While out in California last month on a Disney Press trip I had the absolute pleasure of visiting DisneyToon Studios to learn more about the making of Planes: Fire and Rescue. One of the things that blew me away was how the lobby was completely transformed into Piston Peak National Park from the movie including some of the characters. It was just WOW. I will share a few of my pictures of DisneyToon Studios next week. During my visit we sat down and interviewed Planes: Fire and Rescue Director Bob Gannaway aned Producer Ferrell Barron. They shared some amazing behind the scenes details about how the story and characters were created.
Interview with Planes: Fire and Rescue Director Bob Gannaway & Gerrell Barron
Q : Do you see Planes: F&R as the new Smokey the Bear?
Ferrell Barron : We say Scorchy is the new Smokey the Bear.
Bob Gannaway : We did work with the campaign with the park service.
Ferrell Barron : We did do some PSA’s with the park service about that. I think for us it was mainly wanting to pay tribute to, you know, as we said, it’s the firefighters around the world. We’re focusing on wildfire air attack, but it’s really about — for all firefighters, and all of the research you saw — I’m sure you saw Cal Fire, who we worked with. I mean, it was really important for us, after we’d met them, you know, they became more than just consultants. They really became our friend — I mean, I still stay in touch with Travis Alexander, who you probably saw in the pictures. Big Travis. Julie Hutchinson. And we still each other and see how we’re doing. I mean, they really became our friends. And so it was important for us to do right by them, because of all that research, bringing that truth and accuracy to our filmmaking, so that all firefighters really are honored. In the movie, we have the wall of fame. You know, and a couple of the aircraft on there were actual Cal Fire airplanes that went down. You know, and we — we put them with the numbers, and it’s the actual aircraft, and we put that in there. And they were really taken aback, and, you know, it’s such an honor that we — you know, honored those — those brave men and woman that actually lost their lives, but that’s in the movie. But, you know, the public’s not gonna know that, but they saw it.
Bob Gannaway: I didn’t want it to be a whodunit situation where we’re trying to track down an arsonist and all of that kind of stuff. So, and the majority of the fires are caused by lightning. And we always talk about, like, there are over 50,000 wild fires a year in the US, it’s crazy, and these firefighters are out there, putting them out all of the time. But some of them are caused by humans, and so — if you listen carefully, on the dialogue, on the very first, right before the — I believe it’s right before the thunderstruck sequence. You hear that the caused by an unattended campfire. And that’s something we put in for the forest service, because we wanted to — push their message a little bit.
Q : I’ve heard you guys talk about keeping the scenes versus letting them stay. Do you ever worry about letting something go?
Bob Gannaway : Well. You see, that’s what’s so great — and hard — about the animation process. It’s very different than a live-action where you’ve written a script and you go out and you shoot, and you have lots of coverage, and then it’s made kind of in editorial, and then maybe you do re-shoots and things like that, in live action. And you also, in a live action movie, it gets turned around fairly quickly, by that I mean, a year and a half. These take five plus years to make. And we go — so, what we do is, we write a script, and then we — you know. We do boards and do temp dialogue and do temp music, and then put it together in the editorial. Then we watch it with all of our other directors, and then even the whole studio. We get everybody to watch it, and we all get notes, and then we tear down and rebuild it, and tear down and rebuild it, it’s a constant. So the movie you’re seeing is like, the eighth or ninth version of the film. Stuff like that happens, and it takes a long time. That’s why you rely upon the other directors and the people around here to sort of look at you and give you notes, and you look for consensus in those notes. Because when you’re making the movie you’re so into the film, that you might need someone else to go, “Uh, just a question. That doesn’t work at all.”
Q : How do you select the voice actors ? Do you have specific people you’re like, “Oh, this person would be perfect for this character,” or do you audition and decide that way?
Bob Gannaway : Well, um, we cast characters that we feel embody the spirit of the character. And so we’ll — we won’t say “oh, here’s an actor, and we want to work with them, let’s create a character for them.” We don’t do that. We’ve created the character, and then we go out and find an actor or actress who we feel like embodies the spirit of that character already.
Harvey and Winnie, which are Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, you know they are the perfect example. So, you have two Winnebagos who are on their 50th wedding anniversary, coming back to Piston Peak to celebrate that. You want to have instant chemistry between them. From a casting standpoint, we got Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara who are a comedy couple who’ve been married for 50 years, you know, and you didn’t have to do anything. They come preloaded with the chemistry that you’d want to create, so they already embodied the spirit of those characters, and so it was a natural for them to fit into it.
Dale Dye is a veteran, so he’s playing the major ex-military aircraft. Wes Studi is obviously American Indian, and so he’s playing our, American Indian helicopter. We got Ed Harris as a tough guy. So, it’s like Julie Bowen – we wanted to have Dusty’s biggest fan. Someone who’s just on the verge of being a little crazy, um, hopeful is a better word, and so Julie was fantastic for that. Curtis Armstrong, I’d worked with many times, and I know how great of an actor he is. And I need somebody who could yell at you, but you don’t take them that seriously. And so Curtis is sort of, you know, when he shouts, the more he shouts, the funnier he gets. So you kind of go in and you figure, who already has the spirit of the character?
Q : Can you think of a remarkable ad lib you can remember?
Ferrell Barron : Oh, gosh. I know there was a ton.
Bob Gannaway : “Yeah, they’re real,” was an ad lib. That was Julie Bowen.
Ferrell Barron : Julie Bowen, when her pontoons go down. “Yeah, they’re real.” And that’s Julie Bowen. She’s such a great comedic actress. And she’s great at improv, and, so you know, she was perfect for that role, ’cause she, again, she brought so much more to the table, that — it’s one of the funniest lines in the movie, right? So, thank goodness we had her.
Q : When do the voiceover actors get brought into the process? You said it takes five years, but when do they come in?
Bob Gannaway : Well, like, the first year we’ll spend doing a lot of research. And then we’ll start looking into what the needs of the film might be. For example, we knew we were going to make a movie with fire in it, so we — we started working on not only our research, but on our fire R&D, and we spent two and a half years to develop the fire system for the movie. And, then, usually, what you’d do, is, you’d kind of want to kind of feel pretty good about how the — how the story’s working before you bring them into — bring the actors in too early. Because you don’t want to constantly be kind of — you know, tearing it down and rebuilding it too much, with — you want them to kind to come in an take it to the next level. So you’re trying to take it to the first level. And, um, so, often with our first screening, it’ll just be all of us doing the voices. Because you just want to see if the movie works. Does the story even work? Before — because, sometimes, you will tear down 80 percent of the movie, 90 percent of the movie, and just keep — “Oh, well, that character was working, and that one story point was working, but nothing else works. So let’s — let’s — let’s switch and change it all.” So then, usually around the second — second or third screening, you’ll bring the actors in, and they’ll come in five to eight times over the process.
Q : Was Windlifter always supposed to be Native American?
Ferrell Barron : That was another part of the research was in that, discovering that American Indians actually have a long history of wild fire air attack. Mostly hotshots and smoke jumpers, which are the ground crews. Smoke jumpers smoke-jump in and parachute in. Hotshots drive in, and then hike up to the fire. Both of them are fighting the fires on the ground, but American Indians make up the vast majority of both hotshots and smoke jumpers for hundreds of years. So we thought it was — you know. We wanted to pay tribute to them as well, and have an American Indian as a character.
Bob Gannaway : Actually, at the very, very beginning, it wasn’t. At the very, very, very, very beginning.
Ferrell Barron : Oh, that’s right.
Bob Gannaway : Um, because we hadn’t done all of our research yet. And we were just kind of — because what you do is, you sort of — you know. You do research, and then you come back and play with the story ideas, and those story ideas will then help you develop what questions you want to go and ask the researchers. So it’s very iterative, when you’re going back and forth. And we knew we — that’s a heavy-lift helicopter. It’s designed — it can do — does two main things. It, you know, it can fight fires, obviously, and they also heavy lift. Um, like, they put air conditioning units on top of skyscrapers and things like that. So, uh, originally we were thinking, okay, it’s a heavy lift. Well, perhaps it could be Russian, because Russia is very famous for their weight lifters. So that was our first sort of area. But, again, looking at the helicopter inspired what — and even — and we based that helicopter loosely on some designs that had sort of Russian origins. So we thought, okay, that would be one area to start, and we sort of explored that idea. And, then, when we had more information, we wanted a character that was more connected to nature. And then we found out about the smoke jumpers and the fire fighting, and very, very early on changed it to Windlifter. And then we brought in an American Indian consultant. Because his original name was…..
Ferrell Barron: Strong Wind (Laughing Hysterically)
Bob Gannaway : And we thought that sounded a little, um…gassy? So, uh, we actually asked the consultant. We weren’t going to use that name as a placeholder, but we asked the — but we didn’t know what to do, and so we asked our consultant, you know, what — to help us come up with the name. And, one of the first things he says, is, “Well, in American Indian culture, you put the adjective afterward,” so that’s why it’s like “Skywalker,” you put the sort of descriptive after. So he actually had come up with the name Windlifter.
As you can tell from my interview with them A LOT of thought was put into the making of Planes: Fire and Rescue. As someone who LOVES to research and learn more about the back story of people and movies I truly appreciate all of their hardwork and dedication in creating a true to life animated movie.
If you haven’t had a chance to see Planes: Fire and Rescue I highly recommend you get it when it come to DVD on November 4th. It is truly a movie the whole family will enjoy!
Have you seen Planes: Fire and Rescue yet? If so what did you think of the actor choices for the characters?