shadows features Cars come to life
UK exclusive interviews and images from Disney-Pixar's Cars ē page 2 of 2
C O U R T E S Y   D I S N E Y   U K
Cars DARLA ANDERSON: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

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?
John Lasseter:
First of all, I grew up in Los Angeles - the car crazy capital. And I grew up in a family where my mother was an art teacher. I always loved cartoons and I drew all the time. My dad worked for a Chevrolet dealership and he was a parts manager, and I used to work there on weekends and in summers. It was in the heyday of the American muscle car and it was great. I loved it and I loved cars because of that. I was just always around cars. I drew cars all the time when I was a kid. So this movie is kind of like putting those two sides of my world Ė my mum and my dad and my two loves together.

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?
Yeah, thatís really what the movie is about. Itís loaded with great car scenes and great cars and all that, but really when you watch the film itís a very moving story about this character. Itís also a very personal story because my wife is not a car person. I got so excited about this because Iím real geeky about cars, I love all the aspects and I want to get all the great stuff in there, but she warned me in the beginning. She said, ďYou better make sure you make this film for all the people out there that are not car nuts like you - people who really donít care about racing, the people that really just want a car to get from point A to point B without breaking down, you know.Ē I of course didnít believe that there were these kinds of people in the world, but she reminded me: ďIn fact 99 per cent of the people out there are like that, John.Ē

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?
I really, really believe in research. We were very moved by this story. It seems so odd as itís the story of our interstate highway systems in the United States, and the story behind them. Whatís interesting is that the old highways that serviced this country for years, they went through the countryside, they went into every town and they became the main street of every town. So as you traveled across the country you really knew where you were, what town you were in and so on. There were a lot of wonderful gimmicks on the way to get you to stop, you know. There were no national chains so it was all regional cooking. Every place was individual and unique.

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.

Cars DARLA ANDERSON: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Director John Lasseter talks about bringing cars to life...

How did you make cars into characters?
When you look at a car Ė everyone sees the natural face of a car Ė the eyes are in the headlights. So, everyone thinks if cars are going to be made into characters that they are the natural place to put the eyes. I love bringing inanimate objects to life. The first thing you do is try to identify where the face is, where the head of the character is because that is where, by the relationship to the body, it moves and gives the feeling that the character is thinking. Typically, you think that the character always looks at something before it moves. It looks at something before it reaches something. Itís a little trick we use in animation to give that feeling like the character movements are generated by its thought process. Itís the goal of an animator to give it thinking. With the headlights as the eyes of the character, the face is now on the very front of the car and the whole body is now behind it, more like a snake, and itís very difficult to get the feeling with the body length behind it. By putting the eyes in the windscreen instead of the headlights Ė now all of a sudden, the entire car becomes the head of the character and it kind of moves on its four wheels like a four legged character and so the hood of the car becomes the nose and down by the grill and the bumper is the mouth. It just makes the car be a little bit more alive. It gives the animator more opportunity to use the wheels like hands and legs and feet like a four-legged character.

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?
Absolutely, the voices of our cars were chosen as we always do. Number one to find great actors. Two, to find a quality of their voice and their personality to fit with the personality that we are trying to achieve in the character. The third thing is, really, we donít care how big of a star they are, but when you get someone like Paul Newman, you know, thatís not bad. You know, especially because heís a big car nut and he loves racing.

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...
Well I wanted them because I am a car geek. I wanted to have real model cars in there. I didnít just want to have a world of generic cars. I wanted to have cars that car nuts can look at and go, "My goodness, thatís exactly like Doc Hudson" Ė he is a '51 Hudson Hornet. Most people donít know that, but the people that do will go, "Thatís a '51!" And we got all the details right. Even the colour is a stock '51 Hudson colour that they painted Hornets with that year. We went out and found real Hudsons to record Doc. We gave our sound designer a list of exact model cars and they spent months going around, finding collectors, getting the cars and taking them to a quiet place to record the sounds. So when you listen to it you hear that Lizzie the Maltese is a real Maltese, the Doc Hudson you hear - itís a real recording. Thatís the level of detail that we went to with this.

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?
The biggest advance in the technology that weíve used in this movie is really the level of detail. One of the things that I found when we traveled Route 66 was that when you arrived at a town and it had been bypassed by the interstate and it hadnít been visited for a long time, the picture said a thousand words. The paint was faded and peeling. There were cracks with grass growing through it. There were aged brick walls that had signs you could barely read any more and neon signs that were rusty. You stand back and it says, this place has a history. It was a vibrant place once, a long time ago and thatís the kind of thing that I realized we had to have in this film. I also realized that is something that the computer has a difficulty doing convincingly, and it took our very talented artists here at Pixar a long time to achieve and to figure our how to make it look authentic.

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)
Cars (2006)
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:
owen wilson paul newman bonnie hunt
michael keaton tony shalhoub john ratzenberger

The many faces of
Mack-Daddy in Cars Underminer in The Incredibles / Fish School in Finding Nemo Yeti in Monsters Inc / Aogaeru in Spirited Away PT Flea in A Bug's Life / Hamm in Toy Story Cliff Clavin in The Simpsons and in Cheers Major Bren Derlin in The Empire Strikes Back

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Images used by permission
© Disney Enterprises, Inc.
& Pixar Animation Studios

© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall