Mark Andrews has worked in animation and live-action as a storyboard artist, story supervisor, writer, and even as a voice actor, including The Incredibles, John Carter, The Iron Giant, Spider-Man, Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars. With Brave, he makes his debut as a feature film director.
When I visited Pixar, I took part in a roundtable discussion with Andrews, where he talked about the film, his love of Scotland, his career, and the difference between Pixar and Disney.
Andrews didn’t set out to become an artist or animator. “I kind of fell into animation. I’ve been drawing all my life just because I like drawing,” he explained. In high school, he planned on enlisting in the Marine Corps, but his friends all told him he should do something with his drawing talent, even though he had never taken an art class. He enrolled in some drawing classes at the city college, where he found out about CalArts, the art school founded by Walt Disney. “I said, I can actually have a career where I’m just drawing all the time? Done. Check, and that’s about as far as my ambition went. Everything else, doors just opened for me and I just jumped through.”
One of the doors that he “just jumped through” was working with Brad Bird, the director of The Incredibles and Iron Giant, as well as Mission Impossible 4. Andrews has been labeled as “Brad Bird’s right hand,” and they have worked on many projects together. “When Pixar approached Brad Bird to come up here and make a film with Pixar, there were about 12 of us that he brought up from his Iron Giant days. He calls us his dirty dozen, because we make movies guerrilla style. We do whatever it takes to get it done and we’re down and dirty and, you know, coming in to this hallowed halls of Pixar, you know, we were like garbage.” But the attitudes soon changed, Andrews says. “So we kind of came in and kind of infected Pixar in a good way.”
Becoming a director was not something he ever planned for, and in fact, working for Pixar was something of a surprise; he claims that he was blacklisted at Disney after serving an internship at the studio.” I went to the Disney internship after Cal Arts, after four years of Cal Arts. I got my BFA. I was one of five who got the Disney internship. After that, three months of the internship they would never hire me again. Just being myself, being a rebel,” he says jokingly, concluding that “now I’ve shown them.” Andrews goes on to explain that he is not alone in this area; both John Lasseter and Brad Bird were also fired from Disney under similar circumstances. “Brad has a term for it. He says, ‘strong coffee;’ a lot of people don’t like strong coffee, but, sometimes strong coffee’s exactly what you need to wake up in the morning and get going.” According to Andrews, the problem is that the studio’s attitude is “We don’t want your ideas, we just want you to do it.”
There has been some controversy surrounding Brave, due to the fact that Brenda Chapman was replaced as director, despite writing the film and originating the concept. Andrews explained that this was part of the way Pixar does things; the story is the most important thing, and sometimes a new perspective is needed. There have been director changes on Pixar films in the past, most recently with Ratatouille. “Every project gets bogged down with story, every single one,” Andrews says, “Ratatouille also took forever and it got bogged down with storyboard and it just got stuck…this is just, you know, the thing that needed to happen to free it up, to break it.”
His intent was to bring an “objective eye” to what had been done and see where the story problem was. “They asked me to take over. I come in, I look at it. It’s a great story; these great characters, this character theme, this parent-child story, right? Set in Scotland that I love. It’s medieval that I love,” he says, describing his approach to the film, “the first, easiest thing that I did was to go in and just kill everything that I thought wasn’t needed, and get down to the bare bones of what the story was. That freed it kind of from the mud.” Once the storyline was streamlined, that left “a lot of holes” for the story team to fill; “once you take away the clutter and you see what you’ve got, and have to rebuild it, there’s just holes and there’s new things. So we’ve got new sets and new characters, and I wanted a lot of weather in there, so we got weather back in.”
The process is somewhat different in a live action film than an animated one, Andrews explains. “They run into the same problem, but, you never see it, because they’re alone in the editing room going ‘how do I make this thing work?’ Because they shoot it all first.” Live action directors will shoot multiple versions of each scene and assemble the film in the editing room, where animators do all the editing first and then create the scenes to match the decisions that have been made. “We’ve already edited the scene and shot the scene in our head because that’s what we do in animation.”
Andrews was able to work on both Brave and John Carter, even though their release dates were so close together; Brave started production about a year before the other film, but because the live action process is faster, Andrews finished his work on John Carter before being brought in on Brave. “It just kind of landed that way. they moved up John Carter‘s schedule; it was supposed to come out summer of 2012, in competition with our own movie, Brave. The summer was crowded so they moved it into into the spring slot.
Brave opens on June 22.