As magical as Disney is, I have to admit that Pixar stories take me on a deeper and more meaningful journey. CLICK HERE to read all about my personal admiration for Pixar and dream-come-true visit to Pixar Animation Studios. During that incredible San Francisco jaunt, to learn ALL about the newest movie: CARS 3, we had the opportunity to hear from some of the top storytellers in the business.
Step One: The Basics of Storytelling
Step Two: Attract a Rock Star Team of Creative Writers
I could have spent several days, hearing all about “The Story of Our Story” from Pixar Animation Studios’ Story Supervisor Scott Morse, and highly talented writers Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich.
- Scott Morse has been at Pixar for a little over 12 years and worked on Ratouille, Wall-E, Brave, Cars 2 and now Cars 3.
- Bob Peterson is a 23 year veteran at Pixar. Bob was a star supervisor on Monsters Inc, writer on Finding Nemo, co-director and writer on Up, and the distinguished voice of Doug, Roz and Mr. Ray.
- Kiel Murray is a writer on Cars 3 and was also a writer on the original Cars.
- Mike Rich has been a screen writer for more than 15 years. Some of the films that he has written and worked on include: Finding Forester and Secreteriat. This was his first time working for Pixar and first time working in animation.
Step Three: The Story
At Pixar, STORY is KEY. Every character, joke, scenery or sketch needs to support and contain story-elements. Pixar projects are meticulously streamlined, and that high-quality is translated to our hearts and souls. Cars 3 tells a simple universal story that we all can relate with – getting older, and the effect it has on our career and identity.
MIKE RICH explained: We knew we would have to make McQueen vulnerable and take him down a notch. So in the early exploration of how do we go about doing that, we looked at big athletes that were going through a similar thing. We visited and talked with athletes like Jeff Gordon who was only a couple of years away from his own retirement.
BOB PETERSON: We talked about Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. These guys are on top of the world just as McQueen is but then they have to figure out when they start to become obsolete what do you do. We found that a very interesting way to go with this story. In all these films we look for a universal truth that everyone can sort of identify with whether its toys or fish or whatever as long as there is something we can all learn from. In this case, it was what do you do when you’re not as fast any more and you have people behind you that are faster. Do you crumple or do you rise up and change?
M.RICH: When Kobe Bryant injured his Achilles late in his career, he had this famous 3 a.m. post on Facebook where he basically was saying, “What do I do now?” You could tell this larger than life athlete was at a loss. He asked do I crawl under a rock, do I quit, do I rise. He was wrestling with all the things that we realized would be interesting for McQueen.
Step Four: Story Pitch
Throughout the process, writers often meet with the Director to ensure that every aspect of the project remain cohesive to the story. In 2006, John Lasseter originally brought CARS to life on the big screen. Director Brian Fee was able to take the torch, with Lasseter’s blessing.
M.RICH: We had to sit down with John Lasseter and pitch the story that we had come up with at the time. I remember we had put together this four page document.
B.PETERSON: So you read it out loud to the group, playing all the characters. John knew some of the inklings that we were going to put into the movie, what we were hoping to get in there.
M.RICH: I started reading the story. John doesn’t usually tip his hand. He just takes it in. I was telling the story and I got to the third page. All of sudden I looked up and a tear, a single tear rolled down John Lasseter’s face. For me I’ve been fortunate enough to have a really wonderful career. I thought afterwards, that’s the closest I’ll ever get to reading a script to Walt Disney.
B.PETERSON: John cares. He cares about these stories and the ideas. That gave us the boost to move forward.
I appreciate the hands-on and collaborative teamwork that is evident in these incredible Pixar stories.
Step Five: Story Board
S.MORSE: At the end of the day, you’re making a movie. You have to make it visual and use that film language that is going to live in your hearts and your minds. That’s really tricky with human characters, let alone talking cars. We have a sizable story team that we work with, an amazing group, all ages, all different backgrounds. We try different artists on different sequences throughout the movie and try to challenge them with an action scene or a comedy scene to make everybody grow.
We hand out script pages and we read through them with the script artists and a lot of times they go back and forth with the writer and the board artists get their input in the writing phase that way. And then we start thumb-nailing. The first visuals may be on a napkin, or the back of an envelope. An Eskimo pie wrapper. We tend to keep our trash and draw on it.
Storyboards are great because as you’re looking at emotion and comedy, sometimes you land it at the end of the day like you need to but sometimes you go down the wrong path. But like 90% of everything we do, we toss it and we just keep work-shopping until we find something that works.
Another major piece in the Storytelling is research. Click here to read about our day at the Sonoma Raceway, to see inspirations used through the movie scenes. Writers often visited the racetracks, as well as Daytona 500 and other locations to gain immersive insight into the culture of racing, the racers and the fans.
Step Six: Infinity and Beyond
Up until the final days of the CARS 3 release on July 16, the writers, director and rest of the fantastically talented Technical ‘Pit Crew’ continue to hone each frame and piece of the movie. This visual art-piece goes through multiple rigorous hands, to make sure that the story we see alive in theaters touches us on an emotional level.
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CARS 3 opens in theaters everywhere on June 16th!
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