I wanted to thank all of you for following along with me on my #PlanesFireandRescueEvent. While we were at Disney Toon Studios, I got the chance to interview the directors of Planes Fire and Rescue, Director Bobs Gannaway and Producer Ferrell Barron.
Before we could even start the interview Director Ferrell Barron Said:
So I want to say one thing before we start. We turned off before the Credits were rolling because we’re still finishing this. Cad Spinner does come up in the Credits but you’ll have to pay to see that. [LAUGHTER] We did this because we had an Audience Test Screening, which also was missing in the Credits and some of the comments were Hey, what happened? Cad didn’t get a come uppence. So he has a little come uppence after the Credit Roll, just so you know. Did the Movie wake you up? I know it was a long day. You awake now?
We all laughed!
How much time did you spend at National Parks Institute?
Ferrell Barron: Yes we did, at Yellowstone and Yosemite. You can see there are a lot of Monuments in there that are kind of taken from both. The waterfalls I think are from Yosemite. Our Art Director spent a lot of time there obviously, taking a lot of pictures. We met with a lot of Park Rangers who toured us around including Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone which, our Lodge is based on. We got to take a quick trip and didn’t have enough time. It was one of those Vacation trips where everyone’s cramped in a car. Griswolds like. Speeding to one location, jump out take pictures, speed to another. It was all packed in but that was a joy really getting into a whole life of agony. And you see places in the park that, you know, a lot of people don’t get to see which was really a lot of fun.
Bobs Gannaway : There’s research, you know, research informs everything right down to a gag, as well as big feature moments. I mean, little things like the Lodges. There’s Rocking Chairs in front of the Fire places. We even had the head of National Parks watch the Movie and after, I explained to him that Cad isn’t a bad guy, just has misguided good intentions. He wants to protect the Lodge, just at the expense of maybe innocent people. But,you know, the Old Jammer, I’m sure you’re familiar with it, is the Tour buses that are used, still used today in Glacier National Park in Yellowstone. They’re called Jammers because they would jam the gears and they’re -not Standard anymore. But still they’re called Jammers
So Jammers name is based on a historical vehicle and so someone might pick up on that. If they don’t, it’s all right. Boat Reynolds appears there, any idea where that guy came from? Anybody? That came from research. We were driving through Yellowstone and there was a sign that said Boat Rentals. And I went, Oh Look, Boat Rental, Boat Reynolds. So you know, just the littlest tiny thing will inform, you know, big choices.
And even something no one will even get which is the Railway. The Railway Station that’s hooked to the Grand Fuselage which is the best pun in the Movie. The Railway Station is actually based on a Railway Station that no longer exists that was the North Side, North end of Yellowstone, that was designed by the same Architect as the Old Faithful Inn.
So I thought that would be a cool little homage to him, just sort of put his Railway Station in, so you know, little things like that, that nobody will ever pick up on. Talking about research, the Mine sequence, where Blade sort of shields the fire for Dusty is based on a true story. It’s based on the the Polaski story and a Fire Fighter who came in. One of our Fire Fighters that came and watched the Movie, recognized that story and that Mine sequence, which is based on a Gentleman named Polaski who saved a Group of Firefighters by taking them into a Mine in 1910 I think.
It always works its way in where you’re sort of the Curator of all of these wonderful things that you get to kind of, you know, put together and it’s so much fun.
Q : Who was the Chips Fan?
Bobs Gannaway : Well you know, it was the easiest thing. I just had to change one vowel and it worked perfectly. It was like I knew from the very first pitch of that Blade. I wanted to tell a story that was different from Planes, I wanted a mentor Character who was fully realized, not broken. Skipper in the first film, Dusty helps heal him. I wanted someone who fully realized, had come to terms with the change in their life, like what happened, and then could distill that wisdom onto Dusty at a time when he needed to talk him off the ledge.
I just used the idea, like he used to play one on TV and now he does it for real. I just thought that was such a fun thing and then I don’t know how we thought of Chips and Chops. But it’s just like, we just went to Chops and it was perfectly the same. Then we got Eric Estrada to come in and play, Nick Lopez and he was like, AWESOME and that was fun. Then we were very careful not to make fun of Chips, but to try to recreate the show as truly as possible, even our composer noted that the music for Chips was never scary. Even when there’s a, you know, wrecks on the freeway and stuff we tried our best.
Q : And then you brought in Firemen. Did you have to go and get any other Fireman. I heard you brought in a Jumper or something.
Ferrell Barron : Yes we brought in Smoke Jumpers. They’re in the US Forces Service. Obviously, Cal Fire and LA County Fire.
Bobs Gannaway : We brought in an Oil Analysis which is really interesting. Like when Dusty has his mishap, his kind of heart attack. It was fun to realize that when that really happens. It can actually happen when gears starts shredding in an Airplane, they release metals into the Oil and that’s how they analyze it and they analyze the oil and find out what kind of metal is in the oil, which will determine what part of the Engine is faulting. What was interesting is, that’s very much like a blood test basically, because they’re taking it and they’re looking under a Microscope and so it really lended itself to having a Medical problem for these Air Craft Characters. We joked because it’s like the highlight of this Guy’s career. He got to come in and talk about Oil analysis with us for hours.
Ferrell Barron : So it goes back again to the research, bringing in as many Consultants as we can to help every aspect of the Movie that related to the Story, to bringing truth to it all.
Bobs Gannaway: The Flight is of course, as with Planes, all accurate. We had the same team, the same Consultant Jason McKinley who made sure the flight was accurate. We have Helicopters in our Movie and we brought in Chuck Aaron. Chuck Aaron is the top Helicopter Pilot in the world, just You Tube Chuck Aaron and you’ll see the amazing things he does. He flies the Red Bull Helicopter.
The only, one of two Pilots in the World who does an inside loop in a Helicopter, he actually goes upside down in a Helicopter. He trained the other guy and Helicopters aren’t supposed to go upside down but he does it, so it’s pretty amazing. He actually took us out and did an inside loop in the Helicopter with us so you get the feeling of what it was like to do that. The Fire Fighters made an Air Attacker. The Air Tankers are separate from the Smoke Jumpers. It’s a separate Unit. So we met both of them. We even went to Smoke Jumper training.
Ferrell Barron : There’s a Research presentation you guys will be at.
Bobs Gannaway : You’ll see some of the Research stuff.
Ferrell Barron : You’ll see a lot of Videos and Photographs from that.
Bobs Gannaway : The Fire Fighters are everything you think they are. They were amazing, giving, caring, courageous people, so charming, and so giving with their time and wanting to help. It was really a wonderful experience and they’ve become friends of ours now.
Ferrell Barron : Because of that, we really took this Movie to heart. We really put it on our shoulders and we wanted to tell a story that really paid a Tribute and gave homage to Fire Fighters. Again, we saw the Tribute at the beginning of the Movie to Fire fighters around the world. You can count on one hand really, how many Fire Fighter Movies there are. Certainly none in Animation. So they were all so honored to be talking with us and being a part of the film, helping tell their story. That was the biggest goal you know, not only for you, kids and parents, but we wanted to make the story for them. That’s been the biggest part of this whole project, is just making sure that we’re being truthful and making them proud to watch the Movie.
Q : Are National Parks or places reaching out to you to help with like PSAs to speak to children about Fire Safety? The Fire is really terrifying and scary, very realistic. I imagine that will be captivating for Children and this is a tool that you can educate.
Ferrell Barron : Totally it’s already in the can. We’ve actually done that very thing and tied in with Smokey the Bear. We have some PSAs working with him right now on that which was fantastic.
Bobs Gannaway : They were really helpful and generous right down to letting us use the Arrowhead on the Park, which is their emblem. Clay did such a great job with Planes and sort of opening up the Aviation World to Youth. We had both Helicopters and a National Parks help in making them sort of relevant to kids. And of course, Fire Safety, there’s a small, and you can hardly hear it but the first 5 they go and put out, what was a result of an unintended Camp Fire.
That was something that the National Parks asked if we would put in there. We were more than happy to. And our Fire starts with Lightning because I didn’t want it to become a Crime Film. Although most, mini-Fires, you know, are caused by Humans, mostly unattended Camp Fires. So we have things we’re working with the Parks on in regards to like, tell you how to put a Camp Fire out properly and things like that so it’s great.
Q : What kind of research did you do to get the fire to look so realistic? Did you just watch Videos of a Fire? Did you actually see a fire?
Ferrell Barron : Years and years and years. Well we will never confess to that. We didn’t jump into a fire but there’s a lot of footage. Cal Fire provided us with a lot of great footage. Probably the biggest undertaking we’ve ever tried here at Disney Studios was this FX Movie. 53% of our movie I had visual effects and the joy of that is Fire, Smoke, and Water. So when Bobs first pitched this to John Lasseter and he saw that first image, they knew we had to call R&D (Research and Development) right away on the fire.
Because it’s essentially a Character. So you want to be sure you’re developing this Character that it looks real. He was very specific. He wanted it to look real and not fake. So that was our first thing. And in the effects world, fire is a fluid simulation. It’s one of the most difficult things you can do. It takes a lot of time to get it right and then it can also bog things down because it’s so heavy. I mean, you’re dealing with zeros and ones, it’s all Computer generated. And it’s very heavy. So we had to first build a fire that looked real, but it had to be a fire that was also sustainable through the course of Production and wouldn’t lock us down. So that was two tasks. It had to look right and be sure that we could actually produce it for, you know, over 600 shots.
Bobs Gannaway : The shots become very dense. There’s about 2 and a half million trees populating the Park I think. You know, and your shots get really dense and you light them all on fire, and it becomes a very complicated thing to produce and render and all of the things that you have to do to get it on the screen.
Ferrell Barron : It’s a lot of efficiencies we had to come up with behind the scenes, the technology side of things just to be able to produce the Film.
Bobs Gannaway : But we looked at mostly real Fire footage and some elements that go in the Movie loosely based on the 1988 Yellowstone Fires. Old Faithful Inn had been restored I think ten years prior to that fire. It had just gotten Sprinkler Systems put in. We climbed the roof of the Old Faithful Inn and took pictures of the Sprinkler System so it looks like the Sprinkler System. But from a Fire standpoint, it became, you know, trying to make it like real fire and that’s challenging, it’s so challenging.
Ferrell Barron : The good thing, I think tomorrow, John Patton my FX lead and my CG Super will give a presentation on the Effects and you’re gonna get to see the very first Fire tests we did and kind of the whole lineage coming up to where you see, you’ll want to hear. It’s really interesting so that’ll be fun for you.
Bobs Gannaway : We had a Library Fire System so we can place fires and run them through a cycle for distant fires, for closer fires, you customize it because it’s gonna be close up. It might be interacting with the ground. It has a certain thing we want the embers to do, so you sort of work on, you know, levels like that, and weight fires away in the background are probably operating as a piece of Library, animation that’s randomized throughout. And foreground fires are all customized and things like that. It’s ridiculously complicated.
Q : It looks very accurate and believable so…
Bobs Gannaway : That’s the trick. I mean, that and scale, how fast the flames move. It’s amazing when you look at actually trees burning, how large the flames are. You know scale is a tricky thing because sometimes when you make it look exactly right, it doesn’t look right. Maybe your memory of what you think it should look like vs. what it really look like. So it’s all those sort of things and not losing scale cause the flames are too large.
Ferrell Barron: And that brings in our Cal Fire guys and our Smoke Jumper. What was even more interesting is the Smoke Jumper we had coming on our fire with us. We also brought him in at the end and he commented on the Sound Effects. We wanted to be sure it sounded right and there’s very few people that are actually in a fire, in the middle of a Forest Fire. So our sound designers actually give Josh our Smoke Jumper a lot of sound cues that he was building, they got sound effects and got comments and adjectives from Josh to help him just dial it just right until he was like, you got it. That sounds just perfect so that’s, again the amount of detail we go to be sure that we’re being as accurate and truthful as we can.
Bobs Gannaway : The same as the Retardant drops and the Water drops. We actually went out to Training Days. We stood out in fields. We had Water dropped on us and we got a nice email one day from our consultant at Cal Fire who had seen the Trailer online and just email and say, you guys got it exactly right. That’s tricky stuff. I mean, the momentum of the way you do a Water drop is, you know, you have to drop at the right height and you hurry or it’ll dissipate or it won’t spread properly. The water has to go and drop straight down or you’ll get shadowing. If the water pushes that way and you have a tree, it’ll shadow so that part of the ground won’t get covered. So they have to do it just right so it settles and falls. There’s a certain height that you have to drop it at, above the tree canopy. When our consultant from Cal Fire saw it, he was like Oh, I didn’t realize that the trees were gonna be that high. That would be a coverage level six, not a coverage level four. So we went in and changed it. So you know, it’s like, once he saw the fire. we actually know how the fire worked. We have it mapped out. We understand where this fire started, how they sort of pinch off the closing of the Exit of the Park and all that kind of stuff. We had to understand what it was doing.
You don’t see a lot of that but it just all has to do with screen direction and where the characters are going and all that kind of stuff. It’s great. John Lasseter talks about the things you need and you have to create it like a book. I’m sure you guys have heard this but you have to create a believable world and so that’s one of the first things you have to do. So this has to be a real National Park and this has to be a real fire and they have to be reacting the way you would react and all those things.
Q : Are there plans for a 3-D version?
Ferrell Barron : Oh yeah, this was 3-D. You didn’t see it today but we have both. 2-D and 3-D. When it’s released theatrically, you’ll have both options.
Q : Some of us were saying we want to see this in 3-D.
Ferrell Barron : Well we actually even, yesterday, we went and had a Demo of 4-D. Have you ever tried 4-D which is, where the Theatre Seats actually move and wind is blown in your face.
Q : Next year?
Bobs Gannaway : I’m bringing down the aisle a Hair Dryer. [LAUGHTER]
Ferrell Barron: So that’s a new thing that’s coming up so it’s pretty fun. It’s for the kids. Come on, more questions.
Q : There was a lot more Adult Humor in this Movie. I really enjoyed it.
Bobs Gannaway : Crazy you caught that. You know, when you do these we have Multiple Screens. We put the first reels up and I wondered if people would be able to get that because it requires a little bit of Math. Like, Oh this is a popular Show and Blade had this hoist that he uses often and so it’s so popular they decided to create a little game out of it where every time you use the hoist to take a drink of Oil. So I’m glad you got that because it requires a little bit of quick math in your brain. What that does is it makes it real. It’s like Oh there’s a History to this Show.
It’s implied by this one little act and you get the sense that this is actually a thing that has existed for a long time and that’s the fun. It’s so much fun crafting these worlds and kind of doing this sort of Planesificationof it and what would that be? And how would they do that? It’s so much fun so I’m glad you picked up on that. And the humor. You know, we want to make it entertaining for everyone and again, you make the movie for yourself and I let the Characters say what the Characters would say. We’ve hopefully created real characters that have personalities that are true and to be honest, and it sounds a little pretentious, but there is a point where your characters start to kind of speak and say what they would say. Chris Armstrong who plays Marew, has worked on many projects I’ve worked on in the past.
We wrote the part for him because I knew he could play a lovable cranky guy because I always ask him like, how can you yell at your kids because you just make me laugh every time you start yelling. He’s like, I know, it’s frustrating! But I know that he’s gonna have to say, he’s gonna throw some things, some little lines here and there. Wes Studi who plays Windlifter, we always want him to be this sort of, you know, man of few words, the sort of Gentle Giant. So when he speaks, you hear it and he might throw his anger out there and just likes to sit. He’s not gonna sort of work it.
Ferrell Barron : That’s why Casting becomes so important. You know, we can have a great script and beautifully shot scenes but it’s the characters that are driving the story. So we always want to cast your characters with actors that you feel are really going to embody the essence of those characters and that’s what made it so easy.
We wanted Windlifter, you know, May Day, you know, Hal Holbrook, you know, maybe he’s kind of the heart of the story. You know,we wanted somebody that’s really gonna rip at your heart and pull you in.
Bobs Gannaway : He’s such a Sweetheart when he comes.
Ferrell Barron : Somebody that can launch Dusty from a career into a whole career and just having Hal and again, he’s like everyone’s Grandfather, so endearing, just having his voice quality and someone that can really relate to somebody of age of like that.
Bobs Gannaway : He has to be believable.
Ferrell Barron : Chipped off.
Bobs Gannaway : And authentic, it can’t be someone putting on a voice. They have to embody the Character and when the Casting is like Winnie and Harvey, who are, you know, Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller, who are a comedy couple, who have been married for 50 plus years. They were my first choice because I have a married couple who have been married for 50 years, I want that chemistry that comes from a married couple who have been married for 50 years. So I’ll get a married couple who’s been, you know, who have been married for 50 years. And they’re already a Comedy team. You just have to try the microphone on and walk away. OK, we’re back in 4 hours. You read the lines and then we’ll sift through it. You have to fall in love with them immediately because in that little moment, where you see them, you’re being set up to have to care later when those are the Strangers that Dusty is saving.