Disclaimer: Disney, Pixar and ABC invited me to San Francisco on an all-expenses paid trip, in exchange for my coverage of events, which included presentations sharing about Cars 3 – bringing the next generation to life. As always, all opinions are my own.
A pencil and paper.
Creating characters used to be that simple. Was it still?
What about in this day and age of computer animation?
I had so many questions as I rolled up to Sonoma Raceway outside San Francisco to meet with those directly responsible for creating what will be this summer’s biggest hit – Cars 3.
They were about to share some insight into the inner workings of a PIXAR production pipeline and the process of bringing the next generation to life. I was intrigued.
We sat down and listened to Bobby Podesta, supervising animator on Cars 3 (who also worked on original the Cars). While he was certainly about to take us deep into PIXAR meetings, the focus was first on the backbone of any PIXAR story – Emotional Relatability.
He shared, “Emotional relatability – that’s the thing that drives everything. It’s not just a story about a lamp (Luxo Jr), but it’s a story about being a parent. And it’s not a story about being a fish (Finding Dory); it’s a story about overcoming your obstacles. This is really true for everything we make and that’s the same for Cars 3.”
To Be a Fly on the Wall
Bobby Podesta talked about the meetings they would have. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in one of these meetings.
Bobby shared, “We cram ourselves into a room and we say anything goes. What would you want to come up with? From these we get a lot of drawings and storyboard drawings, and gab sessions to come up with what these ideas would be.”
Meetings. Meetings. And more meetings.
Animators go off to make something out of the discussions. Rough tests. Effects. Chaos. Refinement. It’s all part of the production pipeline and so many of PIXAR’s best are involved.
And of course there’s always research involved at every stage. And that’s where they told the story of the demolition derby, referring to one scene in Cars 3 (that I’ve seen).
Bobby said, “So you might be thinking what does a demolition derby have to do with something with the car. But if you ever come to a crossroads in your life, a place where you’re just not sure where to go and you’re really feeling like you’re out of your element, like this is really the key. This is the story. And we knew that McQueen in this story had come to that point. So we wanted to put them in a place that felt foreign yet still worked with in that car’s world.
He shared, “In a demolition derby as animators we had to look and we had to do our research. Now we know as animators that research is key because if we do our research were going to find something that is authentic so we started by watching a lot of reference.”
He noted that he didn’t actually go to the demolition derby and get too involved as his wife wasn’t okay with that. I can understand why.
One thing is clear. Research is important. And lots of it.
Fun Fact from Jon Reisch, Effects Supervisor on Cars 3: Mud was one of the biggest challenges for PIXAR on the film. Mud is one of those substances that it’s not really a liquid, it’s not really solid, it’s somewhere in between most of the time.
Cars 3 Bringing the Next Generation to Life
Changing the Story Constantly?
Michael Fong, the supervising technical director of Cars 3, shared a simplified version of PIXAR’s production pipeline.
He said, “The details are super important for all of us but the main thing to note is that if you break the movie down into seems called shots and those shots need to be in the rightmost box sometime before 6-16. If it’s not before 6-16 we all get fired. So we need to get our movie all the way done by June 16 and this process takes a long time.”
Characters First, Vehicles Second.
Jay Schuster, Production designer on Cars 3 (Character Design), showed us how he plasters drawings all over the walls and gets completely enveloped into the world of Cars, originally created by John Lasseter.
Jay shared that one only needs to look back to 1952 to Bill Peet’s Disney movie called Susie: The Little Blue Coupe for inspiration. He shared, “This was the original concept that inspired the whole idea of putting the eyes on the windshield, mouth on the front to get that relatable eye-mouth relationship that emotes the audience and really makes
the character emote and connect.”
He added, “We want these cars to behave like cars, not like rubbery characters that just kind of twist and squish and what not.”
It’s All Clay.
And my question about pencil and paper. Well, it turns out it’s all about clay.
Jay shared, “People assume that our designs start in the computer but just like in the automotive world, we do clay sculpts. We can’t cheat in clay. We immediately start taking pictures of these sculpts and drawing overtop of them. We call them overlays. We’re just constantly honing and perfecting the shapes in this process.”
I’m impressed as always with all that PIXAR does to make us fall in love with their characters and ultimately their movies.
We did get an exclusive screening of the first 40 or so minutes of CARS 3! PIXAR has done it again and there is so much heart in this movie! I dare say that grownups might even just love this one more than the kids!
Let’s take a sneak peek at the newest trailer, just released:
CARS 3 opens in theatres everywhere on June 16th!
More PIXAR Trip Pots:
Follow along over the next few weeks as I bring you more from my trip to San Francisco and PIXAR for #Cars3Event! Here are some posts so far:
- How PIXAR Came up with Cars 3 Story
- Tour PIXAR Headquarters
- Sonoma Raceway Experience
- The Toy Box – PIXAR Visit
- Born in China Screening & Review
- Puppy Dog Pals – Exclusive Interview
- Pixar in a Box – FREE
- I’m Going to PIXAR for Cars 3 Event
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