By Courtney Potter
It was one of the most memorable moments in Disney•Pixar’s 2004 hit The Incredibles: Unseen by the rest of his family, adorable baby Jack-Jack exhibits his own amazing powers as he tries to escape from the clutches of villainous Syndrome. And now, with a reintroduction to Municiberg’s special supers in Incredibles 2, fans around the world—much like the Parr family themselves—are also learning much, much more about Jack-Jack’s potential… which includes almost a dozen astonishing abilities. One of the toddler’s flashiest skills? Pyrokinesis—or the capacity to burst into flames!
During a recent trip to Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California, D23 heard from several Incredibles 2 filmmakers—including effects artist Jason Johnston (pictured above left) and effects supervisor Bill Watral (pictured above right)—about conceiving and creating such a unique “talent” for such a tiny super.
Jack-Jack’s powers (so far at least) run the gamut from laser vision to multiplication, from transforming into a gelatinous pink “goo” to teleportation… but it was his ability to create flame, first seen in the 2004 film, that proved an intriguing challenge to filmmakers. “When we first started, we went back and looked at what was done [for The Incredibles],” explains Johnston, “and after looking at the original, we decided to take the opportunity to redesign it.” “Reading Jack-Jack’s face was really important,” Watral adds. “We created a shading treatment so that his facial expressions were clear: ‘I’m on fire but that’s OK! This is fun!’ We never want anyone to forget that this is a baby with powers.” Plus, Johnston says, “Because the technology has changed so much, we can really do more to [develop] the look.”
“We met with [production designer] Ralph Eggleston, and he was very specific in that Jack-Jack is the source of the fire,” Johnston continues. “He’s not ‘on fire’—so what this means is that there’ll be no smoke and no embers ever coming off of him, but things that he’s lit on fire can have them.” Watral, Johnston, and their fellow artists looked to many different references, including heat sources that don’t actually burn themselves, like those unique (often color-changing) barbecue “fire-starter” cubes. Test after test was created: ones with different scale; varying color gradients; even different versions of Jack-Jack’s eyes—all of which “allowed everyone to look at the same images,” Johnston explains, “and talk about what they liked and what they didn’t, what worked and what didn’t… but it’s also really important to do tests that pushed a ‘visual space’ that’s completely wrong. You may find something you didn’t expect. It’s really good to explore all options, even if they seem wrong in concept.”
Ultimately, as Watral discloses, “The effect should never outshine the humor.” It’s obvious his team succeeded: Even at D23 Expo 2017, when a special “sneak peek” of Jack-Jack’s hilarious fight with a nefarious backyard raccoon was shown to audiences, the reaction was—and continues to be—positively priceless. “Jack-Jack has many powers, and they’re fun to see how he uses them in this film,” adds Johnston. “They were equally as fun to create, and we had a blast working on them.”