When I first learned I was going back to Pixar a few months ago, a smile immediately crossed my face. I had been there just once before, a few years back, but the facility and people at this Emeryville, California animation studio are so amazing, I was hoping for the chance to come back... practically right after the first visit. In late March, I ventured up to the Northern California studio to learn more about their animated sequel Cars 2, which races into theaters nationwide on June 24.
After a nice reception for the massive press corps assembled for this event, we were in for a little treat. Anyone who is familiar with Pixar knows the studio is just as well-known for their animated shorts as they are their animated features. Before every Pixar movie, the studio debuts a new short film, and Cars 2 is no different. While most of the Pixar shorts show off brand new characters and the talents of new directors within Pixar's ranks, the short that will play in front of Cars 2 will feature some familiar faces.
Toy Story: Hawaiian Vacation brings Woody and the gang back together for a brief new adventure, and after watching the full short film, I have to say it was great to see them again. Back in November, we reported that Toy Story 3 will be the last feature film in this franchise, although the franchise would live on through new shorts. Toy Story: Hawaiian Vacation centers on Ken (Michael Keaton) and Barbie (Jodi Benson) who think they're going on vacation to Hawaii, after they sneak in Bonnie's backpack. Little do they know that Bonnie didn't take her backpack on vacation, and Ken is heartbroken to learn that he's really just in Bonnie's room... or is he? Woody (Tom Hanks) Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang decide to make a Hawaiian vacation for Ken and Barbie right in Bonnie's room. They serve the couple dinner in the most romantic setting they could scrounge up, and the whole gang does their best to recreate the tropical island setting in the bedroom. It's a charming little story about the power of friendship, and that a little imagination can go a long way.
I can't imagine that anyone who is a fan of the Toy Story franchise will be disappointed by Toy Story: Hawaiian Vacation when it hits theaters this week, and there are more Toy Story shorts on the horizon. We reported in February that there will be another Toy Story short attached to The Muppets, when it hits theaters on November 23. I'll admit that it is a bit sad that we won't see a fourth full-length feature adventure with Woody and Buzz, but it's great that the studio is keeping this franchise alive, one short at a time.
We were also treated to 26 minutes of footage from Cars 2, including the very impressive opening sequence, which definitely lets the audience know that we're not in Radiator Springs anymore. The movie opens with British spy vehicle Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) on a top-secret mission. We immediately see all the spy gadgetry this car has at its disposal, as Finn makes his way onto a shady operations base. Finn is there to gather intelligence on a powerful device that poses a threat to all of the cars: a special camera that, when aimed at a car, causes their engine blocks to explode. Despite all of his advanced covert tactics, Finn's cover is blown and a thrilling car chase scene ensues before Finn makes a daring escape.
We then see a scene where Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is invited to the World Grand Prix, an international race which features cars from every racing discipline in the world competing on special hybrid tracks which implements each of these unique styles (Formula 1, rally car, NASCAR, Le Mans, etc.) to determine who is the best overall race car in the world. Naturally, Lightning brings along his new BFF Mater (Larry The Cable Guy), who now serves on Lightning's pit crew. Unfortunately, Mater's bumbling ways end up costing Lighting a race in Tokyo, although it sets up the international intrigue to follow.
This footage really opens up the entire world of Cars, showing us that they do fly on planes like humans would, and they even "relieve" themselves like we would, in bathrooms. Finn McMissile and his spy sidekick Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) have also journeyed to the Tokyo race, where they have followed the special camera, although, unfortunately for them, Mater throws a monkey wrench into their plans. When Mater heads off to relieve himself in a Japanese bathroom (a scene which is quite hilarious, by the way), he inadvertently interrupts the baddies ambushing another spy, Rod "Torque" Redline (Bruce Campbell). The bad cars are trying to get a special device off of Redline, but the spy plants it on the undercarriage of Mater as he leaves the bathroom. Unfortunately, during all of this, Mater is still talking to Lightning McQueen over his headset, and accidentally gives his racing friend some bad advice, which costs him the race and damages their friendship.
I have to say, overall, I was incredibly impressed with the footage I saw. They found a wonderful way to transport the viewers from picturesque Radiator Springs (which is shown after the opening spy sequence), to this international world of espionage and intrigue. Oddly enough, the impetus for making Cars 2 a spy movie came from a deleted scene from the original Cars. There was a scene where Lightning and Holly were going on a date at a drive-in movie theater, where they were watching a spy movie with a character called Finn McMissile. I don't think I've ever heard about a sequel springing from a deleted scene before, but that just goes to show you that the folks at Pixar can think outside the box better than any studio on Earth.
We were also able to speak with several of the behind-the-scenes players at Pixar who helped shape and mold the expansive world of Cars 2. Production designer Harley Jessup revealed that, once they had the spy motif in play for the sequel, they turned to live-action movies such as The Italian Job, Rendezvous, The Bourne Identity, and The Red Balloon to get a better feel for this covert world. They also took a series of research trips which influenced the animated set pieces. They visited Tokyo, Italy, Paris and London, taking extensive notes on each city to find a way how to animate each distinct place. Director of Photography Sharon Calahan also revealed more details which indicate this animated world isn't much different than our own. For instance, in London, they still have British pubs, although these characters are sucking down pints of motor oil instead of pints of beer.
Senior Modeler Andrew Schmidt and Sculptor Jerome Ranft talked about crafting and designing the cars in the sequel, a process which evolved since the original film. Here's what Andrew Schmidt had to say about the differences from the sequel to the original in their work.
"In Cars, we started with a generic car, a generic 1960s car, a generic 1950s car, a generic 1940s car. We had controls that would give them different proportions. We wanted every single background car in this movie to be special, so we built them all from scratch. We built, I think, 280 individual cars, just for the background, and about 40 Class-A characters, lead characters, and about 40 reused characters."
Andrew Schmidt also talked about more specific designs when it came to vehicular changes in Cars 2, including an overhaul of the Lightning McQueen character.
"We look at all the different types of racing, because the theme of the movie is he's going up against all the different classes in racing, not just NASCAR. In the first movie, he was designed to look real in a NASCAR world. We added side skirts, a more modernized spoiler, air dams, and an entire underside."
Jerome Ranft revealed that Lightning McQueen's nickname from the first movie, "Stickers," is now a thing of the past.
"Another new thing is McQueen has working headlights. He just had stickers before."
Andrew Schmidt also discussed the intricate details that go into distinguishing a male car from a female car in this universe.
"We learned a lot from doing Sally in the first movie. She has much thicker lips, we typically give the female characters a mascara line in their eyelines. Air dams and front grilles typically read as mustaches, so female characters have the open scoop become their mouth. We tend to give them curvier hiplines, it's called a beltline in a car. They're actually very similar cars, but the male character is typically much more angular, and the female character has more soft lines. They are supposed to be similar so there is tension between them, in a good way."
While we got a brief glimpse at how truly enormous this animated world really is we learned even more from Jay Ward, the "franchise guardian" for Cars and Cars 2. He talked about how they expanded the universe for this international race.
"We have this field of 11 different race cars in all. We really paid attention to the graphics on the vehicles, along with their profile and shape. They're all so unique and colorful, because they're going by so fast in the movie, you have to tell, at a glance, which car is which. It's the same thing they do in real racing, with very different graphics to tell cars apart."
For this World Grand Prix race, each car has this "shield" on the side of the car that displays the racing number and what country each car comes from. They also created their own racing leagues, based off Formula 1, GTS, and many other international racing organizations. Jay Ward also said the colors of each car helps the viewers determine, from just a glance, which country they come from.
Jay Ward also talked about Lightning McQueen's new racing rival, a Formula 1-type car named Francesco Bernouli, who is voiced by John Turturro.
"Formula 1 is really where it's at, it's a global sport, so we had to have an open wheel Formula 1 racer, Francesco Bernouli. In a lot of ways, Francesco was what Lightning McQueen was in the first movie. He's fast, he's driven, he's all about himself in the third person. He has this bravado and a real personality."
That about wraps up my day at the phenomenal Pixar facility in Emeryville, California for Cars 2, which hits theaters nationwide on June 24. It was a wonderful time, as always, and I can't wait until I can visit this magnificent studio again.
You can CLICK HERE for my exclusive interview with composer Michael Giacchino, CLICK HERE for our exclusive interview with actress Emily Mortimer, /emily-mortimer-and-larry-the-cable-guy-talk-cars-2/CLICK HERE for our interview with Emily Mortimer and Larry The Cable Guy, and CLICK HERE for our interview with director and Pixar head honcho John Lasseter.