Wood Dale native's animation dreams take flight in 'Hugo'
Colin Brady has a pretty good idea when his family realized he's not like the other dads.
"I was working on 'Lemony Snicket' and we needed to animate a baby wrestling a giant snake," the Wood Dale native said. "So I took my 2-year-old daughter and hooked her up for motion capture. Then I wrestled around with her.
2-D or not 2-D? That's the question.
"It's quite tricky, this 3-D stuff," Colin Brady said of making "Hugo."
"In 2-D you can paint out your mistakes. Not with 3-D. If 3-D is just a little off, it can give you a headache.
"Most 3-D work is done in postproduction by converting footage from a single camera. It pops off the screen like a View-Master. This seems to be popular now, but if it continues, audiences will become sick of it."
"Hugo" was shot with two cameras.
"Our work was very carefully constructed in 3-D, so the effect comes off seamless and comfortable," Brady said.
The greatest compliment?
"James Cameron said that 'Hugo' was the greatest 3-D movie ever made, even better than 'Avatar.' That's one of those moments when you say, 'I can stop working right now!'"
"I think it was the first time a baby had ever been used for a motion-capture scene. We animated the baby from the motion capture and replaced me with the snake. I think they knew then I was doing something odd for a living."
Truth be told, Brady -- whose work as an animation director can be seen on screen now in the Oscar-nominated "Hugo" -- has been doing something odd all his life.
Take those times in grade school when he used his father's Super-8 camera to create stop-motion animated scenes featuring giant creatures sculpted from clay.
"It seemed I had a knack for doing that," the Fenton High School grad said. "It was more like I was a magician. People couldn't figure out how I got these creatures to move. I really enjoyed that part of it."
While regular boys talked about sports and played games on the field, Brady had other interests.
"I was raised on the 'Star Wars' films, Ray Harryhausen and Godzilla and monster movies. I always wanted to create giant creatures in movies."
Now he does. Along with smaller, less scary things.
Brady is one of Hollywood's zillions of invisible animators who put magic into the movies with pens, brushes and computers.
He worked at Pixar for seven years. For George Lucas for six years. Now he works for Pixomondo, one of many companies hired to work on Martin Scorsese's 11-time Oscar-nominated fantasy film "Hugo."
"Martin Scorsese is one of my idols!" Brady confessed.
Yes, he did say that just like a teenage fan meeting Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker.
But it was no cake walk for Pixomondo to get the job working with "Hugo."
Scorsese wasn't sure Pixomondo could handle the animation sequences, especially the one where hundreds of paper drawings explode in a room and flit about. Brady and his animators had to convince the filmmaker they could do it.
"I got the animators together," he said. "It's like casting a movie, except you see who the technical people are and who the artistic people are, then put them so they work together."
So not only did Brady help create the most Oscar-nominated movie of the year, but he has added his own animation touches to films such as "Green Lantern," "Red Tails," "Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol" and the upcoming "Journey 2 Mysterious Island."
"This year is the most exciting year I've ever had in my career!" Brady said.
Yes, he has a gift for understatement as well.
Lest anyone reading this profile think it's easy to become a Hollywood animator, we should backtrack a bit and trace young Brady's bumpy road to success.
Even at a young age, Brady realized the folly of his dream.
"Growing up in the Midwest, that (animation) wasn't really considered an achievable or realistic goal," he said. "There was not a lot of encouragement to pursue a career in film, and certainly making creatures in films."
Nope. Pragmatic to a fault, Brady was determined to go to school for a practical engineering degree.
His dad worked as a mechanical engineer.
His brother worked as an engineer.
That would normally be the end of that story. But six months into his engineering program at the University of Southern California, Brady realized his mistake.
"I was miserable," he said. "I couldn't find anyone I could talk to. Friends I would talk to about my ideas, they would just say, 'That's really weird!' It was the lowest point of my life."
Brady said the greatest thing he ever did was switch careers and pursue the unknown path of being an artist at Cal Arts.
"I met people who, when they heard my ideas, instead of saying 'that's weird' would say, 'What if you added this?" or 'Have you thought about trying that?'"
Brady's first real job was to computer-animate a talking cat in the Bette Midler comedy "Hocus Pocus."
Afterward, Brady learned that a company called Pixar was about to create the first computer-animated feature film: "Toy Story."
He submitted his resume. Pixar hired him. Brady was on his way.
"I am living the dream of what I wanted to do in third grade," he said.
He is also living another dream, one he didn't have in third grade.
"I have a wonderful wife and six daughters," he said.
Six? Six daughters?
Yes. They range in age from 13 years to 1 month.
"It has the effect of keeping everything grounded," Brady said. "On the weekends, I go on hikes. I fix bikes. I change diapers. It keeps things real."
He met his wife Melissa working at a coffee shop.
"I was really tired of the arts girls at school," Brady admitted. "I was looking for a good Christian girl from the Midwest."
Melissa, it turned out, hailed from Macomb.
"I had to come to California to meet a good Midwestern woman," he said. "Now, she's my best friend."
Sometimes, capturing a heart beats capturing motion.
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for suburban people in showbiz. If you know of someone, send a note to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.