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Taking a Trip in 'Cars'

31 Oct, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

Cars was a very personal film for director John Lasseter, who helped build the now highly recognizable animation company Pixar a decade ago when he directed the studio's first film Toy Story.

Lasseter, now chief creative officer for Pixar and principal creative advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering, talked about his passion for cars, for his family and for animated storytelling last week at the Pixar offices in the San Francisco industrial suburb Emeryville.

He also discussed the impetus for Cars, which came in part from a family road trip highlighted in the included short documentary “Inspiration for Cars.”

Most of the 15 minute piece is devoted to footage of Lasseter, who loaded up a team of Pixar filmmakers for a trip down historic Route 66.“Instead of doing a making-of, we wanted to focus on the research behind the film,” Lasseter said.

The story of Cars is personal to Lasseter for several reasons — one being that he needed to take some time to be with his own family as Pixar began to take off.

“The movie is about someone who learns that the journey is the reward,” he said.

Each Pixar film is a five-year odyssey for the studio. Since the release of Monster's Inc., Pixar has made a habit of creating a special short film to include on the DVD release, a spin off from the world of each film, which serves as not only special treat for fans, but for the filmmakers themselves. This time it's the spooky short, “Mater and the Ghostlight,” based on an actual story the crew heard during their tour of Route 66 and its small towns.

Dan Scanlon, Cars storyboard artist; Scott Clark, supervising animator; and directing animators Bobby Podesta and James Ford Murphy said they loved doing the shorts because after all the long years of hard work and constant re-invention, the end of the film is when the team is the most cohesive, when the creation is really flowing.

“These short films give us a great opportunity to tell these stories in a finely tuned, well-oiled way,” Murphy said.

Mater, the busted tow truck voiced by Larry the Cable Guy in the film, fast became a favorite character of the animators and Lasseter, filmmakers said. In the featurette on the DVD, fans get to meet the real Mater, the North Carolina racing enthusiast upon which the character was based.

The Cars DVD, which also includes the “One Man Band” theatrical short and a couple of never-animated storyboarded deleted scenes, has fewer extras than previous Pixar films.

Lasseter wouldn't say if there was the chance of a more features-laden Blu-ray version of Cars in the works.

“We were swamped just making this movie,” he said. “The rendering times were astronomical and we have to be making the DVD at the same time.”

Lasseter noted that the Cars Web site has loads of tidbits for fans and he hopes that between the DVD and the Internet they will be able to continue to enjoy the Cars world.

What was important for the DVD was adding a little something that was faithful to the film and to the director, said Roger Gould, DVD creative director, and Sara Maher, DVD production manager.

There is a DVD production team on hand from the inception of a film, documenting the process every step of the way, Maher said.

Pixar animators and designers welcome the competition that has exploded since Toy Story hit the scene a decade ago.

It raises the bar, said Tia Kratter, art director for Cars.

Other studios already use the animation-rendering program Pixar created, Lasseter pointed out. And Pixar is constantly revamping, redesigning and creating new software to keep ahead of the curve, he said.

“We give ourselves the most pressure,” he said. “We're never ones to rest on our laurels.

Lasseter even hinted that Pixar might take a trip into the world of traditional, non-computer generated animation at some point.

“I definitely love all mediums of animation,” he said. “You'll hear more about that in the future.”

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