With a cast made entirely of cars, the world of Cars required a lot of road. Fast-track motor speedways would provide some of the pavement, but the story needed a sleepier locale. The filmmakers found it on Route 66, the fabled highway where American car culture took off in the 1950s. When the highway was replaced by the federal interstate system, hundreds of towns virtually fell off the map.
Memorable research trips along Route 66 led the Pixar team to create the town of Radiator Springs in a high desert setting somewhere between Gallup, New Mexico, and Kingman, Arizona, where towns of broken neon, peeling paint, and colorful denizens still exist. “We connected with the people and their towns and we really got it,” Co-Director and Story Supervisor Joe Ranft observed. “We found out that life out on that old highway is never predictable, and that is what makes the journey so much more memorable. We found the heartbeat of the Mother Road.”
It took three days to prepare the first drawings that would define the Cars landscape. Working from an early inspiration board of automobile and desert references, Production Designer Bill Cone came up with an idea; he spent the day, and that night, thinking of how it could work. Then he rendered several sketches to illustrate his concept that cars, like humans, would shape the world around them as monuments that echoed their likeness. That happened back in 2000, and twelve years later, the landscape became real for generations to visit at Disney’s
The filmmakers knew no one would watch Cars with a keener eye than professional racing fans. Stock car legend Richard Petty was brought in to provide authenticity, then stayed around to provide voiceover for the 1970 Plymouth Superbird that shared his nickname “The King.” Pixar teams also took extended field trips to some of America’s biggest speedways, looking to capture the sensory overload of rumbling engines, blinding floodlights, and the smell of exhaust, burning rubber, and tailgate barbecue.
Graphics are not just creations made with words, names, numbers, letters, colors, and typeface—they are opportunities to include hidden stories. The world of Cars called for an unprecedented number of original graphics, split into three major categories: hometown, broadcast news, and stock car racing.
According to John Lasseter, more research went into Cars than any other project at Pixar to date. Field trips ranged from leisurely journeys across Route 66 to the fast lane of the Charlotte Motor Speedway, where a couple of infield fans named Larry and Mater would charm their way into the film. A Pixar team also traveled to the automotive mecca of Detroit to see how cars are designed and assembled from the ground up. Pixar artists used thousands of still photos and hours of car footage to give Cars the level of detail it would need on the big screen.
A colorscript is a sequence of small pastel drawings or paintings used to emphasize color in each scene and establish a film's visual language.
A car lost on a lonely road. A racer outcast within a packed stadium. Many key emotional scenes of Cars took place at night. Creating the paintings to define the lighting provided an interesting challenge. “Light is fictional at night,” explained Production Designer Bill Cone. Light sources that could illuminate the scene had to be invented and manipulated just enough to allow the audience to see what was important, and yet still produce colors that stayed true to a