'Cars' touts a real-life look

Updated 6/14/2006 10:41 PM ET
By Mike Snider, USA TODAY

Cars director John Lasseter brought a love and knowledge of NASCAR to the making of Pixar's new animated film, which is No. 1 at the box office this week.

He has seen races across the country, from Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., to Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte. And several times, he has taken spins around the tracks.
"I love every aspect of this sport," Lasseter says. "That's really where this thing came from."

Many racing-related films in the past weren't authentic enough, he says. "They didn't do their homework. I wanted to make sure the racing scenes were authentic and that they had the energy that you feel at a race live. I was dedicated to that."

For instance, in a real race, as cars speed around the track, they literally burn rubber. "Their tires get hot, and they spin off little bits of rubber they call 'marbles,' " Lasseter says. "These things collect along the track. You will see that (in the movie)."

Some of the story elements in Cars play on NASCAR's past. Doc Hudson (who is voiced by Paul Newman) is a 1951 Hudson Hornet; Hornets were formidable race cars in the early '50s. The character "The King" is a 1970 Plymouth Superbird that is based on retired racing legend Richard Petty, who voices the character. "The King" has problems in his final race, as Petty did in 1992. (He finished just 95 of 328 laps.)

Lasseter, Petty says, "is using history with me and the Hudson Hornet and a bunch of other things scattered in. What he didn't know, he went and found out."

Pit stops
In the world of Cars, every being is a motorized vehicle. So the pit stops are performed by forklifts. "If a NASCAR fan will look, the choreography of the pit stops is exactly the way the real pit stops happen," Lasseter says.
On the right track to Tennessee
Longtime racing fans will recognize that the inspiration for the race track in the film's opening scene is the Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee. "Every year in August they have a night race," Lasseter says. "It is one of the most exciting races in NASCAR." But the film's Motor Speedway of the South is a 1-mile track, compared with Bristol's half-mile.
"I needed the straightaways to be a little longer for some of the scenes," he says. "And I also wanted to get the fans in the infield."
Nighttime sheen
Director John Lasseter is especially proud of the look of the cars at night and the reflections on their bodies. "The way the highlights move on the cars, I call it a string of pearls," he says. "It's this really neat look, and it adds about 10 or 20 miles per hour to the visual speed of the cars because of the movement of the highlights. We tried to copy it as best we can."
Posted 6/14/2006 9:15 PM ET
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