Dan Scanlon Talks Storyboarding <strong><em>Cars</em></strong>

Artist talks about his favorite part of the creative process and co-directing the short Mater and the Ghostlight with John Lasseter.

Having worked as a storyboard artist on the hugely popular Cars, Dan Scanlon must have felt like he won the lottery when he was tapped to co-direct the short Mater and the Ghostlight with John Lasseter for the upcoming DVD of the film. Having been a huge fan of Pixar shorts before he became employed there, Scanlon seems just as excited as he was five years ago when he was hired.

What's it like working with John Lasseter?

Dan Scanlon: You know, it's amazing. Again, I've only been here for 5 years so John was already kind of a big shot when I got here. I was a little intimidated to be working on his film. Within the first meeting you realize, "This guy is so confident and up for anybody's ideas... and accepting to all things," that all goes away. It becomes about people sitting down and we're making movie together. It's just oddly comfortable to work with him.

Why did you want to work on Cars and Mater and the Ghostlight?

Dan Scanlon: I was hired for Cars so it was just an opportunity to work at Pixar was amazing, and honestly in my interview, I told Joe Ranft the co-director, he didn't tell me what the movie was about, but he was saying, "Oh, you're from Detroit, that's great. You're probably really good at drawing cars and all that kind of stuff." I was like, "To be honest with you, I hate drawing cars that's part of the reason why I left. Everything is the auto industry there and I can't draw a car to save my life." He was so nice and he found one car in the back of my portfolio and said, "Oh, there's a car!" He said, "All you have to draw is a face on a box." We kind of joke that I'm not a car guy. I think there was the right mix of car people and total non-car people, to create a movie that's for both.

I just fell in love with the story. Then with Mater and the Ghostlight it was like, I loved working on the movie so much that when the opportunity came to do anything on the short, I was like "Sign me up. I'll do anything." Then get the opportunity to write it with Joe and John, and to direct it with John, was like the coolest opportunity.

So you didn't know that you were going to be the co-director?

Dan Scanlon: Oh no, I just wanted to be the storyboard artist. They needed someone and John asked me if I would co-direct it with him. It was just this great learning experience to sit down with John and have him explain how he does stuff. How he likes to look at certain types of tests or whatever.

What was the most difficult part for you personally about making Cars?

Dan Scanlon: As a story artist we would get the scripts that say, "They pick up the check or they close the door...," and you'd think, "Well, how are they going to do that? They don't have arms and legs?" So we thought, "Maybe there's a button next to them?" There's always buttons next to people. In storyboard process we were like, "This is gonna look terrible, cheating like that." Once the modelers made the buttons... and the art department designs them, you don't question it at all. We're always beating ourselves up about, "What looks like we're cheating?" and "What works?" It's definitely it's own unique problem. Also, what is weird to see a car do and what isn't?

Do you have a favorite part of the creative process being a storyboard artist?

Dan Scanlon: I liked the pitching. We would work on our ideas and then at the end of the week we would pitch them to John. We had to act it out and there's 20 people in the room sometimes, and you're either going to fall on your face or it's going to be a big hit. It's really kind of nerve racking but it's fun. Then when it's done you've got a bunch of people shouting out ideas of what can make your scene better.

This is a loaded question... but what is your favorite part of the Cars DVD?

Dan Scanlon: Oh yeah, that would be a loaded question. I like all of it. I really like the documentary about the inspiration because that is a wonderful summation of why the movie was made and the last four years of making it. I joke that I wish I had that documentary before we started because all the answers are in there. More importantly, why it was made. I just think it's so cool that I can own that for years, and get to look back and see that means a lot to me.

Because these films take so long to make, how do you stay with it the entire time?

Dan Scanlon: You know, it's hard. You have to really love the movie you're working on. You have to really like the people you're working with. Luckily, that was the case. Also, as much as I enjoyed this film, as much as I'd still be working on it if I could..., John has this amazing ability to keep you going. There's low times, there's totally low times, where you show a version of the reels and it's just not working, and John has the ability to see to the end what it's gonna be. He has the ability to stand in front of you and say, "You know what guys..." and repitch you why we're doing the movie. "This is what the movie should be... we may not be there yet, but this is what we're getting towards and it's gonna be great." As crazy as it sounds, he could do it and I every time I would think, "Alright, this is gonna be good."

What do you have coming up next? Might you direct a feature?

Dan Scanlon: Well, I'm back in story and I don't know, you know? It hasn't really been talked about but my feeling is I'm in no rush. I've only been here five years, I've got a lot to learn. I love being in the story room with everybody. I love that side of it. One day... I certainly couldn't think of a better place to do it. If I could just get an idea. You have any ideas?

Cars hits the ground running on DVD November 7 from Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

Dont't forget to also check out: Cars