It’s amazing the amount of energy and detail that goes into creating a Pixar film! I had no idea what fully went on behind-the-scenes before I had the good fortune to attend the press conference events for CARS 3 (in theaters 6/16) as a guest of Disney. During our experience we were able to meet with animators, directors, artists, effects and production crew members for an in-depth look at the making of CARS 3 – a wondrous and fascinating process!
What follows are highlights from these presentations that may contain a few spoilers (so if you don’t want any details of the film prior to seeing it, bookmark this page and return after you see the film in theaters in June.) If you are curious to learn more and don’t mind finding out a fact or two from the plot of the film… read on!
Everyone at Pixar Animation will tell you that “story is king.” But what does this mean exactly? According to Bobby Podesta, Supervising Animator for CARS 3, at the core of all films is something emotionally tangible, something we can connect to.
“The story of a bunch of lamps isn’t just a bunch of lamps,” said Podesta. “It could be a family. Whether you are watching a lamp, a fish, or a car, Pixar wants you to get down to it and say ‘wow! I know that person!’ Everything in Cars 3 stems from this same point of view.”
How does Pixar achieve this goal? The answer truly comes down to attention to detail, excellence in story crafting and the amazing folks who thoughtfully design every piece of the story puzzle.
Sometimes it’s matching the characters emotions to the scene that helps the audience engage fully. For example, in CARS 3, Lightening McQueen finds himself part of a demolition derby. He’s out of his element and at a crossroads in his life. As we watch the action and the scene develop, the audience feels what McQueen does.
According to Michael Fong, Supervising Technical Director for CARS 3, everything all of the departments is geared towards helping the story telling. In the demolition derby scene, McQueen has legitimate fear. To legitimize the scene, you have to believe that the schoolbus is going to hurt him, that the sawmill of death is a real threat. The audience needs to understand why McQueen is afraid for his career and his life. The ultimate goal is that the viewer would feel like they can reach out and touch the world on screen.
To help achieve realism in the scene, the animation team researched demolition derbies extensively. Working alongside the animators, the effects team addresses minute details like water, fire, smoke and other natural elements to really bring the scene to life to the point where the lines blur between animation and reality. Simple things like engine smoke can also be used to add emotions to the characters and to help the audience identify with the character.
Jon Reisch, Effects Supervisor for CARS 3, said that mud was the toughest effect to achieve realism with in the film. As mud isn’t always in a solid or liquid form all of the time, it’s difficult to simulate all of the variant characteristics.
To ensure the mud looked like mud and not something more like melted chocolate, the effects team experimented over and over, dialing in the details and working with other departments until they were satisfied with the final result. The lighting department was particularly important to work closely with to assure the mud responded appropriately to the lighting in the scene. When all the departments work in harmony, the result truly makes the film shine.
Character development is a critical component of the story-telling and equal, if not more attention, is paid to the look, feel and over-all design of each character in the film. This process begins in the art department with a blank sheet of paper. Artists complete hundreds of sketches of each character (car) in CARS 3, always keeping in mind that it is character first and vehicles second.
Jay Shuster, Production Designer for CARS 3, said “We have to pay attention to things like the eyes and mouth relationship. We can’t angle that windshield up too far or otherwise it looks like the eyes are staring up into space constantly.”
One of the new characters that had to be developed for the new film is Storm, McQueen’s rival. Storm’s design is angular and sharp in contrast to McQueen’s round and flowing design. His character is designed to be a weapon on wheels and the production team pushed the stealth fighter-like quality of his design along with the stock car DNA that is infused to add mass and muscle. Storm represents the next generation of race cars and the team exploited pain, shape and graphics to create a character we immediately recognize without words or actions.
Cruz Ramirez, McQueen’s trainer is another new character that had to be developed from scratch. Her design resembles an American muscle car with an infusion of European sports car styling. She was a unique design challenge for the team as she is not a race car but is a strong female character who had to be on par with the next generation race car. Cruz’s design blend is somewhere between McQueen and Storm, with just enough creases and edges to be modern but still maintaining a flowing and elegant shape.
When the artistic design of the characters is ready for the next phase, the process moves to the character department. This department begins with a clay model of each character and decides how to best bring the model from grey to color.
According to Micheal Comet, Character Supervisor for CARS 3, “the character team is essentially responsible for taking the concept art out of the art department and bringing it into the computer and providing it downstream to departments like animation.” They work on the digital sculpting, digital shading and painting of each vehicle and the digital rendering.
A team of shading and paint artists work on details like color, shininess, reflective properties and materials for all the different pieces of each car. The graphics department provides graphics for the vehicle and then they are applied virtually in the same manner decals are applied to a real car. Once of the shading and remodeling is finished, the car is set up for the animation process which includes testing the vehicle in various poses. Every nut, bolt and eyelid for a CARS 3 vehicle has to be modeled and tested until the team is sure they have duplicated realism as closely as possible.
When the character (car) is ready to roll, the animation department steps in and prepared the cars for the ultimate finish line- their appearance in the CARS 3 film! The animators look at three areas when deciding how to best support the uniqueness of each character: how the character looks, how the character moves, and how the character behaves. Each character needs to have its own defined personality and the animators constantly seek out ways to make the film better.
“The entire production pipeline is built around the fact that the story is constantly changing,” said Fong. “Technical and other departments must be able to absorb these changes. This is Pixar’s greatest challenge, but also its greatest accomplishment.”
From what I’ve seen, fans are going to be “wow’d” by the spectacular new film and the amazing achievements in effects and animation created by the Pixar Animation team. Seriously… race to the theaters to see this work of art!
For more information:
- Like CARS on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PixarCars/
- Follow CARS on Twitter: https://twitter.com/pixarcars
- Follow CARS on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pixarcars/
- Subscribe to the Disney/Pixar YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/DisneyPixar
- Visit the official CARS 3 website here: http://movies.disney.com/cars-3
And be sure to check out our other article for more exclusive behind-the-scenes coverage:
CARS 3 zooms into theatres everywhere on June 16th!