Something very interesting has appeared on YouTube: a trailer mock-up for Brad Bird’s proposed animated movie based on Will Eisner’s “The Spirit.” This project was on Bird’s wish list for a long time before he finally had to give it up when Frank Miller obtained the rights to make his own confusing, muddled, terrible version in 2008. Most fans of Bird’s work know of his zest for “The Spirit,” know the reference to the comic in The Iron Giant was no coincidence, and have always wondered what his take would have looked like.
Now we know. The trailer mock-up was uploaded by a reporter who worked with Bird and others on the project back in 1980. It was animated by Bird and his CalArts friends, many of whom were working on Fox and the Hound at the time. Ever since the reporter wrote a piece for the LA Times’ Hero Complex mentioning the trailer, he has been asked repeatedly about the pencil test, but the tape it was on was in deep storage and he didn’t want to bother searching for it. Eventually, he found the tape and decided its historical worth meant it had to be uploaded.
The animation is very smooth and fluid, with solid construction on the characters. Adult animation produced during the Dark Ages of the 70’s and early 80’s tended to look ugly and bootlegged, with people oozing from pose to pose or just flat-out rotoscoped. If Brad’s adaption of The Spirit had been allowed to go into production, it would have changed a lot.
There’s no doubt about it. We were robbed.