Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Lightning McQueen rolls into the Detroit Auto Show

Lightning McQueen from Disney PIXAR's popular animated CARS movie franchise will be displayed on Cobo Center's exhibit floor throughout the length of the 2017 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit.  This year's event is open for the public to attend from January 14 - 22nd.  Visit naias.com for more information about show hours and purchasing tickets for Detroit's annual auto show that in addition to showcasing a real life Lightning McQueen car will also feature 750 vehicles ranging from autonomous and electric cars to tricked out full-size trucks on display.

To kick-off Lightning McQueen's visit to the Motor City, Disney PIXAR held a special press conference during the NAIAS Media Preview days that A Geek Daddy was able to attend.  John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer at PIXAR, noted that this appearance was the roll out of promotional efforts for the new CARS 3 movie that is scheduled to arrive at movie theaters across the US on June 16, 2017.  He explained that CARS was born at the Detroit Auto Show because when the concept for the original movie was being considered the first thing Pixar did was attend NAIAS to do some research for developing the film.  So to begin promoting the new movie, CARS 3, Pixar wanted to return where it all began.  Lasseter then introduced the Creative Director, Jay Ward, and Production Designer, Jay Shuster, for CARS 3 to provide some insight on the development of some of the movie's key characters.

In the original CARS movie, Lightning McQueen was the arrogant hot-shot rookie taking on veteran racers for a chance to be the Piston Cup champion.  The tables have turned in CARS 3 as McQueen is now the experienced racer on the track fending off challenges from rookie challengers who are full of attitude.  When Lightning McQueen is involved in a racing accident does he have what it takes to come back and compete to be the Piston Cup champion again?

Lightning McQueens new antagonist and lead adversary in CARS 3 is named JACKSON STORM who is challenging him as top car on racetrack.  Jackson Storm is fast, sleek and ready to race. A front-runner in the next generation of racers, Storm’s quiet confidence and cocky demeanor are off-putting—but his unmatched speed threatens to redefine the sport. Trained on high-tech simulators that are programmed to perfect technique and maximize velocity, Jackson Storm is literally built to be unbeatable—and he knows it.

When creating Jackson Storm, PIXAR wanted the character to clearly be distinct from Lighting McQueen. So Storm's profile is more angular than Lighting McQueen’s rounded shape. He also has a darker palate.

 Jackson Storm's 'S' logo design is inspired by international symbol for hurricane. A cool Pixar detail about them playing off the Storm in the characters name in designing the race car's layout!

Shuster and Ward then introduced CRUZ RAMIREZ, the new girl on the racetrack  in CARS 3 who helps Lightning McQueen get his groove back.  Ramirez is a sunny-but-fierce unconventional trainer at the Rust-eze Racing Center. She expertly arms the team’s talented rookies with cutting-edge tools to tear up the track—but she nearly stalls when her longtime idol Lightning McQueen shows up. While she’d love to help him find his way back to the top, she knows the competition is faster than ever, and victory is all about speed—or is it?

The creative team shared that while the movie is digitally animated there is still a lot of old fashioned hands-on effort put into designing its characters.  To make sure each character is portraying just the right vibe each one is hand sketched out numerous times to get it just right before the digital process starts. Shuster and Ward wanted Cruz Ramirez to be a blend between an American Muscle Car and a European Sports Car. The resulting style is something between Lightning McQueen and Jackson Storm, which is symbolic of her role in training Lighting McQueen is some new racing techniques but having equipped Jackson Storm to be top gun of the race track.

Inspired by how real life automotive industry designers utilize clay to model new vehicles, PIXAR did the same to craft the layout for its CARS 3  characters before digitally animating them.

 After hand drawing and clay modeling the CARS 3 characters, PiIXAR utilizes computer programming to digitize them and create the environment they interact in.   The final digital design for Cruz Ramirez in CARS 3:

Lightning McQueen may now be an aged veteran taking on hot shot rookie cars trying to win the Piston Cup away from him but he has a fresh, new modernized NASCAR inspired paint job in CARS 3He is world champion—a modern-day racing legend who’s riding high with five Piston-Cup wins under his hood; but suddenly, Lightning McQueen finds himself faced with a new generation of racers who threaten not only his dominance in the sport—but the confidence that got him there. Determined to get back to the pole position, the #95 must decide if his love for racing is enough to fuel the comeback of his life.

Lightning McQueen rolls into the Detroit Auto Show!

After the press conference, I had a chance to meet one-on-one with Jay Ward and  Jay Shuster.

In addition to working on steering the creative direction of all three Cars films for PIXAR, Jay Ward was also instrumental in the development of the Cars Land attraction at Disney California Adventure.  I have to give him some well deserved kudos on Cars Land because that was one of the highlights of our family's Disneyland vacation.  Of course the CARS movies are some of my kids favorite films to watch as well!

Shuster is a Metro Detroit native and the automotive industry is in his blood as his father worked as a car designer during Jay's childhood growing up in Birmingham, Michigan. As a boy, Jay Shuster's room was filled with automobile sketches, blueprints, and models.  This diehard Star Wars fan was impressed that he got his start in the film industry at Lucasfilm working on Star Wars Episodes 1 & 2 (Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones) designing vehicles and environments for the movies. Moving over to PIXAR, his sci-fi focus continued as he designed the character Wall-E before focusing on the CARS movies.

Take a look at a snippet from the upcoming CARS 3 movie:

Jay Ward mentioned to me that they've been working on CARS 3 for 5 years.  While the movie is scheduled to be released in just a few months, they aren't done yet. Ward said they will be fine tuning the movie until just a couple of weeks before it is released.  He said they are going over every little detail of the film to make sure everything is just right and movie goers can appreciate an exceptional experience at the theater viewing it.

Jay Schuster mentioned that like me, he and Jay Ward, both have daughters who love the CARS movies.  So he said they wanted Cruz Ramirez to be more than just a love interest for Lightning McQueen by having an integral role in the movie's racing plot as a strong female leading character.  Ward chipped in "just to make it clear there isn't a romantic relationship between Cruz and Lightning in the film -- Sally is still his girlfriend."  He noted that Sally, Mater and other cast members from previous movies are in CARS 3 but they tend to stay in Radiator Springs while Lightning, Jackson and Cruz are traveling to various locations for Piston Cup races.

I asked if there might be any cameos in the movie by any of the characters from Disney's PLANES movies in CARS 3, but was told that a cross-over would probably not be happening.  Ward noted PLANES is produced by Disney Animation Studios and while PIXAR is owned by Disney they are treated as separate entities.  It doesn't seem like CARS want PLANES flying in on their parade.

Discussing how my wife, I and our kids enjoys watching CARS movies together, Jay Ward said that he is proud that CARS 3 is a movie that is fun for families to experience together.  "Parents will have a good time, children will have a good time and teenagers will pretend they're too old for this movie yet really enjoy it too," Ward said.  "I really think Cars 3 is the strongest film of the three both emotionally and story wise.  It is also a very family-friendly movie based upon how it delves into the theme of relationships in a journey that parents and kids can enjoy together."

CARS 3 features the voices of Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen), Armie Hammer (Jackson Storm), and Christela Alonzo (Cruz Ramirez).  It is a perfect movie for a summer family outing to the movie theater.  Learn more about CARS at disney.cars.com which includes character profiles, craft ideas, games, videos and an online store of themed merchandise.  Also don't forget to swing by the Detroit Auto Show to say hello to Lightning McQueen before he races out of town on January 22!

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