Animation Auntie Edna

Adventures in Babysitting: Pixar’s Ted Mathot on the Making of the New ‘Incredibles 2’ Short, ‘Auntie Edna’

November 6, 2018Ben MK

Anyone who saw Incredibles 2 in theatres will no doubt recall the heartwarming and groundbreaking short Bao, which preceded the film. However, for the 4K, Blu-ray and DVD release of the movie, Pixar has also done one better and included a brand new and adorable short, titled Auntie Edna.

Directed by Ted Mathot, Auntie Edna centers on two of The Incredibles and Incredibles 2 most beloved characters — Edna Mode (voiced once again by filmmaker Brad Bird) and baby Jack-Jack — as the diminutive and outspoken fashion icon finds herself babysitting the Parr family's youngest (and perhaps most headstrong) member, and discovering his impressive and wide-ranging array of superpowers along the way.

I caught up with Ted Mathot to chat about the short, his work on Incredibles 2, and his equally incredible career at Pixar.

You've worked as a story artist on a number of Pixar films before, you were the story supervisor on Incredibles 2, and you also wrote the story for the 2008 Pixar short Presto, but this short is the first Pixar project you’ve directed. Why was now the right time to direct your own short and what made this one special?

Mathot: Well, generally in the past, when we've done these DVD shorts, the head of story is usually the first person they go to. Josh Cooley directed one for Inside Out, Kelsey Mann directed for Monsters University, so I think naturally the producers came to me to ask if I wanted to do it. And I said, "Absolutely." I jumped at the chance to continue working in the world that Brad [Bird] had created. It's just really wonderful and full of great characters.

I know that Incredibles 2 itself was in development for a long time, but how about this short? How has it evolved from the original concept, and how did that idea for it come about?

Mathot: It had actually not been in development at all until about mid February. Cuz I was still working on the film till the beginning of this year, just because the production was right up against our finish line. So mid February was the earliest that I could begin to think about a project like this. So we got a bit of a late start — we were about two months behind — but they asked me if I would do it, and I said, "Sure."

I had a few ideas, and that Jack-Jack one really jumped to the forefront. That was the only one I wanted to pitch to Brad, because I thought he would really like it. And sure enough, he said, "Great, love the idea. Go for it." We had just under five months to do the short. That includes all the story development, so it was definitely a bit of a rush. But the people we had were so good that we were able to get it in relatively on time.

The movie was not unlike that. We lost a full year from our production because we had to scoot the release date up. So what was good was, lessons learned on making a feature, I did my best to apply on a much smaller scale with the short, in that the crew was always seeing a version that was out-of-date. We were moving so quickly, and they really wouldn't see anything indicative of the final [product] until it was done. And it's hard to put your team out on a limb like that, but it's what Brad did with the feature. So I tried to give the same speech that he gave to us.

Auntie Edna is also very much a followup to Jack-Jack Attack, the short that was included on the original The Incredibles DVD release. Did you revisit that one in preparation for this one?

Mathot: I did. I looked at it and very quickly realized that we couldn't do the same short again, just with Edna instead of Kari. Normally, that would be the easy thing to do, to have the baby get loose around the house and get into all kinds of trouble. It's like, "Well, we can't do that again." Mainly because a) we’ve done it before, and b) Kari and Edna are completely different characters and they're gonna react in different ways. So Edna would not react like Kari would. So we had to figure out something that was specific to Edna's character. It was a bit of a challenge, because we didn't want to make the same thing twice.

What were the other ideas that were floating around before you settled on the story for this short?

Mathot: I would have loved to have worked with one of the — what we call the wannabe — superheroes. I think it would have been great to tell a little bit more about one of their stories. But because of the budget and the time constraints for a DVD short, we wouldn't be able to create new environments or anything like that to support those characters. So really Edna and Jack-Jack was the only one that I thought was really doable in the time that we had.

Was there anything else that you've learned over your time at Pixar that you've applied to this short? Or were there things that you always wanted to do, that you were able to do in this short?

Mathot: As far as lessons learned, many of them come from Brad Bird. I think really pushing for things that you think are important is essential to being a successful filmmaker. I think he's one of the best because he pushes for things. And I think that's really important, because if you're always doing what they tell you you can do, then I don't think boundaries are gonna be pushed. You're not gonna get your film to that level that you need it to be. Living on the bleeding edge is what we called it. [laughs]

In every Pixar film, there are usually a few Easter eggs. Were there any in this short?

Mathot: There's one that I don't think anyone would ever pick up — it's more of an inside joke — but if you look on [Edna's] table, the drawings say "not to scale," and that's a hallmark of [production designer] Ralph Eggleston, who always, always, always wrote "not to scale" on this drawings, so there was never any confusion about how big things were. So that was just a small homage. And we did Edna's drawings in the style of Ralph Eggleston, who I'm a huge fan of.

Again, that was something that we'd never seen before — what do [Edna's] drawings look like? Is she technical or is she more artistic? And I love the way Ralph draws on big pieces of 18 x 24 newsprint, so let's make it look like that. That's very insidery and kind of nerdy, but you asked for it. [laughs]

Whenever I've spoken with other filmmakers at Pixar in the past, they've always commented about how supportive the rest of the team at Pixar have been — and you’ve alluded to that as well. So what kind of input did Brad Bird and the rest of the Pixar creative team have on this short?

Mathot: Oh, it was huge. Brad was extremely busy at the time I was putting this thing together. He was up at Skywalker Ranch mixing the movie, and graciously took some time away from that to look at the story reel I had and to give notes. And his notes were absolutely crucial to getting the short feel like it was in the world and that Edna was in character, and things like that.

And also, being in the recording booth with Brad, it's intimidating to be directing a director, especially someone of his caliber, but we had some great discussions about Edna and how she would react, because there are things that she reacts to and ways that she reacts in the short that we've never seen her do before. So there was actually some conversation between Brad and I, like, "Would she say that?" We had some lines that we tossed around.

[Brad] would start reading a line and then he'd stop reading in the middle and go, "Edna would never say that." [laughs] So there was character development happening, even within the recording sessions.

On a similar note, what kind of advice would you yourself give to all the aspiring filmmakers out there, especially those with an interest in animation?

Mathot: I'm always telling people to look for mentors and to look for advocates, people who are gonna have their back and stand up for them — mentors who may be further ahead in their careers, or would know people that could help to open doors, things like that. Then obviously you have your creative mentors as well — those people that you learn from.

So for me, Mark Andrews, who was my supervisor on Incredibles and Ratatouille, I learned a tremendous amount from, creatively, as well as being a leader. And then from Brad, on being a director — how to direct people, how to give notes, how to push the boundaries, how to get what you want, things like that.

Are you planning on continuing down the path of directing in the future? What are you working on next?

Mathot: I'm doing some story work right now. I took a nice, long break after Incredibles and after the short. So I'm back and I'm doing some story work, and would love to make some more stuff. I would love to make another short film, whether it's animation or live-action, or whatever medium it is. I love storytelling. I just love making stuff. So that's my goal.

Incredibles 2 is now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital HD.

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