The Incredibles – Mid Century Modernism exemplified

The Incredibles – Mid Century Modernism exemplified

The Incredibles (2004) an action-packed story of a family of superheroes living an incognito suburban existence, may be animation but the attention to detail in the sets and production design is outstanding, even by Pixar’s high standards. The story also takes us on a tour of urban architecture, furniture and decor featuring intelligent mutations of some classic mid-century modernist pieces.

“I saw the world of ‘The Incredibles’ as looking like what we thought the future would turn out like in the 1960s,” says director Brad Bird.

Syndromes lair has all the hallmarks of a pad belonging to Bond ‘s Blofeld, with defiant nods to Thunderbirds and The Jetsons. It also ticks quite a few boxes of my childhood fantasy residence – Parting waterfall? Check. Personal monorail? Check. This retro-futuristic house and it’s interiors draw on the architecture of Oscar Niemeyer (such as Niterói Contemporary Art Museum in Brazil) and the Charles Deaton Sculptured house in Denver (also featured in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper”) while the interior is a muted-toned rendition of Eero Saarinen’s walkways in the TWA Flight Center.

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Syndrome’s Lair in The Incredibles. © Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios.
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Syndrome’s lair, The Incredibles. © Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios
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Oscar Niemeyer’s Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum, Brazil.
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Charles Deaton Sculpture House, Denver featured in Woody Allen’s Sleeper

Inside, Bob Parr aka Mr Incredible, takes a briefing seated in a chair reminiscent of the Joe Colombo Elda chair (1965).

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Bob Parr takes a briefing in The Incredibles. © Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios.
Joe Colombo Elda chair
Joe Colombo Elda chair

By contrast, the suburban home of Bob and Helen Parr is a fine example of the more domestic side of mid-century modernism. The architecture of the house itself is based on the work of Joseph Eichler and no detail of the interior décor and furniture and has been overlooked by those clever kids at Pixar. 

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The Parr’s house exterior in The Incredibles. Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios
A typical Joseph Eichler house
A typical Joseph Eichler house

To help capture a “suburban mid-century tiki” look, production designer Lou Romano and art director Ralph Eggleston (who previously served as the production designer on Toy Story), were faced with the enormous task of creating human emotion through the shape and colour of the sets. Set sequence supervisor Nigel Hardwidge explains. “Right off the bat, we knew this film was going to be an unprecedented undertaking because ‘The Incredibles’ has nearly three times as many sets as we’ve dealt with on any previous film”.

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The Parr’s lounge. © Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios.
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The Parr’s dining. © Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios.

Specific furniture pieces featured in the film have been ‘Incredibled’ just slightly from the originals – take the Zanuso ‘Lady Chair’ (designed by Marco Zanuso for Arflex in 1951) in the Parr’s front room for example – in reality they have brass not wooden legs.

The Parrs lounge. © Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios.
Zanuso Lady Chair
Zanuso Lady Chair

I confess I can’t identify the exact sofa but it looks a lot like a Flexsteel.

The stone wall, the modular wooden shelving unit and the sideboard are all classic mid-century style icons.

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The Parr’s lounge with modular wooden storage divider © Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios.
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The kitchen. © Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios.
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Helen’s chair. © Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios.

The house of avant garde fashion designer Edna is a cooler, high-design abode and more influenced by De Stijl. A variation of her entrance walkway over water featured in my childhood dream-house sketches. After this walkway we see her seated in a stripped back version of Le Corbusier’s LC3 chairs (designed in 1928) or something out of Rietveld‘s front room.

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Edna’s house exterior. © Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios.
Edna’s entrance walkway over water. © Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios.
Edna’s kitchen. © Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios.
Edna’s chair. © Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios.
Edna’s japanese influenced room. © Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios.

When showing Helen (Elasta Girl) her new state of the art superhero costume designs they sit on low chairs with wing like seats which appear to be a hybrid of a few classics:

Hans J Wegner Shell chair (1963) sometimes called the ‘smiling chair’
– or a Swan chair by Arne Jacobsen (for Fritz Hansen, 1957)
or an Eames Low Lounge chair originally designed by the dynamite duo in 1940.

All examples of great and ageless design.

Edna seated to show Helen her state of the art new costume designs. © Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios.

In the special features section of the special edition DVD of The Incredibles, Edna is “interviewed” about her work in the film. When asked whether working with superheroes was difficult, she replies, “Superheroes are easy, dahling. Mediocrity is much more difficult to work with – and it is in such great supply.” We hear you Edna…

Watch it now!

Hooked?

The book “The Art of The Incredibles” offers an in-depth look at the art and process behind these scenes, featuring concept and character sketches, storyboards, and lighting studies.

  • the-art-of-the-incredibles-book

    The Art of The Incredibles

    Directors: Brad Bird, John Lasseter

    As seen in:

    Pixar’s The Incredibles is wonderfully graphic, bringing an early-’60s retro look to the superhero genre. The Art of the Incredibles pulls together the fabulous and otherwise never-seen movie concept art with quotes from the creative team of artists, designers, and directors.

    Approx £25.00 / $32

    Shop Now

And some interesting further reading on How Stuff works: The Ultimate Guide to ‘The Incredibles’.

And more’s to the point – Incredibles 2 is in the making as we speak!

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