As I’m sure you all know, The Incredibles 2 was just released in theaters. As some of you may also know, Edna Mode has recently become a huge part of my life. I thought that it was only fitting that I feature a piece of Edna concept art in a Masterpiece Monday post. I choose this particular piece by character designer Teddy Newton because I think it really highlights the 1960s mod aesthetic the film’s art stylist was going for, especially in Edna’s look and environment. It also serves to highlight one of my favorites of the many real life people who influenced the character of Edna Mode, legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head.
Much of the inspiration for the art style of The Incredibles came from the extremely bold and graphic mod art and fashion movement of the 1960s. While this influence is very obvious in the film’s various sets and backgrounds, it also appears in the character designs. The goal of the animators was not to create realistic characters, but to create graphically interesting ones that fit the mod art style. Each major character’s design was based on different combinations of very bold shapes. Character Designer Teddy Newton’s artwork played a large role in creating these shape combinations. Instead of traditional sketches, Newton would often create little collage figures made out of bits of magazines and scrapbook paper cut into abstract shapes, as you can see in this piece of artwork. This allowed him and the rest of the film’s character designers to just focus on the colours, textures, and shapes used in the collage without getting too wrapped up in the messy details of a full character sketch.Then, when Newton did move on to creating a full sketch of the character like this one of Edna, he would be better able to incorporate the bold, graphic style of the collage. Teddy Newton’s collages thus helped all of the film’s artists create graphic 1960s caricatures for the film.
So where did the inspiration for Edna’s specific character design come from? There are a surprisingly large amount of answers to that question. It seems the film’s director, Brad Bird cites a new source of inspiration every -time he is interviewed about her. One of the clearest sources of inspiration displayed in this concept drawing is the legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head. Edith Head designed costumes for the film industry from 1924 to her death in 1981, and in that time she won a record 8 academy awards for best costume design, although her hey-day was very much in the mid-century. She designed some of film’s most iconic costumes for some of the biggest superstars (here’s a link to Head’s wikipedia page for more on her career and some fantastic photographs of her). From Head, Edna gets her iconic thick-framed round glasses, her jet-black hair, and blunt bangs. The resemblance between Head and Edna is even stronger in this design sketch as it also incorporates Head’s classic skirt suits and many elements of her facial features. Other important sources for Edna’s design include actress Linda Hunt, who shares a haircut and many facial features with Edna, as well as Vogue editor Anna Wintour and stylist Polly Allen Mellen who influenced her attitude and shrewd sense of fashion. Brad Bird also took inspiration from a meeting he had with Bette Midler, who he discovered was much shorter than he expected her to be, because her explosive personality always dominated the screen. She gave him the idea to make Edna a very short character, but to squeeze a big, dynamic personality into her little body. Brad Bird and his creative team took inspiration for Edna Mode from a variety of other sources as well, and these are just some of the highlights. Perhaps in a future post I will discuss some of the others in more depth.
There is so much more I could say about The Incredibles and Edna Mode. Edna is such a fascinating and unique character within the Pixar pantheon. Even her name is fascinating, having been inspired by a piece of computer software called “Emode”. But those are all stories for another article. Until then, I hope you enjoyed this look at the fantastic work of Teddy Newton and the many women who helped to inspire Edna Mode.