Six years ago, Cars 3 Producer Kevin Reher and Director Brian Fee began working on the film “I actually have emails back to 2011” said Reher. One week ago the film debuted on the big screen and raced to #1 at the box office for Father’s Day Weekend.
We sat down with Reher and Fee during the #Cars3Event and they opened up about everything from making the film to parenting. I’m sharing it all in today’s Final Cars 3 Interviews!
You may think you’re losing something, but the best thing is still in front of you. – Brian Fee, Cars 3 Director
Final Cars 3 Interviews with Director Brain Fee and Producer Kevin Reher
The graphics in Cars 3 are amazing. At times things seem so real that you could reach out and touch them. Cars 3 Director Brian Fee spoke about the new renderer that had for this film, and who they could do things in they could do in Cars 3. They “went for a lot of atmosphere, like you’ll see a lot of fog and things that are at a distance are so faded – just like the atmosphere between you and the thing that’s miles away.“, said Fee.
We can go wholeheartedly into a sense of realism. We try not to say photo realism because I think photo realism, that would actually be kind of boring. We almost want like a hyper realism. We want to be able to control how you feel but we want you to feel like you can smell the air. – Brian Fee, Cars 3 Director
They had to be careful with animating the characters for Cars because they are talking cars. They wanted them to look real and “the car to look like it’s four thousand pounds. Everyone sees cars every day, everybody knows in your brain, you know there’s reflections on cars. You don’t necessarily look at these things when you’re on the road but you expect to see it, and we wanted to just lean into what we can take advantage of, and really go for it.”, said Fee.
They wanted it to be so real that they went beyond internet research for Cars 3. Producer Kevin Reher talked about who they “went to two different, I don’t want to say abandoned tacks, but two tracks that are no longer operable. One which was legendary at the beginnings of stock car, Occoneechee, and then Wilkesboro.” I share more details about the race tracks they visit in my post on Cars 3 Fun Facts.
There are sort of rules of Cars animation as Kevin Reher mentioned, but there were times when “the animators get a little jumpy“, said Reher, “they only have eyes and mouths to animate, I mean in terms of getting an emotion across. Sometimes they get a little bouncy on the suspension and you go okay we’re not watching the shit in this car bounce around.” Give it a try yourself with this video on learning to draw Cruz Ramirez, who is voiced by Cristela Alonzo in Cars 3.
Speaking of Cristela Alonzo, she “actually informed how we wrote that character“, said Cars 3 Director Brain Fee. Cruz was one of the hardest characters to cast because they wanted to get it right. Heck, Cruz “started out as a male character and we went, let’s try a female character and see how it goes“, said Cars 3 Producer Kevin Reher.
Cristela had that voice, you know, it’s kind of like you line up a bunch of people in a room that are going to audition and they’re all wearing gray sweaters, Cristela was the one who’s voice was like the bright red sweater. We went to her stand-up act and we were already in love with her humor and her liveliness and she just has this infectious laugh and she just she starts talking and you want to hang out in her. – Brian Fee, Cars 3 Director
There is a part in Cristela Alonzo’s comedy act “where she stops telling jokes and she gets really serious and she talks about her mother, very touching stuff for her.”, said Fee. Her mother passed away and she talks about her on stage and “there’s such a soul in her voice when she stops telling jokes“, said Fee.
That’s when we knew oh this is, she’s got to be the right one. We ended up rewriting the character because Cristela had a story about growing up wanting to be a comedian in a border town in Texas and her mother told her, ‘we don’t do that, we clean houses, we don’t’, and she was trying to protect her, but just the fact that she had to break through that barrier, that actually informed – after we cast her we went back – because we’re always tweaking and evolving characters as much as we can and we rewrote Cruz’s backstory with that in mind. – Brian Fee, Cars 3 Director
Cruz is just one of the new Cars characters that needed cast for Cars 3. Important characters for the new storyline and Brian Fee and Kevin Reher had a pretty good idea of what they were looking for.
They usually come up with three actors they like and they go to John Lasseter who still approves casting. With two casting credits on Cars 3, Kevin Reher worked with Natalie Lyon on casting Kerry Washington as the voice of Natalie Certain.
One of the things about the side characters is you have to get it right away. So when Kerry Washington opens her mouth as Natalie Certain, you have to get that she’s smart, accomplished, knows what she’s talking about and no bullshit. You have to get that because you don’t have the screen time to do a backstory for her or how she got there and all kinds of things. – Kevin Reher, Cars 3 Producer
Same goes for the character of Sterling who is voiced by Armie Hammer. Kevin Reher said he is the nicest man in the world who “could channel his inner jerk and he’s so terrific at being sarcastic and everything else and yet if you talk to him in person besides being very handsome he’s super charming and really nice and you immediately got what that character was going to be based on a character description that we were given.”
Part of it is there is the aspect of you just want the quality of the voice to match the image. Wouldn’t Jackson Storm have a strong voice deeper than a kind of a thin voice? We wanted him to be a powerful car, so there needed to be broadness to his vocal range. Other times, I think for Miss Fritter we only put one voice in the crowd, wasn’t Lea the only one we did? – Brian Fee, Cars 3 Director
Ah, Lea DeLaria who voices Miss Fritter in Cars 3 and one of my newest favorite animated characters of all time. There was one other person considered for Miss Fritter’s voice but they didn’t mention who. Kevin Reher did mention that he’s a big fan of all Lea’s albums but “we couldn’t have obscenities, it’s really funny when you see animation swearing.”, said Reher.
We were so excited about her and then we pulled the clips and we would listen to from Orange Is the New Black and then put her on and it just wasn’t who Miss Fritter needed to be. But she’s actually, when you think about taking her visual off and you just listen to the voice, which is another thing we do, we don’t try to watch their facial acting, a lot of actors get a lot of it out of their being and their facial expressions. We’re looking for the actors that do it with just their voice, or at least it jumps out. and we weren’t for whatever reasons, she’s really mild, her vocal performance in Orange Is the New Black is milder than you would think when you take her face and her presence out of it, so they weren’t going to work and we knew if we put this in front of John Lasseter, he was going to say no. – Brian Fee, Cars 3 Director
So, they pulled some of DeLaria’s stand-up because “her stand-up is great, so she did her own audition because we didn’t want to let it go. We wanted her to be in the movie.”, said Fee. They sent her some script pages and she read them at home on her iPhone and did her own audition. Now that’s doing it Big Boo style!
She’s actually on the sound track during Riding on the Freeway of Love with horns and backup singers because she’s a singer and then again Easter eggs and little eggs, she is Boo in Orange is the New Black so her first moment is when she goes Boo. Then, when she says ‘you’re going to feel the wrath of the Belleville Unified School District’ she actually went to Belleville High school and even then we get crazy like even license plates like the license plate on Natalie Certain is Kerry Washington’s birthday and New York where she was born and we have production babies and we have Kerry Washington’s son and Armie Hammer’s son in the production babies at the end. – Kevin Reher, Cars 3 Producer
I’ve had tears in my eyes a few times during interviews, and Cars 3 Director Brian Fee is now on that list. Fee was talking about how he originally came at this film and looked at McQueen’s and Doc’s relationship as a father and son relationship. “You could see it as am mentor-mentee, however people plug into it in their own personal lives.”, said Fee. For him, his father is getting older and his mother passed away so “you kind of feel that safety net that you’ve always had. That moment where you get just a little scared that everything you’ve ever known is kind of dropping.”, said Fee. “But I have two daughters and I realized I’m their safety net,” continued Fee, “like they look up to me. I’m playing that role for them and it’s kind of erased the fear I had of losing my parents, not that I don’t want to see them go, but it gave me new strength, a sense of purpose in life.” That’s just where the wet eyes began, and here’s where they continued…
I went to art school and have an illustration degree and my daughter has been drawing these little sketches with her crayons and stuff like that, but their patience is short, to say the least. They would look at professional illustrations in books and stuff and I wanted to demystify that. I wanted them to know, that’s just a person, a person just did that, the only difference between those and their little doodles is that they took longer at it. They went to school and learned how to do it and they spent more time on it. So I set up one of their American Girl dolls and I was going to paint it, I’m going to paint this girl’s portrait and I want them to see all that goes into it and it takes a while, you’ve got to put some time in. After about twenty minutes, they’re gone and I was going to stick it out, I’m going to stick it out, and I’m going to show them that a little perseverance and a little time. So I spent hours on a Saturday LAUGHTER] spent hours doing this, I didn’t get quite done but I got almost done. I showed them and ah ah and they just went, yeah that’s cool. [LAUGHTER] I had this moment where I just thought oh if I was going to paint something on a Saturday afternoon I didn’t think it would be an American Girl doll. There’s a lot of things I could do, I mean I don’t have a lot of personal time anymore. And I kind of walked away and that was a failure it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, But a week later, I come into my older daughter Lucia’s room, she’s eleven now so this would have been several years ago, and she had these papers on the floor and they were her stuffed animals and she had set them up, sorry I can’t tell the story without getting…she set them up and she was drawing their portrait and it was..sorry, pull it together…and in that moment, I felt like that might just have been one of the most important paintings I’d ever done. Well, more important than anything I would have done for myself. So that was the kind of thing I was trying to communicate, I wanted McQueen to feel that, when he spends most of the film trying to do service to his own career, the thing that he thinks he’s most passionate about and terrified of losing actually. Actually terrified of losing the one thing that brings him the most joy and I wanted him to see that helping someone else do it is actually not only just as powerful, but can be more powerful. – Brian Fee, Cars 3 Director
The Doc and McQueen story is also an important one to Cars 3 Producer Kevin Reher. “My dad died and I was the car kid, my brother was the sports kid. He never got to see even Cars One, and so the whole McQueen Doc stuff just slays me.”, said Reher. Doc has a big presence in Cars 3, but sadly Paul Newman is no longer with us to voice him.
They originally tried using a sound-alike but it just wasn’t. There “was no magic” as Brian Fee said. When the idea was scrapped, they had to find the lines and Kevin Reher mentioned that “The Newman Foundation was very generous with us and we let them know that this wasn’t just a marketing trick. This was really integral to the story.“
They had a lot of recordings of open mics and John Lasseter had recordings from the first Cars film. Using all of that, they put the story together with lines that would help serve the story. “It’s pretty emotional when you hear it, and then we used the old Doc line, ‘you think I quit? they quit on me’ which mirrored what had happened to McQueen.“, said Reher.
We also did the same thing with Tom Magliozzi with Click and Clack, and we actually went back to that producer and he helped us go back to the original Car Talk tapes and – ‘Don’t drive like my brother’ actually came from those Click and Clack tapes that we were allowed to use. – Kevin Reher, Cars 3 Producer
It takes an amazing group of people to bring a movie like Cars 3 to life. Over 250 people to be exact when you add up all the story, art, editorial, animation, and other crews that worked on the film. Every single person who works on a film has an impact on the finished product.
I remember work-shopping stuff with Owen where we’d talk about the purpose of the scene and he’d say like, ‘okay let me try something, mind if I try something.’ Whenever an actor says can I try something, the answer is always yes, it may not work, or it may just be the best thing. Those surprises when stuff got better than I would have ever expected, we try to look for those opportunities from everybody on the crew. – Brian Fee, Cars 3 Director
Cars 3 Producer Kevin Reher said, “we joke about that the movies never get finished, they just come out and a good example of this is our writer Mike Rich.” He did Secretariat and The Rookie and was “king of the sports comeback story” said Reher. Rich left a few changes for them that are in the movie.
So the whole mentorship and the flip of Cruz and everything was different and he said, I have a note and I’m like oh no he has left the station and so I said what’s the note and that wonderful moment at the end of the race, where Cruz looks at McQueen and McQueen looks at Cruz and there’s no dialogue, it’s just acting, that sort of recognition of thank you for what you did, thank you for what you achieved, that was his note. We went back into Animation and said, we’ve got another shot, and okay no problem and that shot actually is – because then the craziness starts with Sterling and all the other stuff, so it was exactly the right moment that we needed in the movie and he added it. – Kevin Reher, Cars 3 Producer
Before we ended our final Cars 3 Interviews with Director Brain Fee and Producer Kevin Reher, we wanted to find out their first cars were.
64′ Falcon Futura convertible and the only thing that wasn’t manual on it was the top and it also had a thing called leak hole and the leak rain gets diverted. It got diverted into the back seat so when you put the brakes on, the water would come up around your ankles and then when I put the gas on it completely [LAUGHTER] and I had a coffee mug that I would just bail the car and we were living in Northern California. – Kevin Reher, Cars 3 Producer
Brian: Mine is not that fun of an answer, I was in high school, it’s like what can I get with this many dollars [LAUGHTER] it was an 81′ Oldsmobile I guess Cutlass Supreme, gray. The dashboard’s cracked, it had that smell that comes along with a car that’s old enough to have a cracked dashboard [LAUGHTER] I’d still Armor All it, you know, I’m going to put lipstick on this pig until the end. – Brian Fee, Cars 3 Director