Pixar’s Brian Fee on “Cars 3” and the NASCAR Hall Of Fame – Animation Scoop

Pixar’s Brian Fee on “Cars 3” and the NASCAR Hall Of Fame

After working as a storyboard artist on several Disney/Pixar films, including Wall-E, Ratatouille, Cars and Cars 2, Brian Fee made his directorial debut with this Summer’s Cars 3. He was also part of the writing team for this latest Lightning McQueen adventure, and is now an ambassador for the “Cars” franchise. I recently tracked Fee down at the opening of the new Cars 3: Inspired by NASCAR exhibit at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Jackson Murphy: You’re in Charlotte, NC for this new “Cars 3” exhibit at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. That’s really cool.

Brian Fee: It’s phenomenal. I walked through the doors, and it’s so big. And it’s the first thing you see when you walk through the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It’s a gateway. The NASCAR folks were telling us how the first thing – kids when they walk in – is they’ll see these car characters. And they’re highlighting the characters based on real people throughout NASCAR history. And then, as they go into the museum, they can learn about the actual people behind it, so it’s pretty cool.

JM: Are you more at ease now promoting the movie on DVD, as opposed to promoting it when it was going to open in theaters?

Brian Fee: Nothing’s really changed. I love talking about the film. I love any opportunity to get to talk [about it]. People ask me, ‘What’s it like doing all the promotion? Because it seems like it’s a lot of work.’ But I think it’s like asking somebody if they want to show any pictures of their children. ‘Well, how much time you got? Because I will talk your ear off if you have the time.’

JM: That teaser trailer that came out last Fall was so dramatic. It blew people away. What was your approach behind it?

BF: There’s a two-sided answer to this. And they’re both completely true. We really wanted to let people know that this movie is probably going to be a little different than they expected. And we have a dramatic story to tell, and we’re kind of putting [Lightning] McQueen in some dramatic corners. So we wanted, right away, to let people know a little taste of what’s in store.

And the second side of it is: we had to make a trailer, and we didn’t have very many shots done ’cause we were so busy trying to finish the story of the film that very little animation had been done at the time – and we had those shots done. So, it just kind of worked out for us.

JM: It’s the “aging athlete” theme for Lightning. What other sports movies did you use as inspiration for this story.

BF: We watched a little of everything. We watched “Secretariat”. We watched the “Rocky” movies… “Karate Kid”, believe it or not. And then we watched mentorship movies like “The Color of Money” – anything we could get our hands on where it’s relationships and mentorship. You never know what’s gonna help or hurt, so early on, you kind of watch a lot of stuff.

And I think, though, the real impact that I have is: I just have movies stuck in my head from when I was a kid. I love “Blade Runner” – of course “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars”. But the seriousness of “Blade Runner” – that cool science fiction mixed with some kind of heavy storytelling. “My Neighbor Totoro” is one of my favorite animated films. That’s so delicate, and there’s so much atmosphere. I have to say, those are probably – even though they don’t seem like it – that’s probably the stuff that helps inform my taste.

JM: And you mentioned the mentorship: Doc Hudson is back in “Cars 3”. You used original recordings of the late Paul Newman. Was that an emotional experience – listening to those recordings and trying to figure out which ones to use?

BF: Yeah, it was incredibly haunting. We knew early on that we wanted the relationship McQueen had with Doc to be highlighted. And we wanted scenes with them together, and we were going to have flashbacks. But the first thing we did was… write whatever we want and we even had a “try sound-like”, and it just didn’t work. There’s no replacement for Paul Newman. I think that’s what we learned.

And then, we were so fortunate that when John Lasseter was recording Paul for the first film, he kept the tape rolling and hours and hours of them just trying lines and telling stories – and Paul talking about racing. We had hours and hours of stuff to sit through and we were very fortunate to find exactly what we needed because the first time we dropped Paul Newman in our story reels, in the editing room and just listened to his voice – it was… For all of us, it kind of gave us chills. Everything was right about it.

JM: Wow. And I think Chris Cooper is a great choice for Stanley, a new character to the series. Both Cooper and Stanley really do have some parallels to Newman and Doc Hudson.

BF: Oh, yeah. And they [Cooper and Newman] were good friends. [Cooper] would tell us all kinds of stories. I guess Paul Newman had a way of saying, ‘Eh?’ So, [Cooper] kept saying, “As a node to Paul, can I say ‘Eh?’ Can I put that in there every now and then?’ He really wanted to get that in there. We didn’t actually end up using it because to him and Paul, it made sense but to us we’re not in it. But yeah, I think there was a personal touch there.

JM: My name is Jackson, and I was so excited when I first heard that you were bringing in a new main character named Jackson Storm. Why did you decide on that name?

BF: Well – we liked you and your name so much.

JM: Oh – thank you!

BF: (laughs) We came-up with the name Storm first. And then we just started out trying a long list of other names – what sounds good with Storm; what sounds youthful enough to play that character… but not too youthful. John Lasseter also happens to have a son named Jackson, but that is a complete coincidence, I promise you. It just sounded right.

JM: Cool. I also like the genuine relationship between Lightning McQueen and his new trainer, Cruz Ramirez. I’m so glad it didn’t have to go in a romantic direction. They can just be great friends.

BF: Thank you! Because you know what – when you pitch the movie… before we did anything… when you pitch that idea to people, I’m gonna be honest with you, everybody… the red flag was ‘Well, is it gonna be weird? Is it gonna look like they’re…? Should they have a romance? How’s Sally feel?’ And honestly, I just stood behind the idea of ‘That shouldn’t be a thing, and if you don’t make it a thing, it won’t be a thing. So, I’m very pleased. Anytime somebody actually sees the movie, they never, ever, bring that up.

JM: It impressed me throughout. Now, I wanna ask you about the final scene. There’s a big visual reveal. Was that a big risk for all of you at Pixar to include that in the final scene?

BF: Not for me. I was super excited about that. (laughs) There were even versions of the film where we were doing that much earlier. I live for things like that. I live for risks. I love surprises. I think storytelling is: If I know exactly how a movie’s gonna go, I know how it’s gonna end and I how they’re gonna do it – I’m bored. And there are some movies where you can kinda predict where it might go, but you don’t know how they’re gonna do it, so it’s still interesting. I want surprises. I live for those things.

JM: It definitely was a big surprise, and I was pleased with it. On the DVD pack, there are five deleted scenes. Can you give me a couple of hints as far as some of those elements?

BF: Yeah. Most of them are early versions of scenes that really are still in the film, but we were just not quite there with who characters are. Cruz is in some of those scenes, and she’s just less figured-out, I guess, compared to where we landed. We like to air our dirty laundry a little bit, and people can… see how we make these things, because those deleted scenes just give you a good look at what our reels look like when we’re working on just the story.

We storyboard it, we edit it, we throw some music on it. Sometimes we get the real actors. Sometimes it’s just us doing the voices. That’s kind of our proving ground for the story we’re making. It’s fun to include the stranger things and some of our dirty laundry.

JM: I’m good friends with Larry the Cable Guy. I met up him just before “Cars 2” was being released. He’s so nice, and he has to be a blast to work with.

BF: Yes. Larry is great. When you work with Larry, have some extra time on the schedule and don’t be married to your lines because you’ve gotta give him room! He will come up with something way better than what you wrote, so that’s what’s fun about it.

“Cars 3” comes out on digital HD on 10/24 and arrives Blu-ray/DVD on 11/7.

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy is a movie critic and entertainment columnist. He is the creator of the website Lights-Camera-Jackson.com, and has made numerous appearances on television and radio.
Jackson Murphy
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