Being a first time director at Pixar isn’t the same as being a first time director in other places. Right off the bat there’s the added pressure of following some of the most critically acclaimed movies in recent memory. There’s also a long road before getting to the top.

Mark Andrews, director of Pixar’s newest film Brave, had already worked on The Iron Giant, Spider-Man and more before joining Pixar in 2000. Since then he’s contributed to The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Cars and Toy Story 3 in all kinds of different ways. He also co-wrote and co-directed the short One Man Band. So when Brave‘s original director and creator Brenda Chapman left, Andrews was given the call and he was primed and ready to go.

In our one-on-one interview with Andrews, we talked about the pressure of directing at Pixar as well as the Chapman controversy. We also touched on what he changed about the film, why Brave is so different from the other Pixar films and his disappointment over John Carter, which he co-wrote with Andrew Stanton. Read about all that and more after the jump. Check it out below.

/Film: It’s hard enough to be a regular director, but to be a director for a Pixar movie where Pixar has such an incredible track record, is that an added pressure?

Mark Andrews: Not for me no, because I’ve been here for twelve years now and they know me and I know them. I’ve been Head of Story here and they approached me to be a director while I was on Incredibles, so I’ve been in development several times working on my own stuff and they asked me, so they know, you know? If I was vying for the position, “Hey, I want to direct!” then I think there would be much more pressure to prove myself, but I think I’ve already proven myself, which is why they have asked me. So it’s kind of like we are all pals and there’s a really good camaraderie and support system here, so if I’m sitting there going “I’m drowning! I’m drowning! I’m failing and I don’t know what’s going on, I need help!” they are there to help. They are not going “This guy can’t cut the mustard,” you know what I mean? So that’s good.

You mentioned that you were in Story and walking around today talking to people, it seems like in the last year the story on Brave changed a lot. Somebody said, “After a test screening there are a lot of different changes.”

Right.

I know you can’t go into specifics obviously, but how extensive are we talking? It seems like story didn’t lock until last week somebody said? What has this been like?

Right, well the story has changed. It’s kind of like all of these micro things, so it’d be like if somebody knows you, you go off, you work out, they haven’t seen you in a while, then you come back and go “Oh my God, you look terrific!” You have the core as still you, but there’s a lot that’s different. Is there one thing different? Not necessarily.

What was happening with the story when people were working on it is there was just a lot of story and when I came onboard about eighteen months ago; I had the benefit of having a really objective eye, right? Pixar says “We like the story. We like the heart of the story. We want to keep all of the characters and settings the same. It just needs to work. I mean we are eighteen months out and it’s got to come out and it’s not as good as it could be.” To their… my great pride at working at the studio that they could make that kind of call for the story.

So when I came on, I looked at it and I go “Okay, I just need to strip this down to who’s story is it? It’s Merida’s. Let’s go back to the basics with Merida and clean everything out. What does she need to learn? What is her arc? How is she going to go through this story? Who are the characters around her? Who is her biggest foil? Well that’s her mom, right? Why?” I had to just take all of these elements that they already had, but focus them down and clear a lot of the clutter away. There was a lot more magic involved and the magic was affecting the environment. “Do I actually need that to tell the story?” So there were those things.

And these were all of the things that, after Brenda Chapman left, was sort of your job to fix? This was the main difference between the two?

Yes, and the brain trust was all in there. I mean every movie that gets worked on here goes through these changes. I mean we sit here, we’ve got the directors and put them up on reels. They bring them in, we watch them, we sit around this table in particular, and talk about the movies and say why it wasn’t working, how it could possibly work better, so we’ve been doing this year after year and screening after screening. So every film goes through this and we’ve had director changes here before, so it’s not new.

Yeah, this one just seemed to be more public it seems.

Yeah, because of whatever the hype is with all of the firsts that this film had.

Absolutely, sure.

But you know, Pixar will do what is necessary to guarantee that the films that come out of here just have a fantastic story.

Now you’ve obviously been working on this for a long time in different aspects and you were working on John Carter too, right?

Yeah.

How did you balance those two things?

Well one was kind of a roll-off into the other. I had just finished doing principal photography for John Carter in summer 2010 and then I was in development for the summer working on my own things when Pixar approached me in the fall of 2010 to help out on Brave, to take over on Brave. So I kind of was rolling off one thing and then started on the other, so it was fun. There wasn’t a lot of overlap.

Have you had time to process the aftermath of John Carter? Or have you just been too busy to think about it?

I’m still processing absolutely. I just read an article today where they said, “Hey, John Carter is making money!” It’s like “Yeah, it’s making money because it’s good! And it’s going to continue to make money. Why was there any doubt?” It was like we were assassinated, you know?

Yeah. Watching the footage yesterday I noticed it has that Pixar feel, that magical feel, but you almost forgot you were watching animation, because it was so real.

Great.

That’s obviously something you guys were going for?

Yep, well there’s a… When we went to Scotland there was a texture to Scotland. There’s a texture on everything and I’m sure Steve Pilcher and Tia [Kratter] talked about that, that once you are in that kind of environment you can’t help but feel like “Hey, I’m actually there.” So the style of animation that we were doing, we had to kick it up a notch and our animators, our supervisors Steven Hunter and Alan Barillaro who were the supervisors on Wall-E and they were also on Incredibles. They had done humans before and they were all like “Okay, now we are into humans again. What can we do to raise the bar?” That’s one of the great things about Pixar is that all of our crew, our supervisors, are always about raising that bar and I think this film for Pixar is really special, because we are branching out and we are pushing what animation can be. That’s not just being a place of innovation in technology only, no it’s innovation on what our stories can be. Ours can be a little darker, right? But still deliver all that great humor and heart that you know and love.

Totally and you got that for the first thirty minutes. Last thing, on the site, we are always looking forward with what’s coming up with Pixar and everything else and obviously you have been working on this, but how involved have you been, if at all, with Bob [Peterson]’s dinosaur movie or Pete [Docter]’s mind movie? Have you been in there and know stuff about it? Are you contributing?

I am the secret guy who actually came up with all of those ideas. Those are my babies and I run them from a back room.

[Both Laugh]

No, I mean we are all here. All of the directors are here to support the other directors, so you have this system of a sounding board, so they do it, they show it, we give them feedback. That’s probably about as much as we are involved.

Cool. Thank you.

All right, thank you.

Thanks to Mark Andrews for a great interview. Brave hits theaters June 22.

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