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Cars!


Pixar is releasing Cars, the most complex movie in animation. It’s directed by John Lasseter, of Toy Story and A Bug’s Life fame.

I’m soooo excited! I love Toy Story 1 & 2 – I remember we (all the animation students) watched it almost every evening continuously for a few months in the SGI Lab (now called something else), sitting on the floor. I think Manish Sherawat had a copy of a VCD that we watched. We watched A Bug’s Life in the audi, but the only thing I remember were Sundar and Lols singing dancing a funny cheerleading dance for PT (the PT Flea song).

In this NYTimes interview John Lasseter talks about how much he is fascinated by cars. “I’ve always loved cars, and the idea of cars being alive came up during A Bug’s Life, ” he said in a recent telephone interview…”I was at exactly the right age when Hot Wheels came out,” explained Mr. Lasseter, 49, speaking of Mattel’s toy cars. “I remember buying my first two Hot Wheels cars with my allowance, and I was hooked from then on.”

To make Cars, they’ve used a combination of design and motion to create these compelling characters. They “turned full-size automobiles into characters with recognizable personalities but that still feel like heavy steel-and-glass machines. Traditional squash-and-stretch animation of the characters’ faces and bodies made the autos look too rubbery, and the usual way of putting a face on a machine proved equally unsatisfactory.

“The natural eyes of a car are the headlights,” Mr. Lasseter explained. “Moving the eyes to the windshield separates them from the front of the face; the hood becomes the nose and the mouth is down by the grille. Now the body of the car becomes the head of the character, and you can gesture with the front tires when he talks. That design gave the animators more opportunities for acting, because the movement of the chassis over the tires feels almost like a head moving in relation to the shoulders. But to make it really believable, we had to move the cars in ways that maintained their integrity. I kept telling the animators, they’re going to look like real cars, so let’s move them like they weigh 3,000 pounds.”

I think one of the greatest challenges in being an animator is the ability to get under the skin of your character – how it moves, how it talks, how it feels, cries, laughs….and that’s not easy. “Mr. Lasseter was trained at the Disney studio by members some of the legendary Nine Old Men”, who believed “that for an audience to be touched, the emotions had to be genuine, arising from the characters and their situations.”

He also talks about lessons learnt from his mentors, Frank Thompson and Ollie Johnston. “Frank and Ollie always said the thing to strive to get into a film is heart, or pathos,” Mr. Lasseter said. “To really get the audience to feel that heart, they have to discover the emotion for themselves. You can’t tell them to feel sad.”

That’s so true. At the end of the day a film is all about the story it’s telling, the emotions it’s conveying. The audience (unless of course they’re film makers or film students) will not remember a film for it’s brilliant cuts or set design or cinematography. They’ll remember the fact that they laughed, or cried, that they empathised with the characters. And that goes for all the great films of our time.

Watch the Cars trailer here.

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