Feb. 20, 2007 — -- A rat who dreams of a job as a French chef may seem delusional, but the director of the forthcoming animated movie "Ratatouille" knows what it's like to ignore critics and chase your dreams.
"I relate to the rat trying to be a chef because I was constantly kind of told in subtle ways that, you know, 'Good luck, pal! … Movies are not reachable!'" said animator Brad Bird.
Bird chased his dreams and proved the critics wrong. He worked on the animated TV series "The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill," and then moved to the big screen.
He went on to win an Oscar for his work on "The Incredibles," which was named the best animated feature film of 2005.
Bird is directing 70 animators on his latest project, "Ratatouille," for Disney's Pixar studio. The film will be released in the summer.
Pixar is the studio that created cartoon classics like "Toy Story," "A Bug's Life," "Monsters, Inc.," "Finding Nemo" and "Cars."
In 1920, Walt Disney drew his first cartoon with paper and ink. Now, of course, animators work with computers. But, it can still take weeks to complete a few seconds of animation.
A seemingly simple shot of a character grabbing a hat is the result of intense discussion.
Bird knows that a relaxed environment can spark an artist's imagination. That's why Pixar animators are allowed to play Ping-Pong at work, eat breakfast during business meetings, and even design their own offices.
For instance, "Ratatouille" animator Andrew Gordon has a bookcase in his office that's actually a hidden entrance to his "Lucky 7 Lounge."
"We've got all kinds of things. We've got all kinds of liquors and wines," Gordon said during a tour. "Over here, we have a craps table where you can roll the dice."
As you can imagine, the hidden lounge is popular with other animators and famous visitors such as Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and Michael Keaton.
Bird is a playful artist who's also a serious player in Hollywood.
Three years ago, Pixar endorsed Bird's membership into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
"Its an honor to be in the academy," Bird said. "It's an organization populated by talented people who love movies. So, who wouldn't want to be part of that?"
While animation is his passion, Bird's next project will be to direct a live action film.
The future looks bright for this director and his rat who might someday actually become a chef.
"Look, don't be so modest," a human chef tells Remy the rat in "Ratatouille" after the rodent's cuisine has been sampled.
"You're a rat, for Pete's sake. Whatever you did, they liked it!"
"Ratatouille" opens nationwide June 29.