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|UK exclusive interviews and images from Disney-Pixar's Cars ē page 2 of 2|
JOHN LASSETER: PART 5 | 6
Director John Lasseter talks about the inspiration for the film...
This is quite a personal story to you. How did you come up with the concept?
Itís also a very personal story for me because the core of the story, the message of the story, is something that I learned myself. I worked, making our first three films at Pixar - Toy Story, A Bugís Life, Toy Story 2 - back to back from 1990 to 1999. I had four, five children during that time too. And by the end of it my wife said, ďYou are gonna wake up one day if youíre not careful and find that all your kids have gone to college and you would of missed it,Ē because I was working so hard. She was right. I took the summer off after Toy Story 2. It was the summer of 2000. We bought a used motor home and we decided we were just going to spend the entire summer traveling the United States with no plan. We put our feet in the Pacific Ocean and we headed east, and the goal was to get to the Atlantic somewhere sometime, put our feet in the Atlantic and come back.
I already knew that I wanted to make my next movie with cars as characters, but I did not know the story. After that summer, I came back and I realized I knew what the story was going to be about. Thatís what I learned and itís about the journey in life. You can have all the goals. You can receive all the championships. You can achieve all the things you want to do, but itís much better to do it with loved ones around you: family and friends, people that you care about that can help you on the way and can celebrate you. And you can enjoy the journey. Thatís what life is Ė itís just a journey.
So the journey is the message of the movie, rather than it being a movie about cars?
So we created the whole movie with what we call the ďNancy factorĒ. We kept that in mind to make sure that this movie played for people who arenít into cars. For those that are into cars, we sweated all the details to make sure they were correct, because in every live-action film made about cars and car racing, the filmmakers took such liberties with things and you just didnít buy it anymore; the film wasnít credible. I did not want that to happen with Cars. I wanted to get the details right, so I really studied everything I had. We got experts to help us. The cars are characters so they talk, they move - the detail, the colors of the cars, the sounds of the cars, all that stuff is extra.
Had you traveled it a lot, and what sort of research was involved?
The interstate system was built to get people from point A to point B as fast as possible. And they knocked down mountains and filled valleys and made everything nice and big and flat, and they bypassed every town. So when you get on the freeway you get from point A to point B really fast, but honestly one place is just the same as the other. It became generic, and the national chain was invented so you could stop at every place and go to the same restaurant and get the same hamburger from one side of the country to another, because itís convenient and itís right off the freeway. What no one realised is that, in bypassing these towns to save a few minutes of driving, it would kill the town. The townís lifeblood was the traffic that would come through and these people lived for that. They said they would wake up every morning and they didnít know who they were going to meet but they knew it was going to be special. They didnít have to travel Ė the world came to them, and for the sake of progress that was taken from them. By building this freeway to bypass them, they were told that it is more important to get people to their destination a little faster than their lives, than their livelihood, than their town. We found that story to be so emotional when we are out there on the road. We talked to the people and they are still struggling to keep their livelihood going. And a lot of people just gave up, abandoned their buildings for the modern day coast towns. They said itís ďdeath by interstateĒ - these whole towns are just empty.
How did you make cars into characters?
What was really important to us in making these cars real characters was maintaining the integrity of the car; 100 percent of the time, someone will look at it and say, ďItís a carĒ. Because we knew, with our computer animation, with computer graphics, we could give true reflections in chrome. We can make metal flake paint really look great. We can have the rubber look like rubber. We can have the windshields have a look of real glass. But, if you move, if you show the audience something you are rendering to look like steel but you move it as if itís rubber, people say, "Wait a minute." It looses integrity, it looses believability. So throughout weíve worked with the animators to say, "No no, donít bend the metal Ė keep it stiff as much as you can. If you do bend it Ė do it just a bit to give Ė just to give the pose you want, but donít make it look like rubber." Let the wheels be all gushy and rubbery because weíre used to seeing that. A wheel goes over a curb and you see a tyre flex Ė weíre used to that, weíll believe that. We also developed a system so that as a car goes over a bumpy road the body moves with the shocks like a real car does Ė itís real dynamics, the wheels turn right. All those things make it feel like, ok, thatís a car, but itís also alive. We didnít really have the characters lift up their wheels and move around like a hand. It just kind of turns and tilts and talks a little bit. All that is there to make it believable that they are cars Ė but theyíre also believable that they are alive.
And the people you choose to do the voices make a big difference to the character?
We just love working with really smart actors who can make the part their own, like Owen Wilson doing the voice of Lightning McQueen, the main character. He is unbelievable. He just added things. One little story about Owen Wilson as Lightning McQueen: we had this idea that he would have a miller sticker that was of a lightning bolt and that he could reflect light on things, it was his lucky sticker. So I went to him and I said, you know, when boys grow up, every one is born with a set of sound effects - every kid has their own sounds for what a machine gun sounds like or a bomb. Everybody also has their sound of what lighting or thunder sounds like. So you know, we were in a recording session and I said Ė tell me what thunder and lighting sounds like. And he went off; he did the funniest sounds: ďKachow! Kaching! Kachoooow!í like that. And it was really funny: "Kachow!" and I wasnít expecting that. We came back and we kept using it again and again and it became his catch phrase, purely from Owen Wilson.
Then it evolved into Chick Hicks stealing the idea. Michael Keaton did a great job in the voice of Chick Hicks, and he steals that from him and so he starts doing, "Kaacheeka!" Cause we told Michael to make it seem as lame as you can get it and he went like, "Ka Ė chee- ka!í you know, and it was really, really lame and really funny. Thatís what I love to do with the actors is really work with them and make it their own and really adlib.
Itís animation so it takes four years to make our films. We labour over every frame; every pixel of every frame, so spontaneity is not necessarily found a lot in animation, but it is found in a recording session, so I love that. I love just being surprised by what the actor does. So thatís why we keep hiring actors, like Bonnie Hunt who is the voice of Sally the Porsche. She is the greatest adlib comedian of our day and itís unbelievable what she comes up with all the time, itís so funny, so fresh and so different.
You chose some really iconic cars Ė a Porsche, 1960 VW bus, a Hudson Hornet from the '50s...
Pixar has been responsible for many important breakthroughs in the application of computer graphics for filmmaking. Is there a new technique that youíve used in Cars?
Our whole world is caricatured but we wanted to give it life. The computer likes to make lines like perfectly straight, but when you look at buildings over time everything sags. So we just put that in there as well, and every building was sagged a little bit. All that added to a tremendous level of complexity. The town Radiator Springs was so detailed that it really was like a set we filmed on location. Itís all within our computer but it was really amazing. It was so exciting that way because we actually had what we call location scouting. Weíd go to a place and Jeremy our director of photography would start shooting all these different angles to see what he could get. Then when you want to render out weíd go, "Oh my goodness, look, there are mountains back there!" You know because you put them out there but you had never really seen it from that angle. It looked pretty good and it really had that feeling of being in this little valley and shooting a movie.
All that stuff was created and hand placed by our own artists. The other thing we noticed with doing all this research is when cars drive away on these roads they always kick up dust. I said, "Thatís going to be hard, but that is going to be one of the most important things we do to make that really believable." All those things add to it to the sense of, "Yes - hereís a car thatís a character. Look at the chrome, look at the metal plate. Look at it driving down the road. Look at the dust sticking to the car. Look at the tracks that it leaves behind." And itís like, "This is real! Of course itís not real. Cars donít talk!Ē Thatís the place I love to put the audience. I love to put them where they are sitting back and saying, "I know this isnít real but boy it looks real."
born 12.Jan.57 in Hollywood
FILMOGRAPHY (as director)
Toy Story 2 (1999)
A Bug's Life (1998)
Toy Story (1995)
Knick Knack (1989)
Tin Toy (1988)
Red's Dream (1987)
Luxo Jr (1986)
Lady & the Lamp (1979)
Official site: CARS
Official UK site: CARS UK
The Cars voice cast:
The many faces of
Images used by permission