DARLA ANDERSON: PART 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
JOHN LASSETER: 5 | 6
Producer Darla Anderson talks about the concept for the film...
How did you feel when you found out you were going to be working on a movie where the characters were cars?
Darla Anderson: Well I had just finished up at Monsters Inc and I was really excited about the idea of working with John Lasseter again. I wasn’t sure about the concept of cars coming to life. But John was so enthusiastic about it and had such a great vision that I just went along and just trusted his vision.
What will people see in Cars that they haven’t seen experienced before? What makes it different to others?
Anderson: I think it is a different Pixar movie to what we’ve done before. They are all really unique which is so cool. I think that it’s hard to describe movie until you watch the whole thing. It’s a big movie with a lot of deep themes.
Pixar has been responsible for many important breakthroughs in the application of computer graphics for filmmaking. As the producer is this something you’re focused on and constantly aware of when making a movie?
Anderson: We never want technology to be the forefront – ever; we want the story and the character. We want the audience to have a moviegoing experience, and the technology is just another tool to get you there. The deeper the technology and the more it can give you just enhances the experience for the audience - that is to convey the story and the characters in this great world and make you feel like you are in the world. So the technology is a means to the end and never the opposite.
Do you have to be a car fan to enjoy the movie?
Anderson: No, luckily you don’t. John’s wife, Nancy, is not a car fanatic so we had what we called the “Nancy factor” – that is to make the movie for those who couldn’t care less that it has cars as a subject matter. The story had to be entertaining to anybody and everybody, so we thought about that all the time. We pretty much hoped that if you are a car fan you’ll come and see it – you’d be intrigued - but we wanted to make sure that if you weren’t a car fan or car fanatic that you would get caught up in the story and the emotion of it and be moved by the story we are trying to tell.
What is the message of the story?
Anderson: The journey is reward. Don’t rush through life so fast that you are not enjoying the present and the journey that you are on. We’ve all gotten so busy in our modern world and we just seem to get busier and busier. People are on electronic devices all the time – their Blackberries or whatever. We are always on email and it’s kind of like – sometimes take the road less traveled. Sometimes slow down for a minute. Sometimes enjoy the path that you are on instead of trying to get to the end.
Why do you think people should go and see this movie?
Anderson: I think it’s a wonderful movie with great characters and I hope it does what all great movies do and that is - you lose yourself in the movie and get carried away by the story. I think it will surprise people that way.
How did you feel when you saw the final product?
Anderson: I felt very, very proud. I can watch it over and over again and I still get caught up in it and I love the ending. I love all the characters. I love the end credits, they’re very funny.
DARLA ANDERSON: 1 | PART 2 | 3 | 4
JOHN LASSETER: 5 | 6
Producer Darla Anderson talks about the film's characters...
Do you have a favorite character in the film?
Anderson: Um, I love all the characters and on any given day I pick a different character. One of my favorite characters is red the fire truck cause he doesn’t really say anything. I think he is voiced by our late co-director Joe [Ranft] which means that Joe does the sound effects. But he’s a sweet, shy little soul that waters flowers and I think it’s awesome because a fire truck is usually filled with these big brave brawny people and here’s this anti type, so he’s cool.
Voiceovers make a huge difference to the characters. Tell us about who you cast in Cars.
Anderson: We have Owen Wilson as Lightning McQueen and Paul Newman as Doc Hudson. We have Bonnie Hunt as Sally the Porsche and those are our three main characters – oh I’m sorry and Mater. I always forget about Mater, which is so ironic because he is so huge, played by the great American thespian, Larry the Cable Guy. All four of those leads really influenced the performances by the animators and definitely influenced how we developed the characters
Do you look at cars differently now?
Anderson: I do! I do! I go – oh, look there’s Luigi (1959 Fiat)! There’s Sally (Porsche)! Or the semi trucks and stuff. Its very cool what these movies can do. I remember, whenever I am working on a movie, you start to see things and the inanimate objects around you - I definitely see cars as more alive now!
Can you talk about the way you researched the film by going on a road trip along Route 66?
Anderson: Yes, I went on the first Route 66 trip. We had a few. The first one was with John [Lasseter, the director] in 2001. What we discovered is that every kind of food that’s fried is good! We discovered how big America is – its huge - and these big wide open vistas and quirky wonderful warm people and a little bit of our heritage. A lot of our ancestors took that road across to populate the West back in the '30s and most of our parents and our families vacationed on Route 66 or traveled back and forth to see their families and so it was cool.
Did you find a lot of characters there that you incorporated into the story?
Anderson: We definitely did. Most of them are kind of an amalgamation of the people that we met or the characters that we met, but you know we’ve kept in touch with most of the folks on the road and they became Pixar family for sure.
DARLA ANDERSON: 1 | 2 | PART 3 | 4
JOHN LASSETER: 5 | 6
Producer Darla Anderson talks about the film's technical challenges...
What were some of the biggest challenges involved in the film?
Anderson: The biggest challenges are always story and character – getting those right. Technically John wanted a lot. He wanted a very complex world. He wanted it to look gorgeous. He wanted what he calls “the patina of the road, the patina of Route 66”. That means peeling paint, dusty roads, dust on shiny objects, giant American Southwest vistas and reflections on cars. Those were all very difficult to accomplish in the way that he wanted them accomplished, which is to perfection.
How did you achieve it?
Anderson: You know, we did a lot of research and development. We did a lot of crunching. We have the best people at Pixar, who do the best R&D and are so passionate and driven about breakthroughs and about pushing our software and our look as far as they can. We had an amazing team of folks that just methodically went through all of John’s requests one by one and all at the same time. It was an interactive process with John, he’d give us tonnes of notes, tonnes of guidance and that’s basically it.
What was your biggest technical challenge?
Anderson: The biggest thing that we tackled on a pure technical level is “ray tracing” which we’ve had in our software before, but haven’t really used it to the degree that we’ve used it on this film. I think we used it a little bit in The Incredibles but we used it almost everywhere in this film. Ray tracing is a very difficult to compute but the look is just gorgeous.
Where in the film can we see this technique?
Anderson: In the reflections in the cars. It was important for John to have the reflections as true reflections of the environment around them, so when you are watching the movie and you look at the reflections, you’ll see, at almost any given point in time, the surrounding environment reflected in the cars. Where it gets really difficult is where the cars are moving along – that was really difficult for the computer to crunch and think through. When you see two cars driving down a road and moving you’ll see the environment reflected in the entire car. So just imagine, we are basically rendering the car, all of its reflections and that entire environment with all of its complexity – all the trees with all their leaves and their rocks and the streams and everything, the tumbleweeds. Then it’s basically rendering it again inside the reflection – inside the hubcaps and the cars - so that’s what makes it so complex.
Is it true that there was a time when a lot of computers at Pixar shut down because of the
Anderson: look that you were trying to achieve in certain parts of the film?
That happened a few times on this movie. I don’t know which special effect they mentioned. They showed one and said, “This bought the computers to its knees.”
How come this happens?
Anderson: What happens is we are on the cutting edge of everything all the time and so we are pushing the software and the hardware to its limits. So it could have been something like when the Hudson Hornet, Paul Newman’s character, is going around this amazing corner and sliding thru some dirt and all this dirt cloud is going – this beautiful red dirt is skirting out behind him. The computer has to think thru how to compute all that dust and all the reflections through that dust and the whole environment around that dust. And we’ve layered and composted all the types of effects on top of effect on top of environment on top of action on top of animation. The computer can only do so much and sometimes we’ve pushed it too far in every area and it just brings it to its knees. Then we have to go back to the drawing board and optimise it - figure out what caused it, what part of it broke. And then at some point for me it becomes black magic.
DARLA ANDERSON: 1 | 2 | 3 | PART 4
JOHN LASSETER: 5 | 6
Producer Darla Anderson talks about the production of the film...
How many people were actually working on the film?
Anderson: At the peak there were properly 240 people at the same time. But in total there was properly about 260 people.
How on earth do you as producer manage all that?
Anderson: Well we have a ton of great managers and I have an associate producer and a production manager and then managers over every department and they’re all fantastic, but it is hard. It's juggling, it feels like you are spinning a whole bunch of plates and trying to make it so one doesn’t crash to the floor while you keep the others spinning on their little balancing sticks.
Can you talk about working with the director of the movie - John Lasseter - why is he so great to work with?
Anderson: One of the best things about John is he’s so confident. He’s confident in his vision, and he understands human beings. The most important thing a director can do is communicate his vision well, and clearly and he does that. He then brings out the best in people. He’s very conscious that people are working very hard to please him and so he’s very tender with them. He rarely comes down hard on anybody. When he comes in and he sees something that isn’t exactly what he has asked for, he first takes responsibility for himself, because he knows that maybe he didn’t communicate it the right way, and he’s also aware that the person properly worked 24 hours a day for the last three days just to show it to John Lasseter. So he’s just very kind and collaborative about communicating his vision, and when he doesn’t get what he wants he turns it back around to re-inspire people to get what he wants.
So if someone says it isn’t possible, will John ask why?
Anderson: Yes. So if someone says, “It’s not possible”, he says, “OK, tell me how it’s not possible, explain it to me, take me through the process, make it so that I can understand it.” Then he understands a lot about it and he retains it all. So he asks a lot of great questions and as people are explaining things back to him, it’s very instructive. So then he knows more specifically what to ask for, and how to ask for it and they get inspired by his questions and his knowledge of what they do because they feel appreciated. It’s amazing that an artist can understand the technical endeavors to the degree that John does so I think that breeds a deep appreciation and loyalty towards him.
How long were you working on the movie?
Anderson: I think about four and a half years. Who’s counting?
How did you keep going – most people would think you’d get exhausted or burnt out?
Anderson: Yeah. You get really tired. Everyday there is a huge new mountain to climb - something technical or story or stylistically related - so you certainly don’t get bored. But you do get burnt out and so you just have to leave for a long weekend or something and then start back afresh.
And try to stay away from cars?
Anderson: Well you see cars wherever you go. You know, I still have a fondness for cars. It’s very interesting about this movie: sometimes after I’ve been working on a movie I have this sense where it is like, OK, I can’t see that movie for a while. I can see this movie a few more times before I’ve seen it too many. I really like it.
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