have a filter.
David: Yeah, there's no filter. I can just be like, "Stop."
Jessica: Just being able to work at home together, in the sense that, for example, I was trying to figure out how Helen would get into bed while in mid-conversation and just that one specific action it's like... Would be like this? Would be like that? I don't know what do you think about this?
David: And we could just do it at home.
Jessica: Yeah, even when it comes to that particular little thing it was nice to be able to bounce the ideas off.
So really, they were getting extra work out of you both...
Jessica: Yes. We were billing though. [Laughs] I'm kidding.
Watching the final scene, what's a particular quirk of the animation that you're both proud of?
David: I had a difficulty figuring out the opening moment of Bob because were slam-cutting from a previous sequence in which Helen was offered the job and the last thing she says is like, "I don't know, I have to think about it," and then, we slam-cut right to Bob. "What you mean you don't know? How can you not know?" And so it was figuring out that moment. Because the conversation's been going. You obviously know that we've had these conversations at home and, you know this is been going probably for a half hour or an hour and they've been talking and back to forth. It's an argument. And how do you get into that scene knowing, "Okay, yeah, I've been in that moment and they've been talking for a while." It's not the start of a scene, you're coming in in the middle of it.
Jessica: There was a moment at the beginning of that where he was like, "Well, should he even be in bed yet? Should he be sitting on the end of [the] bed? Should he be getting in? Or getting ready?" He needs to already be in the conversation, he should already be in position, and just be in the middle of a thought, so that transition from sequence to sequence worked.
David: And I wanted to show frustration in Bob. That's why I had him leaning back with his hand on his head almost like he's saying, "God, how can I get through to you that this is great?"
Jessica: What I love about that scene, too, is because Helen's in a different room, he can be a little aggravated because she can't see him. Which is what you totally do in you're in a separate room having a conversation, you can make the eye flares and the gestures. And that's something that I feel like it's really great in that scene...
And what about for your work?
Jessica: For me, it was really fun to animate brushing teeth and trying to figure out all of the "How do you talk with your mouth full of toothpaste?" I felt like that was just a really unique thing I don't normally get to do and that was really fun to a figure out. It's also working in a mirror and asking, "Does this animation read from behind and in the mirror at the same time?"
What's it like when the producers come to you and say, "We need to see the reference footage of you brushing your teeth?"
Jessica: I tend to shoot my reference alone by myself, probably in my pajamas, so I don't usually keep it. As soon as I use it, I delete it. They were kind of lucky that I had some saved and I was willing to give it up. But he saves all of his.
David: I save all of my references. I archive everything just 'cause I use them for demos and presentations of process and so it's always good to keep them around because I've been in these scenarios and know that you'll need them.
Jessica: That's why I delete them.
Do most animators at Pixar work with references like that, or have you settled into what works for you?
Jessica: You settle in to what works for you. Some people shoot reference, some people just act in a mirror, some people draw thumbnails. Everyone has a different process. Sometimes you're doing an action shot — like I had some shots where I needed to look at some parkour reference and I can't do any of that. There's no way... So I'm on YouTube looking for anybody doing a really cool jump-flip parkour thing.
David: You're just gathering reference for whatever you need per shot. I actually switch what I need per shot. Performance wise, I like to act, so I try to at least do some acting, but then I also look at how the live action actor read the line and look at their footage and see what I can get from them. And you just try to gather from wherever you can to really make your performance. You know what you need and you're just grabbing a little here, a little there, a little here and then to make this one seamless performance.
What classic animation do you go back and look at and go, "Wow, I can't even believe they did that by hand. I really wish I could do stuff like that?"
Jessica: Recently, I was doing that with Tarzan. We recently just watched Tarzan with our children and, man, there's animation in that movie that I just go crazy for.
David: Yeah, they did some amazing stuff in that movie.
Jessica: Like, when the camera moves around the characters, which just blew my mind. Aladdin.
David: Yeah, there's a lot of great animation. I go back all the time to 101 Dalmatians where you're talking natural feel and mundane stuff as well. Like [Roger] playing the piano and dealing with the dogs and stuff. That, for me, is an inspiration, but there are moments like Tarzan where I feel like this is the first time that Disney used the deep canvas and they're able to move around the space and being able to draw on like — we work in 3-D, so we can move a camera around that character, no problem — but to draw it to look like a camera's moving around? It's incredible. It blows my mind sometimes.
Incredibles 2 is now available digitally and on DVD and Blu-ray.