Cars 2

Cars 2

The world of computer animation has advanced considerably in the five short years since Cars debuted in 2006. For Cars 2, supervising technical director Apurva Shah and the amazing technical minds at Pixar Animation Studios redesigned the animation rigs for the cars themselves and utilized a wide range of new tools and programs.

Even with a render farm (the bank of computer cores used to render the film) almost three times bigger than the one used on Toy Story 3, managing the time and resources was still a challenge with the average frame still taking about 13 hours to complete.

"In terms of scope, ‘Cars 2’ is the most complicated film that Pixar has ever made," Shah says. "This film is a journey around the world, and all the places that we take the audience are invented out of thin air.

"Every country has a different set of background characters with a cast of hundreds of cars. Just making sure we had a pipeline that could support that kind of volume and maintain the highest quality for the output was one of our biggest challenges.

"As for the cars themselves," Shah adds, "the idea was to have almost an assembly line approach to the process of rigging each car. We start with a standardized model and then dial in the attributes for every single character.

"Each car is polished for its suspension and mechanical attributes. The older cars have a looser suspension, and you get the feeling that they’ve been on the road for a while.

"One of the big advances on this film is the actual driving system for the cars - how they move, where they go. We wanted a high degree of control over those aspects, and that adds another level of complication."

For the London race course, Pixar had to create nearly 20 miles of landscape and environment. According to Shah, "We literally started with the actual map and layout of London. Even though our world is very caricatured, we wanted it to be as true as possible.

"On this film, we built our vegetation and buildings in a modular way so that we could put the pieces together that could cover very large areas. We also took a new approach to the way we create water so that we could have more control over how the boats would move and respond to the action."

For the director of photography camera, Jeremy Lasky, who was responsible for the staging and motion of the film, the challenge was to capture the enormity of the world and make the audience feel that the world these cars live in goes on beyond the frame. "Every film we do at Pixar is an evolution," he says.

"We’ve slowly been pushing the camera’s capabilities to adapt to the subject matter. For ‘Cars 2,’ we’re taking what we learned from the first film in terms of how to shoot cars and make them feel like characters and applying all those filmmaking principles that have been evolving.

"The camera now feels more grounded and more real than the first ‘Cars.’ And we’ve expanded our language in terms of shooting races or spy chases to make them more exciting. This movie has to feel like the first film - but better. We have to keep raising the bar.

"One of the things that we found on the first ‘Cars’ was that there are very specific angles and lenses that work with these characters," continues Lasky.

"Using what we learned on the last film as a starting point, we challenged ourselves to stage things in interesting ways that kept the cars moving. Cars are much more interesting when they’re driving.

"We move the camera a lot in this film, and everything is pushed to see how dynamic and exciting it can be. We’ve taken these characters that everyone loves and put them in crazy, intense situations on beautiful sets, and we’re pushing this super cool, super fun story on every level."

From a cinematic perspective, Lasky is particularly proud of the film’s second big race scene that takes place along the Italian Riviera in the idealized town of Porto Corsa.  Lasky explains, "This scene is 12 minutes long and is comprised of 250 shots, which is a huge scene for us to tackle. It manages to weave several key storylines together all at the same time.

"There’s Lightning’s racing story, there’s a disguised Mater infiltrating a casino where the villain and his henchmen are coming together for a secret meeting to discuss their devious plot, and of course Finn and Holley are trying to stop them.

"It was a huge challenge to work this all out structurally and cinematically so that the action could unfold, and we could go back and forth from all these different pieces and make them flow seamlessly. It feels exciting, and the tension mounts as you realize what’s happening."

For the first Cars film, Lasky and his team consulted with Artie Kempner, Fox Sports’ leading expert on capturing the excitement of live racing, to get an understanding of his methodology for placing cameras in his broadcasts. 

In the virtual world of computer animation, the camera can be placed anywhere without concerns about injuring camera operators or breaking equipment, so the possibilities are unlimited and more interesting. 

Lasky adds, "We wanted the cinematography on ‘Cars 2’ to have the feel of an actual street race or an F1, but at the same time, we also wanted it to feel like something you’re not going to get by watching these races on TV. We wanted it to feel as if the audience was really racing with the cars."

At Pixar, the director-of-photography duties are split up into two distinct areas - camera and lighting. Lasky’s counterpart in the area of lighting, Sharon Calahan, has collaborated with John Lasseter on three previous features.

"This movie has lots of incredible international locations," says Calahan. "It takes place in Europe and Asia, and we really wanted it to have sensibilities from those areas and not have it feel like we were still in Radiator Springs.

"We wanted Mater to feel out of his element. These worlds don’t look anything like Radiator Springs -  they’re glossy, they have cool colors, they’re really hip. We wanted Mater to stand out like a sore thumb in these environments, and lighting helped us achieve that.

"Our approach to lighting is constantly evolving and changing," she continues. "The scope of this film testifies to that in all departments, not just lighting. We’re always figuring out ways to do more.

"Everything on this film was more than we had ever done before. We used more master light setups, more lights and more reflective surfaces than had ever been done."

For the scenes in Paris, Calahan paid homage to Ratatouille, using a similar soft warm broken lighting approach. To add authenticity, Julien Schreyer, the master lighting artist who worked on those Cars 2 scenes, is actually from Paris and had worked on Ratatouille as well. "I told him that he wasn’t done with them until he started to feel homesick."

Similarly, several British members of the lighting team worked on the London scenes, which were overcast but not dreary, according to Calahan. "The Brits on my team said, ‘Oh, sure, you had to make it overcast.’ I was, like, ‘Well, yeah. What would you expect?’"

Among the most challenging sequences for Calahan and her team were the night scenes. The film’s action-filled spy opening set in the middle of the ocean with all sorts of practical lights reflecting on the water, and the scenes in Tokyo with all the glowing neon signage, required optimizing and combining light rigs in order to achieve the desired effect.

Adds Calahan, "The scope of this film testifies to that in all departments, not just lighting.  There were more crowd shots than we’ve ever done before. The thing I like best about ‘Cars 2’ is that we have so much visual variety to it.

"The spy train looks different than the spy plane; we’ve got a lot of interiors and exteriors; we’ve got night, day and changing weather. It is so visually rich and colorful, and yet there are scenes that also use a quieter, more limited palette.

"John is such an amazing filmmaker," she adds. "He always has a pretty clear vision in his head of what he wants to see. 

"He knows how he wants things to read, what his story points are, and what’s important to him and what isn’t.  So there’s that crystal clarity that really helps the whole production process and can really inspire people to go beyond what they thought of doing otherwise."

Cars 2 is released 22nd July

The world of computer animation has advanced considerably in the five short years since Cars debuted in 2006. For Cars 2, supervising technical director Apurva Shah and the amazing technical minds at Pixar Animation Studios redesigned the animation rigs for the cars themselves and utilized a wide range of new tools and programs.

Even with a render farm (the bank of computer cores used to render the film) almost three times bigger than the one used on Toy Story 3, managing the time and resources was still a challenge with the average frame still taking about 13 hours to complete.

"In terms of scope, ‘Cars 2’ is the most complicated film that Pixar has ever made," Shah says. "This film is a journey around the world, and all the places that we take the audience are invented out of thin air.

"Every country has a different set of background characters with a cast of hundreds of cars. Just making sure we had a pipeline that could support that kind of volume and maintain the highest quality for the output was one of our biggest challenges.

"As for the cars themselves," Shah adds, "the idea was to have almost an assembly line approach to the process of rigging each car. We start with a standardized model and then dial in the attributes for every single character.

"Each car is polished for its suspension and mechanical attributes. The older cars have a looser suspension, and you get the feeling that they’ve been on the road for a while.

"One of the big advances on this film is the actual driving system for the cars - how they move, where they go. We wanted a high degree of control over those aspects, and that adds another level of complication."

For the London race course, Pixar had to create nearly 20 miles of landscape and environment. According to Shah, "We literally started with the actual map and layout of London. Even though our world is very caricatured, we wanted it to be as true as possible.

"On this film, we built our vegetation and buildings in a modular way so that we could put the pieces together that could cover very large areas. We also took a new approach to the way we create water so that we could have more control over how the boats would move and respond to the action."

For the director of photography camera, Jeremy Lasky, who was responsible for the staging and motion of the film, the challenge was to capture the enormity of the world and make the audience feel that the world these cars live in goes on beyond the frame. "Every film we do at Pixar is an evolution," he says.

"We’ve slowly been pushing the camera’s capabilities to adapt to the subject matter. For ‘Cars 2,’ we’re taking what we learned from the first film in terms of how to shoot cars and make them feel like characters and applying all those filmmaking principles that have been evolving.

"The camera now feels more grounded and more real than the first ‘Cars.’ And we’ve expanded our language in terms of shooting races or spy chases to make them more exciting. This movie has to feel like the first film - but better. We have to keep raising the bar.

"One of the things that we found on the first ‘Cars’ was that there are very specific angles and lenses that work with these characters," continues Lasky.

"Using what we learned on the last film as a starting point, we challenged ourselves to stage things in interesting ways that kept the cars moving. Cars are much more interesting when they’re driving.

"We move the camera a lot in this film, and everything is pushed to see how dynamic and exciting it can be. We’ve taken these characters that everyone loves and put them in crazy, intense situations on beautiful sets, and we’re pushing this super cool, super fun story on every level."

From a cinematic perspective, Lasky is particularly proud of the film’s second big race scene that takes place along the Italian Riviera in the idealized town of Porto Corsa.  Lasky explains, "This scene is 12 minutes long and is comprised of 250 shots, which is a huge scene for us to tackle. It manages to weave several key storylines together all at the same time.


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