The second half of my #MaleficentEvent trip to LA was the Planes #FireAndRescueEvent. On July 18th those crazy, high flying characters are back again – this time there is even more at stake than a trophy.
When world-famous air racer Dusty learns that his engine is damaged and he may never race again, he must shift gears and is launched into the world of aerial firefighting. Dusty joins forces with veteran fire and rescue helicopter Blade Ranger and his team, a bunch of all-terrain vehicles known as The Smokejumpers. Together, the fearless team battles a massive wildfire, and Dusty learns what it takes to become a true hero.
I’ll be reviewing the film soon – keep an eye out for that. But today I wanted to share my experience meeting with Art Hernandez, Head of Story, and Lawrence Gong, Story Artist. They allowed us into their world for a few moments to learn how the animation process works and what goes into the characters we cheer for and cry over.
It was fascinating to learn how much has changed in animation and how much has remained the same. One element that has vanished is the giant sketch boards with layers of paper and worn down pencils. Now Disney animators work with Cintiq drawing monitors and special effects to create scenes that closer to real life than ever.
Animation begins with the “first pass” which is a set of storyboards, an elaborate comic strip rendering of the movie scenes. Basic features are created around the characters, colors are explored to set moods and more. Those storyboards make up sequences. A sequence can be anywhere between 100 to 1000 drawings, depending on what is happening in the scene – if it’s action or just a conversation in a room.
Once the drawings are being completed, around once a week the director comes around to the animation team members to view their sequences, hear pitches on the scenes and give their feedback for edits and changes.
After the director is satisfied with the drawings, they are sent to the editorial department where it is cut together with timing and sound. This first cut version is then sent to John Lasseter, Disney’s Principal Creative Advisor. John then makes the final notes and rewrite requests. They can be few – or they can be many. As Art says, “…be ready to throw your drawings away. At 30,000 to 35,000 drawings per film, it’s a labor of love.”
Luckily, Planes Fire & Rescue had several good things going for it from the start. Many of the animation team were also on board for the first Planes movie, so they knew already what could and couldn’t be done and what to expect. There was also a very strong solidarity between the team members.
“It was a symbiotic relationship. Toby Wilson (Production Designer) and I were attached at the hip. We were two of the first people on the film and one of the first things we did was take a trip to Yosemite and he and I spent 3 days there. It was a lot of fun and it kind of set the pace for how we handled both of our departments. So that art wouldn’t form story and story wouldn’t form art. Because of that, it was a very smooth process.
It’s one of the few films that I think, for me and especially for this studio, where it went so smoothly that we didn’t hit any roadblocks. There are times when you get to the third pass screening and realize that half of your movie isn’t working and you have to start over again. That wasn’t the case with [Planes Fire and Rescue]. Everything you see on screen, was exactly how it was boarded in. It went that smoothly.” – Art Hernandez
Animators Are Actors
Animators are ‘cast’ so that not only do they get along really well, but also so that their work complements each other. They are selected the same way as actors. After all, animators are the actors for animated movies. They determine motion and everything that goes with that – they’re acting it out. Different people are selected for different strengths. Planes wanted people good at action and emotion, mixed with humor.
The animators also had specific challenges to overcome with Planes Fire & Rescue that were different from other traditional films. First, they were dealing with characters who are not human. They are inanimate objects – planes. They would be more difficult to draw with motion and harder to explore with emotion. Second, they wanted to give all of the characters their moment, not just the stars. They wanted the audience to have the opportunity to fall in love with even the secondary characters. This was a challenge because the scenes were typically large groups in a big room and had to be choreographed, like a ballet, in order to give every face it’s time in the spotlight.
We were also given a lesson in drawing one of the key characters, Dipper. I was nervous – I hadn’t picked up a real pencil in years. Art Hernandez instructed us and he made it look so easy. He explained how even the most complex character is really just a set of lines and shapes. I had to laugh a little because my lines and shapes certainly didn’t look like his! But it just proved how much of a talent animation really is. It’s not enough to draw the lines, you have to make the character come to life.
My Dipper wasn’t quite as dapper as Art’s, but it was an amazing experience all the same. I can now say I had a drawing session with a Disney artist. How cool is that? The answer is “very”. My mother always said, “She’ll draw for Disney one day.” And I did…for about nine, awesome minutes.
Planes: Fire & Rescue hits theaters July 18th
You can find more information and interactive fun with Planes online:
PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE ONLINE