Planes: Fire and Rescue: The Importance of Research with Jeff Howard & Paul Gerard

Disney Disclosure
Planes Fire and Rescue Research with Jeff Howard and Paul Gerard

This will be the last post that I will be doing about my Disney Press trip back in September. I have to be honest and say I am sad to be writing it. I had such an amazing time and met some of the amazing people. In this post I will share with you just how much research went into creating Planes: Fire and Rescue. During my trip we got to sit down and chat with writer Jeff Howard and Creative Director Paul Gerard. (Thank you Silvia Mtz for the above pics) We learned so much about the creative process and how they incorporated details of real life from Cal Fire into the film. I have to tell you there are some scenes in the movie that are so realistic that you may forget that it is an animated movie. 

Planes: Fire and Rescue: Do Your Research! & The Importance of Cal Fire

Planes Fire and Rescue Do Your Research with Paul Gerard and Jeff Howard

JEFF : Do your research. It has an exclamation point. And it’s a command, so it’s a — this is a mandatory thing.

PAUL : John Lassiter, our executive producer, believes in this idea, Truth in Materials, which is, uh, uh, you know. We can find not only character, but story, but the grounding of our movie in our research. Because we have a huge conceit going on, which is that airplanes talk and have eyeballs, so everything else around that should be as grounded in reality as possible.

JEFF : Right. So we went out and talked to dozens of aerial firefighters and ground crew and smoke jumpers and air traffic controllers, and, uh, visited several national parks to try to get all of the details of the movie right.

PAUL : And one of our biggest resources was the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which, to their friends, are known as Cal Fire, which is why we are required to still call them the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and everyone who’s ever heard that joke before never, ever goes over. It doesn’t. It just doesn’t work.

JEFF : I think it’s very solid. It’s at least a B plus joke, I think.
JEFF : Yeah, so, one of the things that was interesting to us when we went out and visited Hemet Ryan was that all of our aircraft had a previous life. The S2, which is their main tanker, used to a sub-hunting aircraft. The Huey, goes back to Vietnam. The OB10 Bronco was a reconnaissance airplane. So, this whole theme of second chances started to sort of gel in our heads, that all of the aircraft are really on their second lives. We discovered that, you know, many of the things at the air attack base are scratch built. Like, this, you know, they had this Quonset hut that they’d just built themselves. They had a lot of, you know, repurposed equipment and stuff like that. It’s a lot of hand-me-down things. Even their display cases. They had these display cases where they had their t-shirts and coffee mugs and stuff that were just display cases from a video game store that was giving a — like, it used to be a Nintendo thing. So this whole idea of “Better than new” started to creep into our minds, as well.

Planes Fire and Rescue CalFire Helicopter

PAUL : The other thing that amazed us was how often they go out and fight fires. Guess how many fires Cal Fire fights in one year? About 5,600. And, in fact —

JEFF : Just in California. It’s actually 50,000, nationwide, with all of the different agencies.

PAUL : Yeah. That’s just California, and this year is actually a banner year for fires. They were on track, last time we talked to them, for like, 6,500 this year. And, so — but the public only hears about the big fires, which actually became a line in the movie, when we were talking — first presenting our pitch to the different directors here.

JEFF : So, that became a line, and went straight into the movie. That you know, we almost had Dusty ask the very question that our other director asked when he gets there, and they get an alarm, and Dusty says, “Really, there’s a fire already” and Dipper answers back, “Yeah, you guys only hear about the big ones,” which is literally what they told us. We’re like, that’s a great detail, we gotta put that straight into the story.

Planes Fire and Rescue Vision Boards at DisneyToon Studios

PAUL : At Yellowstone we saw these iconic tour buses that they’d had there since the 1920s that were the inspiration for Old Jammer. Because they actually called them jammers.

JEFF : Didn’t we find out it was the drivers who were the jammers?

PAUL : Yes. It’s the drivers that are called jammers, because they had no synchro-rings. They had their all manual transmissions and they were going up and down the mountains, so you just — they had, to like, grind the gears, and they called them jammers.

Planes Fire and Rescue Paul Gerard Chuck Aaron

JEFF : So, Chuck Aaron was one of our other big consultants for the movie. You know, we wanted Blade to be one of the coolest helicopters in the world, so we went to one of the coolest helicopter pilots in the world, who’s Chuck Aaron, who flies — he’s probably one of the few aerobatic helicopter pilots in the world.

PAUL : He’s the only one the FAA has actually given a license to fly aerobatic helicopter flight —

JEFF : It’s something that a helicopter isn’t really supposed to do, like loops and barrels and stuff like that. His helicopter is a MMBB0105 that he’s customized heavily. He wouldn’t even tell us the modifications he’s made to it, ’cause it’s sort of a trade secret. He actually tears this helicopter down and rebuilds it at the end of every air show season, just to make sure all of the parts are working correctly. And he spent a long time trying to figure out how to actually aerodynamically do a loop in a helicopter because you’re not supposed to be able to do that.And like the Cal Fire guys, he has come here, several times, to watch the movie and give us feedback on how the helicopters move and the dynamics of it and everything, and he and Travis came to the premiere, and have been with us every step of the way in — in developing the movie.

Dipper off loading

JEFF : You saw this morning, the CL415, which is one of the inspirations for Dipper, and there were a couple of other aircraft that went into her design. She’s actually closer to the size of a Grummin Goose, ’cause the CL415 is quite a bit bigger than what she actually is, compared to Dusty. Also, the PBY Catalina, which is a gorgeous aircraft, if you’ve ever seen that.

Planes Fire and Rescue CalFire Smoke Jumpers

JEFF : And we also got to watch the tankers do, uh, their practice drops. Getting the coaching from the ground and the feedback who were telling them, “You know, um, more this way or that way, or one wingspan left, on your next drop,” or that sort of thing. And they let us strap GoPro cameras to the aircraft and the smoke jumpers, some of that footage just went straight into the movie.

PAUL : Yeah. This actually inspired many of the shots that are in the film, for the, uh, that first fire sequence.

DisneyToon Studios

Q : When you’re doing a movie like this, do you have a story before you go out and research or does the story develop from the research?

PAUL : Sort of a little bit of both, yeah.

JEFF : Little bit of both. There’s — it’s more of the latter. Basically, the — the impetus for it was, okay, you know we started it when the first Planes movie was only a year into development and production, so it was still going to be three years before Planes came out, but we thought it was coming together pretty well, and we said, “Let’s do — let’s start working on a follow-up, ’cause we think this is gonna be pretty successful,” and Bobs started looking into the different arenas of aviation. What could we do? We could do this sort of a story, this sort of story, different things, and —

JEFF : And he started looking into aerial firefighting which is something that hasn’t been shown a lot in movies, and when he first started investigating it, the very — you know, this is where the research sort of led us into what the story was gonna be, because he discovered that the first aerial firefighters were crop-dusting aircraft, and that the type of planes that Dusty is modeled after are also used for firefighting. They put pontoons on them. They let them scoop off the water. Exactly what happens to Dusty in the movie. And we said, well, this is a natural extension for what Dusty’s next adventure is gonna be.

As you can see the dedication that went into making Planes: Fire and Rescue accurate was extraordinary. As someone who has relatives and friends who are firefighters I truly appreciate all of their hard work. They have succeeded in creating a movie that everyone will love and cherish for many, many years to come. If you haven’t had a chance you see the movie you need to get the Planes: Fire and Rescue Blu-Ray/DVD with all the fantastic bonus features which is now in stores.

Thank you all so much for following my Disney Trip adventure. I hope you all have enjoyed all the posts I have shared. I look forward to more Disney Trips in the future so stay tuned!

Have you seen Planes: Fire and Rescue? What did you think of it?

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