Writer/director John Lasseter had a very specific vision for the DVD release of the animated family movie, Cars. "So much of the movie, the stories, the characters, the place came from the journeys that we took on route 66 and then the whole NASCAR world going to the races and meeting all these people, its all in the movie," explained Lasseter. "Its all there, so we decided for this DVD, instead of doing like the making of the movie, we wanted to focus on the research and the inspiration. Im proud of the piece. God, we could go on for another hour with the footage that we have. That stuff was great."
Joe Ranft is in the bonus features. How involved was he before he passed away?
Joe Ranft was our co-writer and head of the story department. [He] did a lot of storyboarding, helped create the story of Cars with me, and he was on it from the very, very, very beginning with me. He and I met at CalArts. We were both from Whittier, CA, but we met at CalArts, the college we went to. We worked together at Disney for many years and then he has been involved with us as a key member of our story team for pretty much each of our movies, especially the ones that Ive directed.
Joe was involved from the beginning on this, and especially with the character Mater. Joe is a very good actor, too. He does the voices. As we make these movies, we do the script, quickly get to storyboards, and well make a version of the movie using storyboard drawings. Well do this well in advance of going to the production dialogue recording sessions, so we have the people here at Pixar do a lot of the temporary, or scratch, voices. Joe always was performing multiple roles in each movie because hes such a good actor. He started doing the voice of Mater. Years and years ago, when those fake hillbilly teeth kind of came out on the market, I saw the very beginnings of it on the Internet and I ordered them. Best $20 I ever spent was I ordered a pair for Joe because he can make me laugh as soon as he put these things on. He became this character, this funny character that he would just always bring the teeth with him wherever we went. It was really funny, so he started doing the voice with the teeth in because he just became this other character.
Sometimes his voice is so good its not replaceable by an actor. In Bugs Life he did the voice of Heimlich, the German caterpillar. We were trying to find an actor to do the voice but no one was anywhere as good as Joe. He also was Weezy, the asthmatic squeezy toy penguin in Toy Story 2. And almost in every movie you can hear his voice throughout it. Unfortunately, August of last year, we last Joe in a car accident. The story was complete on the movie and we were kind of busy in animation finishing it up. He was on a little vacation and still, to this day, we miss him terribly here. But its nice to see his voice and he is all through this movie. The character of Mater, which is voiced by Larry the Cable Guy brilliantly, the heart of that character is pure Joe Ranft.
How did you decide which cars to feature as characters in Cars?
Each car, each character really found its way into the movie in quite different ways. My dad worked for a Chevy dealership, so I had to have a Chevy in there because when we were kids, you were either a Ford family or a Chevy family or a Dodge family, or something like that. We were a Chevy family and my favorite Chevy was a 59 Impala, which Ramon is, so I had to have it there. I also grew up in Southern California, in Whittier, and there was a lot of low riders around. Whittier Blvd was really fantastic, one of the top cruising streets in Southern California. We would go down there and it had a lot of really cool low riders and stuff, so it was kind of fitting.
Doc Hudson actually found its way into the film mostly because of the inspiration I had. I was unfamiliar with the history of the Hudson Hornet, but as I learned about it, I saw how innovative the car is. It was way ahead of its time and how it dominated race car driving. It was a fast production car of its day, being a six cylinder. And then you look at it and its like, That car? Its like this grandpa car. I thought, Well, thats exactly the way McQueen should look at him.
Lightning McQueen, we wanted the main character to be really something that sort of looked like a modern day NASCAR, but had a little bit more shape to it. We were inspired by a combination of modern day NASCAR and the older LeMans cars like the Lolas and the GT40s that have those beautiful kind of big, rear fenders.
What were the challenges of creating the town and its surroundings?
In creating a world for the movie where cars are alive, theyre the living beings in this world, we started really thinking about it in every aspect we could. Bill Cone is a production designer [and] he came to me one day and he said, You know how we as humans look into rocks and mountains and to clouds and we see human faces or animals? If cars were alive, theyd look up there and theyd see car parts. So out of that came the idea that instead of, weve all heard of Monument Valley, we created Ornament Valley.
I vacation a lot down in the area of southern Utah, northern Arizona and that stretch, kind of right near Route 66 - in that area. Its so spectacular, the buttes and the rocks and all. It really was a natural thing because a lot of them are very smooth. I would take lots of pictures, wed come back and wed start drawing and kind of came up with the idea that they had these kind of rock formations that sort of look like the fronts of old cars with the fenders. They have different color stones in that area, very, very red, and also very kind of grey silver ones. The grey stuff would be where the chrome would be, and the red would be where the car paint is. We just had fun with it."