We Talked To Incredibles 2’s Foremost Edna Mode Expert
Incredibles 2’s Edna Mode is stylish, witty and, above all, eternally composed. Jack-Jack, on the other hand, is…not. Pair the two together for an afternoon of babysitting and you’ve got the delightfully funny Auntie Edna, an exclusive short film that Pixar fans will be able to watch once they get their hands on the Incredibles 2 Blu-ray on November 6.
To get the scoop on all things Edna, Incredibles 2 director Brad Bird, and super suits, we spoke to Auntie Edna director and Pixar veteran Ted Mathot. Check out our conversation below.
Space: How exactly did Auntie Edna come about? Did Brad specifically ask you to put together a short about Edna, or did you come up with the idea for the short organically?
Ted Mathot: The producers were the ones to approach me—this was in February of last year, right around the time the story’s wrapping up on the film. They started to think ahead towards the DVD and digital release, and they said ‘we’re thinking about doing a short for the DVD, would you be down to direct?’ And I said ‘absolutely.’ So they said ‘ok, we’ll set up some time to pitch ideas to Brad, and we’ll go from there.’ I only had the one idea because I thought it was a good one, and I pitched it to him and off we went.
What about the character of Edna made you want to direct a short about her?
Doing these shorts for the DVD, we’re under time and budget constraints, so unfortunately I couldn’t do a short about Voyd, for example, which is a character I love. I’d have loved to explore that character, but that would have meant new sets and new environments and things like that, which we couldn’t do. So it was partially by limitation—we had Edna’s lab, and the character’s just fascinating and hilarious, and teaming her up with Jack-Jack is one of the funniest things in the movie, I think. I just wanted to do more of that.
There isn’t a ton of dialogue in the short because Jack-Jack, despite all of his other impressive powers, isn’t able to talk. How did you manage to capture Edna’s attitude and wit without being able to rely on dialogue?
It’s a delicate balance. That character is very near and dear to Brad, and despite what a lot of people might think, she has a certain range. She’s normally very composed, very in charge, has all the answers. It was interesting going out of that box into a territory where she was maybe a little more unsure or wasn’t in complete control of the situation. That was a challenge because you want to push Edna but you can’t push her too far in terms of the character—otherwise she won’t be Edna anymore. And a lot of that came from Brad, specifically in the recording booth. We were recording, and there were actually points that came up when neither of us knew how she would react. So we just hashed it out there in the recording studio like, ‘what would she say here? What would she call a group of tiny little babies running around and misbehaving?’ It was cool how organically that stuff got figured out.
Other than having to hash out stuff with Brad in the recording studio, what was the biggest challenge you came up against when making the short?
Initially I was told ‘no new powers for the baby.’ [laughs] And we were doing the story reel and I realized, you know, the audience has seen all this stuff before…it was at that point that I went to Brad and said ‘this isn’t working for me. The audience has seen everything that we’re showing.’ And he said, ‘well, you’ve got to do new powers then.’ What’s great about Brad is that he can open the door to make that happen. So I went and talked to our FX people…and of course their eyes lit up and I asked ‘what can you pull together that’s relatively fast?’ They gave me a list and many of those ended up in the short.
Were there any powers the team brainstormed that didn’t end up in the short?
There are ones that I wanted but technically were too difficult to pull off. I wanted to do an elastic baby—you know, that he would retain some of mom’s abilities. But the team just kind of panicked and shook their heads very quickly. That’s the unfortunate thing about movie making—you have a set amount of time and can only fit a certain number of things in there. And it wasn’t just Jack-Jack’s powers, it was other ideas we had that we wanted to put in. I met with the story team and we had so many great ideas and we just couldn’t put them all in.
Which power that did end up in the short did you have the most fun playing around with?
I liked the electric sparking dynamo thing. I don’t know if we’ve done anything like that before at Pixar. It was also specific to my childhood because we had fireworks that were like that, growing up—they were actually called ‘Jumping Jacks.’ I found some online and showed it to the FX folks and said ‘I’d love to replicate this.’ And the lighting folks as well. It was a great challenge, but they crushed it. It looked great…our FX and lighting people are so good. The sparks go off and he cools down and I wanted him to look lit from the inside…and they nailed it.
Auntie Edna is the first film you’ve ever directed. How did it feel to take on that additional responsibility? Do you think you’ll pursue more directing opportunities moving forward?
I would love to. It was nice to learn the ropes with someone like Brad having my back because I learned a lot of great lessons from him, and I would certainly like to try doing something else after this. I have nuggets of ideas, nothing is completely formed. But I definitely have some seeds that I’d really like to develop.
Incredibles 2 also marked the first time that you worked as a story supervisor as opposed to a story artist. How did it feel to oversee a group of story artists after being on the other side of things for so many years?
It was really challenging and really rewarding at the same time. I got to work with some of the best story people in the business. What was really fulfilling to me was to try to implement the things that I picked up from the great supervisors that I worked with. If I could name one, Mark Andrews, who was the supervisor on the first Incredibles and Ratatouille…a lot of how he handled the team I took note of and tried to impart the lessons that I learned from him.
Jumping off of that, how do you feel your skills have progressed since working on the first Incredibles movie almost 15 years ago?
It’s been great. The thing that’s really special about Pixar is that we have all these wonderful directors who all work in different ways. So each director that I work with, I learn something different. Within that, Brad has changed over the years, so it’s not only working with different directors but it’s working with directors that have changed how they work over time. Or things that they like or have a certain affinity for. I always have to be learning, and if I’m not learning it’s time to move on to something else.
That’s interesting. What about Brad specifically has changed over the years?
For the most part Brad is Brad. He’s still the intense, passionate director he’s always been. But having left to go do live action and come back to animation, he’s picked up things from live action that can translate to animation. The way the camera moves or being a little bit more spontaneous with animation. We’re so meticulous about how we plan, but there’s more spontaneity on this film than there’s been before. And that’s due to the schedule but I think it’s also due to how directors work in live action on a live set.
I’m sure you’ve been asked this dozens of times before, but if Edna designed a super suit for you, what would you want it to look like?
Well, it would have to be classic. [laughs] You know, dealing with Edna, I would just say ‘Edna, you do it.’ It’s funny—in Incredibles 2, we actually had, for a while, another designer. He’s only mentioned in the movie, Alexander Galbaki, but he was a character in the movie and just designed these horrendous, horrendous looking suits—full of all these capes and tassels and things that Edna would just explode over if she ever saw. That didn’t make it into the movie, but I would just say something classic. Something Edna Mode.
Incredibles 2 is now available in digital HD and 4K Ultra HD and comes out on Blu-ray 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on November 6. You can read our review of the movie here and check out the trailer below.