Lipscomb professor, former Disney animator not surprised at ‘The Incredibles 2’ success

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Bancroft_incredibles_2That is one word that may describe Pixar’s The Incredibles 2 record-breaking, opening weekend performance.

The film is a sequel to another Pixar hit The Incredibles. And fans have been anticipating the sequel for 14 years. It smashed several box office records with its opening weekend haul of a $180 domestic opening and an additional estimated $51.5 million from the internationals market. Industry analysts say that makes it the biggest opening of all time for an animated film of all time.

The film features Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter as voices for the parents of a superhero family, the Parr family – Bob, Helen, Dash, Violet and Jack-Jack – who continue to operate under their superhero identity, the Incredibles. The storyline picks up three months after the end of the first move in the series.

Anticipation is exactly what drove Tom Bancroft to load up his wife and their four teenagers to head to the theater for the opening night of The Incredibles 2 on June 15.

But Bancroft isn’t your typical Pixar or The Incredibles enthusiast. He is an animator. And not just any animator. Bancroft is a former animator for Walt Disney Feature Animation, which owns Pixar, so he enjoys seeing the latest films. And he knows those guys — many of the artists and animators created the newest Pixar masterpiece.

He is also artist-in-residence and head of the animation program in Lipscomb University’s George Shinn College of Entertainment & the Arts.

The Incredibles 2 had an amazing warm up with a gap of about 14 years from the first film,” says Bancroft. “A lot of people would say that’s a mistake. But Pixar did the same thing with Finding Nemo and Finding Dory (which also had a big opening weekend financially). So they probably felt pretty good going into The Incredibles 2 that they could pull this off even with that kind of a gap.”

There are few franchises or films, except for Star Wars, he says, that could wait that long “and people will still be there” to see what’s next.

Bancroft believes the original The Incredibles was that kind of movie.

“It changed the viewpoint of superhero movies, but also what animated films could be,” he says. “Also, at its heart is the family element, so it quickly became a lot of people’s, including myself, favorite Pixar films.”

Bancroft_incredibles_1Over the last 14 years, there was a lot of chatter in the industry about the possibility of a sequel. So, the build-up and anticipation was great.

“It worked for them, when it probably wouldn’t work for a lot of others, only because there were enough people who were interested enough to at least see the next film in the franchise at least once. And people have already in the opening weekend seeing it multiple times to have the numbers they’re having,” he says. “It basically means that the first film was that kind of film — a legacy film. And they pretty much knew it.”

The way the original The Incredibles depicted family had a tremendous impact on viewers.

“It was easy to really connect with the family element that was part of the movie,” he says. “That bled into this sequel and we wanted to know more about this family. We wanted to know they were going to defeat this problem they had which was that they are these superheroes who want to save the world but the world won’t let them. That’s a strong hook going into the second one because it didn’t get fixed in the first movie.”

At the end of the first installment in the franchise, “we left the Parr family in their superhero suits and never saw the world see them be that family.”

Bancroft admires the “bold move” of The Incredibles 2 director Brad Bird and Pixar to go back to the story and pick up right where the first movie left off instead of “turning everything on its head.”

“That fed right into the fandom which is that we wanted to see the original story continue, which they did, and then they created a new story. That was really smart. But that’s not the approach most studios would take,” he says. “This movie also includes a lot of themes this is very much where our world is today.”

Making films using animation is a technique Bancroft is quite familiar with as he has a career that spans more than 25 years in the industry. After attending the prestigious California Institute of the Arts, Bancroft worked for Walt Disney Feature Animation (now known as Walt Disney Animation Studios) as a supervising animator for 12 years. While at Disney, Bancroft was an animator on four animated shorts and eight feature films including Beauty and the Beast, Tarzan, The Lion King, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Mulan (for which he designed the character of Mushu the dragon) and Brother Bear.

Bancroft left Disney in 2000 to follow his heart and help Big Idea Productions, creators of the popular VeggieTales animated series, create their first feature film, Jonah: A Veggietales Movie.  While there he also directed/co-created the popular 2D animated video series Larryboy Adventures.  

He has also created comic books, video game characters, comic strips, and storyboards for film and television animation. He also authored two bestselling art instruction books on character design that have been translated in many languages and are used in art schools around the world. 

Bancroft says one of the unique aspects of the animation industry is the relationships that are formed.

“I know a lot of animators and artists who worked on Incredibles 2,” he says. “Many of them I went to school with at California Institute of the Arts. Pete Docter, who was just announced as the new COO of Pixar, was a classmate of mine.”

“The animation industry is both large and small,” says Bancroft. “I teach that to my students here at Lipscomb, too, that a lot of their peers they are going to school with are going to go off like Pete Docter and other animators have done to create Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon and other major things like that. They were all my school mates. I can go to just about any studio and get in and take a tour. But I can also potentially get jobs and work out of them.

That’s a lesson Bancroft tries to instill in his students.

“So I tell my students they are living that now,” he says. “That it’s important to build relationships now because moving forward they are going to help each other in getting jobs.”

Lipscomb’s George Shinn College of Entertainment & the Arts offers Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Arts degrees in animation through its Department of Visual Arts.

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