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The Next Generation of Cars ~ Start to Finish: Pixar’s Production Pipeline for Cars 3 ~ #Cars3Event

Pixar Production Cars 3

Have you ever wondered what technical challenges go into making a movie like Cars 3? How do they get every aspect so realistic and life-like? How do they make cars appear to have emotions and come across as human? Have you ever stopped to ponder how it all comes together so seamlessly? I was fortunate to meet with the creative minds in charge of making sure it all comes together – Bobby Podesta (Supervising Animator), Michael Fong (Supervising Technical Director), and Jon Reisch (Effects Supervisor). I have to admit – I had no idea what went into any of this. I just imagined a group of animators sitting at a computer and putting together a movie. I came away from this session in awe of these creative minds and how much of themselves they put into creating movies for us to love!

Pixar Production Cars 3

Effects Supervisor Jon Reisch, Supervising Animator Bobby Podesta and Supervising Technical Director Michael Fong

The animators spent time researching by taking trips to real demolition derbys, trying to visualize and come up with ideas of how it feels to be a car in this situation and how the car would react in different situations and different environmental elements. Technical effects are vital to creating believable interactions between characters and vital to creating believable emotions. Simulating mud in Cars 3 for example, was one of the big challenges for the film in the same way snow was for Frozen and hair was for Brave. Those elements are vital to the story and to the emotions of the story and the characters.

At Pixar the story is always king and this is true in every department across the board in making a movie, even in the technical aspects. Technology can’t be allowed to take away from the story. All visual aspects of a scene must be adjusted in such a way as to avoid stealing focus away from the story.

They build the entire production pipeline around the idea that the story must be constantly improving and in order for that to happen, all departments have to be ready to discard work and make changes at almost any time. They design their tools, workflow and schedules to account for this. The goal is Directed Realism, in which physics can be broken if true physics would detract from the storytelling.

The effects team deals with all the natural phenomena, from fire to smoke to sand, using physical simulation software to design everything. But every film has its challenges and the challenge in Cars 3‘s was mud. The not-really-solid, not-really-liquid nature of it required innovation on their part to achieve it correctly in the film. Their research involved filming themselves playing in the mud to discover what aspects of it they wanted and needed to recreate in animation.

Through the effects work, they were able to provide the believable interaction that grounds the characters to the world. They created emotional stakes for the characters. I was fascinated listening to the team, as I always am when it comes to listening to how creative and imaginative the folks at Pixar are.

We were also treated to an overview on designing, creating and bringing life to a whole new generation of cars. This session included Jude Brownbill, Directing Animator; Jay Shuster, Production Designer and Michael Comet, Characters Supervisor. One interesting aspect I learned from listening to this group was it was a challenge for them to incorporate the new characters. Each new character is very different from McQueen and each are very different from each other. They had to look at what animation can do to support the uniqueness of each character.

There’s 3 ways:

  • One is the way they look.  Control the shape of their mouth and the shape of their lips.
  • The way that they move. 
  • The way that they act and the way they behave.

They must constantly remind themselves with these designs that it’s characters first and vehicles second.

The character team is responsible for taking the concept art from the art department and bringing it into the computer and providing it to other departments like animation.  


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CARS 3 opens in theatres everywhere on June 16th!

I was provided an all expense trip to San Francisco by Disney. All opinions are my own.

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