Klay Hall returned to the director's chair this year for Disney's Planes; a movie that saw him return to the animation genre.
The movie follows Dusty, a plane with dreams of competing as a high-flying air racer.
But Dusty’s not exactly built for racing - and he happens to be afraid of heights. So he turns to a seasoned naval aviator who helps Dusty qualify to take on the defending champ of the race circuit.
Dusty’s courage is put to the ultimate test as he aims to reach heights he never dreamed possible, giving a spellbound world the inspiration to soar.
- How did you prepare for a mammoth project like Disney’s Planes?
How did we prepare? We did lots and lots of research. When you work with John Lasseter, he has this mantra that he lives by; that it’s all about research. You have to get out there and meet as many people as you can.
You have to talk the talk and walk the walk. You have to go to the locations and do as much as you possibly can because that gives you information that you’re then able to put into your movie.
- Why is the research process so important?
The research adds a level of truth and believability to a movie. The audience might not always understand exactly what’s being said. They might not know about that specific piece of machinery, but they know it feels right and it feels real.
That’s why we did a lot of research for Planes, for months and months. This movie took four and a half years to make. That work involved 550-600 people and two million frames of film. We probably spent at least one year researching everything.
- Where did your research take you?
We traveled all over the States researching Planes. Plus, we got an incredible opportunity to go out to the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, which is 150 miles out to sea.
Very few people get to visit the USS Carl Vinson, but we got a personal invite from the United States Navy. It was fascinating. Even the trip over to the aircraft carrier was eye opening.
- How did you get to the aircraft carrier?
[Planes producer] Traci [Balthazor-Flynn] and me put on life preservers, flight helmets and goggles - and they loaded us on to a small airplane. It was a transport airplane, so we were sitting backwards.
The pilots were at the front of the aircraft, but we were facing the back. There were no windows in the airplane, just cables and hoses hanging everywhere because they usually take supplies, not people. The door closes and it’s dark - and then it gets even weirder.
- What happened?
When you take off, it’s immediately strange because you’re flying backwards. Then, when you find out you’re getting close to the aircraft carrier, it gets tense. An aircraft carrier is pretty small, especially when it comes to landing an airplane on it - but you can feel the plane fishtailing as the pilot tries to line up with the ship.
You start to feel anxious - but once you land, you hit the arresting wire and you stop right away. It’s about 4Gs and it feels like you’re getting pulled down into your seat. All of the air gets sucked out of your body for a second, but then you realize you’re okay. As soon as the plane stops, the back door opens and fresh air comes inside.
- - What was it like on the aircraft carrier?
It was 72 degrees outside. We get on the deck and you see steam rolling off. Now you feel like you’re right out of Top Gun. F18s are lining up and getting ready to take off. Plus, all of the guys are doing their thing. It was an epic day.
- Are the characters in Planes replicas of specific aircraft, like the F18s you saw on the aircraft carrier, or are they completely original designs?
All of them are based in reality, but we only have two aircraft in this movie that are actually verbatim aircraft. One of them is the F4U Corsair, which is Dusty’s mentor, Skipper. The other is the Gee Bee aircraft, which is the character of El Chupacabra.
The rest of the planes are hybrids. It was so much easier for us to embrace what’s great about the F14 and the F15 and the Russian F29. We got little pieces of all those planes and put them together to make our hybrids, but they are all based on real aircraft.
- What can you tell us about your Gee Bee aircraft character, El Chupacabra?
We had fun with El Chupacabra. First of all, I love Luchadores [masked lucha libre wrestlers]. I love that whole world; I think they are colorful characters and big personalities.
Working with John Lasseter and [Planes screenplay writer] Jeff Howard, we all loved that idea of putting a mask and a cape on an airplane. We loved how fun that sounded and how different that sounded, so that’s where we started.
- What do you like about El Chupacabra?
El Chu is very heartfelt. He’s probably my favorite character in the movie and what I love about him is the fact that he has all the claims to fame: he’s a telenovela star and a world famous singer, as well as an indoor racing champion - and his list goes on and on and on.
However, when he meets Dusty in New York, all of a sudden he embraces this new guy and he actually says that it’s his first time in a race as well.
That puts them both on a common ground. El Chu is a big star, but he’s so kind and respectful with Dusty that they actually become friends. That’s what I love about the character.
- What did you look for when casting the voice actor for a character like El Chu in Planes?
The voice coming from the character has to be believable. It wasn’t about picking a voice and then sticking a plane to them. Instead, we would take images of the aircraft that we thought we would use in the film and then we would try to match a voice to them.
- There’s an epic Top Gun reunion in Planes, which features the voices of Val Kilmer [who played Iceman in Top Gun] and Anthony Edwards [who played Goose]. What can you tell us about that?
When we first discussed navy jets in the film, I knew I wanted to include [Top Gun characters] Iceman and Goose. Tom Cruise was busy filming Mission Impossible 4, so he was out of the equation - but I thought, ‘How cool would it be get Goose and Iceman back together?’
That was one moment where we used recognizable guys for the voice work, but even if you’re watching the movie, maybe you wouldn’t pick up on it. I’m not sure.
- Is the success of Cars a blessing or hindrance when you start to move into other types of transportation, such as airplanes?
It’s not a hindrance. It’s inspiring. First of all, they spent 10 years cracking the code on vehicles and how they roll, how they work and how you can embrace the personalities of these vehicles. We were able to use their 10 years of knowledge to get into this new world and have a lot of fun with it.
- Why did you decide to do Planes in 3D?
Why not? I think when you sit down and you see it; man, you're going for a ride. It’s not gimmicky. It’s fun. We definitely wanted you to feel the thrill of it and actually feel like you're flying. That’s why. Although we were really careful to not throw it in your face too much like they do in some other movies.
- Pixar has tackled a number of sequels in recent years. What’s your take on the subject?
Haven’t they been great? I think as long as the stories are great, that’s what it’s going to come down to. Pixar will not do a sequel unless they feel like they have a great story. There’s no way it’s going to happen without that.
People want to see lots of other sequels that haven't been done yet as far as the Walt Disney/Pixar team goes. I agree that there needs to be a balance of original material, but I don’t think there's anything wrong with sequels.
You can look at live action, too; just about every movie out there is a sequel at the moment. I think that it’s always going to come back to quality. As long as they are great, then I think it’s okay.
Planes is out on DVD & Blu-Ray 2nd December.
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