Every Pixar movie has lessons that we can all learn from, and stories that tug at our hear strings. It’s been dubbed the “Pixar affect” and the movies all take us on emotional roller coasters that we can relate to. Cars 3 has one of the strongest messages of individualism and motivation that we’ve seen come to life, and in that message the details about the real life racers and the love of the sport are peppered throughout.
We were able to sit down with Jay Ward, Creative Director on Cars 3, and Ray Evernham former racer and pit crew chief and voice of Ray Reverham to talk about their parts in bringing Cars 3 to the screen. From their shared passion for cars, the self proclaimed “weird kid” and the reason they both love the movie – both Ward and Evernham shared their love for the movie and the world of Cars with us.
Can you tell us about how Cars 3 got started?
JAY : We knew after Cars 2 we wanted to tell another story and we also knew we wanted to get back to sort of more the roots of Cars 1 – a McQueen back story. We also knew what people love about Pixar films is they love that emotional journey of a character and the transformation of a character.
And so that was the impetus. That was the beginning and then we thought, “Okay if we’re telling the story about McQueen he’s already a hero, he’s already great at what he does. What do we tell?” And we started with a comeback story. Kind of more like a Rocky 3 kind of. He gets knocked down by the young guy and does he get back up?
That would have been great movie, easy story to tell, but what we found along the way, what was more exciting was telling a story about mentorship, and telling a story about paying it forward. And telling a story about telling somebody who had limited themselves in life, that, “No you are good enough. You can do this.” So that was how it started.
How much pressure were you under to make sure this movie was up to the standards of the prequels?
And we can’t get away with that you know. For good or for bad, people hold us to a really high standard. So there’s a lot of pressure on movies – it has to have a great story first.
Any film can look beautiful, but not any film can tell a great story. You have to feel sense of wanting to connect with that character. Luckily we had people who had this love of Cars and this connection with Cars it did add a lot of pressure. Of telling a story that was special and that’s why our films take so long. I mean yes, technically they’re challenging, but it really is about getting that story right. No way around it.
Was it harder with that emotional roller coaster that Pixar always puts you on to maintain that Pixar level, but also get everything right for Cars and NASCAR and everything?
JAY : Yeah and that is the challenge of any of our films. John Lasseter’s big word is authenticity. Whatever world it is it’s gotta’ be authentic. You know for Nemo people had to go Scuba Diving. They had to go under water.They had to see what it looks like to look up from the water up, it’s different right? For Wall-E they studied so much stuff about space and all– I mean just every film you go to exhaustive research. And for this film because Cars is a known world. People know it.
We all drive Cars and we’re familiar with them. We can’t get away with just making stuff up. But more than that John’s a gear head. So that’s where I come in.
John’s like, “I want all the details right.” And my job is to get all those things right. That the Car guys go, “Hey they got that right. That sounds correct, that’s looking right.” And yet the person who doesn’t know anything about Cars is like, “I love this movie. That character was so cute.” It’s gotta’ work for both.
Were any of those details that you got to a point where you couldn’t deal with it, you couldn’t handle it? You wanted to do what you just couldn’t do?
JAY: The number one thing you’re sacrificing for is if it doesn’t move the story forward or if it takes away from the story you don’t do it. So even if something’s authentic and it’s right, if it doesn’t keep you engaged in the story or disengages you from the story you can’t do it you know.
And that can be a character design. They’re like, “Oh I love this Car, it’s a cool Car.” But when you try and make it into a character and it doesn’t look good and just can’t do it.
You cannot sacrifice your story. That comes first and everything else is there to support the story. The authenticity is to support the story. The character design is to support the story.
Did you have input? Like Was there anything that you wanted to see that you kind of said, “Can you make this happen for my character, work within the movie?”
RAY : I didn’t have that kind of input. What um we did was just sit and, and talk a lot. We talk a lot and the Pixar team asked a lot of questions. I told a lot of actual stories of how things worked and it was amazing to see them take that and be able to adapt it into the, the characters.
But I didn’t say, “Hey!” You know well they would send me something and say, “But what do you think about this?” You know especially with Jackson Storm. After being in NASCAR and racing so long I saw the tendencies of Cars were going right.
They’re getting lower, they’re getting wider, they’re getting sharper. And, and the air dynamics are coming from the bottom and the tires are gettin’ wider, and profile’s changing. We just talked about all those things and, and they made notes, after notes, after notes and, and just kept bringing it to life.
JAY : “Oh he did.” I mean honestly you know, we knew Jackson Storm was supposed to look like the future of NASCAR. The idea was to make Lightning McQueen look old, which is hard to do ‘cause he looks good. He looks cool, but he had to feel like yesterday’s news all of a sudden. Right?
Like when Jackson Storm shows up it’s like, “Whoa he’s totally- this guy’s from the future.” Right? And that’s kind of what we’re thinking about with, with Jeff Gordon as a Racer who Ray was the Crew Chief for was one a day a young kid shows up that’s just better than you, you know. What is that like?
Part of that was in the design. So when we show designs for Ray we said, “Ray what would a NASCAR look like 20 years from now if you can make it up?” And he’s like, “You guys are onto su’um good.” So he did help.
You said one of the things was to keep it real for race fans. Have you noticed any correlation with the movies and in the increase in NASCAR fans? Like it’s the movies that helped create new race car or NASCAR fans?
RAY : I haven’t seen any of those numbers. Probably someone from NASCAR may be able to track that at some, some of the specific races that the CARs events have been around. One thing I have seen is a lot of young people either involved in the promotion of this or asking us questions about it.
Or more young people researching whether that’s my history or someone else’s history and NASCAR. So to me that, that, that says even though I can’t say yes on ticket sales I can say definitely on generating the interest and going back to the legends of our sport being portrayed in this movie.
I think that’s generated interest and it’s having younger people do some research to find out more about those characters, which in turn teaches them more about NASCAR.
JAY : Yeah. After the first Cars I did a talk to the Petersen Auto Museum in L.A. and this guy came up and he goes, “I just wanna’ thank you for Doc Hudson.” I was like, “Yeah I like him too.”
And he said, “No, no, no I’ve got a Hudson. And my Grandkids never cared about that car and now they’re asking every week if they can take a ride in it.”
Where can you take kids to see the life sized McQueen cars?
JAY: The Petersen Museum is the only other place besides NASCAR that’s a life size McQueen. That’s the only other place one exists.
We built only two. One’s outside of Disney. One’s at the Petersen, and the other’s at the Hall Of Fame. So there’s one on each coast.
There was a life size McQueen that’s functioning. That one we had in Detroit drives. It can move around, it’s got lights and sound.We did a McQueen, we did a Jackson, we did a Cruz and that was a sponsor tour that we did.That was a coast to coast tour. Those 3 Cars are living in L.A. and they’re gonna’ get used for different little traveling things for– I don’t know where they’ll go.
But those are the specials– those are my– those are one offs. The one’s at the Petersen and here are, are static. They don’t have any lights or sound. They can’t move.
How hard is it to find that balance and connect. I usually see like a joke that you know parents will get and you know just go over their head, but you know really make that connection for everyone?
JAY : John’s always said that we don’t make children’s films. We make films that work for children and adult. If you start out by saying, “We’re gonna’ make a great children’s film then that’s all you’ve made. If you make a great film, really good film it’s gonna’ work for all ages.”
If you think back before we had a film rating system, if you go back to the 40’s or 50’s every film had to work for all ages. You couldn’t put stuff in ‘em that you could put in them now.
You know you can watch The Wizard of Oz as an adult or as a kid and you enjoy it. And that’s what I think we strive for with Pixar. Is to tell great stories that work for all ages and you wanna’ watch it more than once because you’re gonna’ see something you didn’t see the first time.
You know I have young kids and my kids like watching movies the over and over again. So even if I’m not watching, if I’m driving them and I hearing them. I’m still laughing and still remembering things and that’s pretty special. You don’t get that with all movies. You know there’s some kids films that we watched and even my kids will watch it once they’re good.They liked it, they walked out, “Hey that was fun.” They’re not gonna’ get that on Blu-Ray or DVD. They don’t wanna’ see it again because some gags and it’s done, but a great story they wanna’ see again and again.
Do you ever pull influences from your kids at all?
JAY : No you know it’s funny. We’re a Director driven studio and that basically means our Director’s come up with the ideas.
But I will say our Director’s do pull influence from their own life story. So Pete Docter, who’s a brilliant mind and a great friend of mine. His daughter was the voice of Ellie in Up, was his inspiration for Riley in Inside Out because she was getting older.She was being more introspective. He thought, “What is in her head? What is goin’ on?” Like there’s a day when your daughter turns from being a little girl to a woman and that was the inspiration to that character. That came right from his own life. His own children. So I think that’s true.
For Andrew Stanton with Finding Nemo it was him and his son and realizing how protective he was of his son, so yeah kids definitely. For John, for Cars, it was um he was so busy directing Toy Story and busy from Toy Story II that his kids were growing up without him. And he realized he was like a race car. He sat on the goal and I’m not seeing the things around him, yeah.
And what was it like seeing some of the stories and part of your history up on the screen?
RAY : It’s been a fire hose of emotions in some ways because you’ve been at the end of my career, and having a young child. You know I got kind of a blended family right? There’s 24 years difference between my children and my son is on the autism spectrum at 26 year old. And I have a 2 year old and it just seems to be lucky enough to have been involved and this project has brought them closer together and I understand a little bit more about the facts. Sometimes when I watch the movies with them I learn as much myself and about my career.
So in some ways when I look at Lightning – you know that’s Jeff Gordon. I’ve watched him through his career.
But then through this movie you know some of the lessons that Lightning had to learn about the emotion and the relationships and the people were more important than winning the races and the trophies. Because when that’s gone you just had stuff and without the, the relationship with people it didn’t mean anything. So I actually found out more about my life and my career and I think that, that working on this movie has helped me appreciate my induction into the Hall Of Fame more than had I not.
Because of the age difference and this spectrum with children is there something that they pulled out of the movie completely unexpected? Something that you could share that they you know said, “Oh well what about this that you did in your career Dad?
RAY : They haven’t really talked to me about that yet.
Jackson Storm’s Crew Chief that just overrides Jeff Gordon. Jeff Gordon is now second to Jackson. What did he ever do? Winning Indy, Daytona?
So it’s a big deal to them, but what I’ve watched is even with that age difference, with Ray J being on the spectrum there’s a common bond there and as a Dad when you watched it the Disney Films you’re enjoying it.
But there’s also sending a message to your kids that you want- that you wanna’ send and sometimes you don’t know how to put into words. You’re able to watch that with them and they’re getting a positive influence from these characters in the movie. And I’m not even sure that they’re recognizing it at that point.
But the philosophy and the things that are really- I don’t wanna’ say being driven into them, pun intended there too, but it’s uh it’s amazing. And being able to be behind the scenes and be part of the Pixar team and understanding what goes into that I think has made me really appreciate what they’re saying a lot more.
How hard was it to take the movie and do Cars Land?
JAY : Cars Land was an amazing thing. I feel super blessed to have worked on it, but we started with an idea Disney had pitched to us for a Car Land that was not based on Cars. It was gonna’ be like Cars in L.A. and the 405 in like car culture in L.A.
And I’m like, “Why would anybody wanna’ go there?” Sitting in traffic, cool. It was John– actually John Lasseter’s genius of pushing back and going, “What about Cars Land? What about going into the world of Cars?” And we knew that we wanted to be immersed in story telling.
If you look at when Walt Disney did Disneyland the idea is it’s a spoke– or it’s a hub in spokes right. So you go to the center of the castle and then you choose your adventure you wanna’ go to. And when you go to the land you live in that land right.
When I’m in Tomorrow Land I’m not in Frontier Land and vice versa right. Whatever land I go to I’m in that world. And that’s what Walt always did with his park is transform it. You go into a world. Pixar Films, you go into the world. And so John wanted Cars Land to feel like you become a Car when you go into that world.
There’s no sidewalks in Cars Land because cars don’t need sidewalks. There’s guardrails right? The doors are wider than they are tall because Cars are wide they’re not tall. When you look up the Cadillac Range we made it that tall to cover up the power lines out in Katella.
Frankly because we wanted you to go there’s nothing to tell you you’re not in the world of Cars, except for that Tower Of Terror man. Everything else tells you, you are in Radiator Springs. And we finally built what made people go into that park– into that land, into Cars Land and they hang out. They just hang out because it’s transformative. You’re able to relax and hang out.
You just wanna’ sit at Flo’s and watch the roller– you know watch Radiator Springs Racers go by and you’re like, “I’m cool. I don’t need to go anywhere.” You’ll listen to oldies music and I’m like, “I’m in Radiator Springs and it’s cool and it’s transformative.”
I wish Disney did that with every project. And that was– honestly that was John pushing them because the cost obviously is a lot more to do that than just do a ride. But he was like, “No we’re doin’ it.”
Like I said I’m blessed to have worked on it with him because they do whatever John asked and I was like– You know we got everything we wanted and it, it paid off. I mean literally, California Adventure they used to almost give the ticket away, right.
You go to Disney Land alright maybe we’ll go see some– it’s almost the opposite. People go just to go to Cars Land. I mean that’s incredible and that, that is a testament to quality is always the best business plan.
Talking about kids and getting interested in racing from the movie. How did you get interested in cars?
RAY : I’ve never not wanted to be. I remember playing in the driveway with little cars and just being crazy about it. Car magazines and, and whatnot and went to local short tracks around New Jersey where I was born with my Uncle and my Dad.
I have never ever in my life wanted to do anything else. You know at some point you wanna’ be Fireman or an Astronaut. I have never in my life ever wanted to do anything but cars and, and we don’t know why because it’s not like everybody in my family was doin’ it.
I’ve had some connection with cars and honestly that’s what got me through school. It’s what got me through High school, and helped me do everything in my life because I was always working towards either trying to build a race car or earn money to be buy something for my street car.
JAY : Yeah. For me, I guess Cars are more in my DNA. My Dad owned a little automotive wholesale shop in Riverside Missouri, which is a suburb of Kansas City, and he would buy cars and he’d fix them up and sell them. I’d go out and visit him in the summer and go in the car with him and we’d go and he’d buy cars and take ‘em back to the shop. I’d sit in the front and draw cars on a little blotter pad while he’d be wheeling the cars in the back. Wheelin’, and detailin’, and it was just fun. We’d go out and buy stuff.
And then I used to on the weekends just like to go to junk yards. I don’t know why, but I love going to junk yards and I would go in the seats and find old toys from other kids and look in glove box for papers and it was weird. It was like you seem to do that.
They will not let kids go to a junk yard now ‘cause you get hit by something and you get sued. But when I was a kid you remember that, they were like, “Go ahead kid look around”. And basically anything you can fit in your pocket it’s like a lighter or a toy it was yours right. And out in the junkyard it was like better than– you know for me that was my Disney Land, going to the junk yard, yeah. I loved it, so.
Were you considered a weird kid?
JAY : Oh I was a weird kid.
RAY : He’s a weird grown up.
JAY : Yeah, you know what’s funny is most of the people that work at Pixar were not the cool kid in school, which I love right. Like almost all of us were the geeks. We were the ones who were drawing and more introspective and creative.
You know I used to tie my own shoelaces to my own chair. Why would I do that? Weird kid.
We drew on the sidewalks. We made our own characters. You know we, we made spaceships out of cardboard boxes. We were the weird kids and I work with 1200 weird kids that all grew up and we love it.
What has working on Cars taught you about NASCAR?
JAY : You know in California NASCAR’s not as much in their blood as in the south. But when you– when we started research and we went to a NASCAR race you realize how visceral it is.
That these Cars are so loud and so powerful and so impactful that you can’t help but sort of be moved by it, even if you’re not a racing fan. Also I think the other thing people sort of assume is “oh NASCAR, a bunch of good ‘ol boys going around in a circle.”
It is so difficult, and it is so technical, and it is so strategic. Everything about it is strategy that you realize it’s multi-layer. Again, you can’t judge a book by its cover. And that’s what Cars 3 tells and that’s what I think the world of NASCAR is too is don’t judge a book by its cover.
Cars 3 Trailer:
About the Cars 3 at home release:
In honor of world-champion racer #95 on his date-sake 9/5, Disney•Pixar is proud to announce the in-home arrival of Disney•Pixar’s “Cars 3”! “Cars 3” surged to the front of the pack opening weekend with audiences racing to see the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) and spirited trainer Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo) team up to beat the new generation of blazing-fast racers. Now, this summer’s high-octane hit cruises home—loaded with bonus features like the all new mini-movie starring the demolition derby legend Miss Fritter— Digitally in HD and 4K Ultra HD™ on Oct. 24, and on Blu-ray 4K Ultra HD™ and Blu-ray™ on Nov. 7.
Race fans of all ages are invited to ride along with the “Cars 3” crew for hilarious and heartfelt extras, including an exclusive new mini-movie, “Miss Fritter’s Racing Skoool,” taught by the queen of the Crazy 8; a feature detailing how real-world race training influenced filmmakers; the journey taken by voice actor Cristela Alonzo and team while shaping tech-savvy trainer Cruz Ramirez; behind-the-scenes access to the story team who crafted Lightning McQueen’s third chapter; deleted scenes; and much more.
“Cars 3” is Disney•Pixar’s first in-home title released in stunning 4K Ultra HD format, the next-generation viewing format with four times the resolution of HD and exceptional high dynamic range (HDR), resulting in brilliant highlights, vibrant colors and greater contrast on compatible displays than ever before. With 4K Ultra HD, viewers will feel like they’re at the center of the action—holding their breath during the dramatic crash that launches Lightning’s journey, feeling the pulse-pounding action at the Florida International Super Speedway, and getting down and dirty at the Crazy 8 demolition derby.