Rob Gibbs, director of the short film Air Mater, answered some questions about the making-of the film and how it ties in with Cars 2, available on 3D Blu-ray, DVD and Blu-ray on November 1.
Q: How long did it take to produce Air Mater?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: We began about a year and half ago with the idea that we wanted to put Mater in the sky. The studio in Vancouver was just getting started, so the production time was a little longer because they were in the process of hiring employees and building their production team. Start to finish, it was about a year and a half.
Q: How did you approach the animation of the cars in the film?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: John Lasseter, who really created this world of Cars, has some strict rules on how to treat the animation of the cars. They’re not only characters, but they are cars…made out of metal, they have weight, you can’t bend them and move them around like some other Pixar characters. Also, cars are limited in that they don’t have hands; there are certain things they can’t do. So we treat them as realistic as we can as a vehicle, and then really try to push the characters expression to give them the acting that we need them to do.
Q: What can you tell us about your new short Air Mater? How did you get the inspiration for it?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: We got the inspiration for Air Mater in thinking about a new adventure for Mater to go on. John Lasseter came to me with the idea that he would love for Mater to fly. Thinking about fun things to do with airplanes, we came up with formation flying inspired by air shows and how amazing and awesome that type of flying is.
Q: You worked on cg-movies as well as movies that used the classic craft. Which of these techniques is your favorite?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: I love great stories, to me it’s not the technique, it’s about the story telling. There are things you can do in hand drawn animation that you can’t do in CG and vice versa. I love live action, hand drawn, stop-motion and computer animation equally.
Q: Who is your favorite character?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: I’m a big fan of Bugs Bunny! In the Cars world, Mater is a favorite because we are able to push him into different roles as a character. The Tall Tales are a perfect format to push the boundaries of Mater’s adventures. Plus he has a tow hook which allows him to do more things than other cars can.
Q: Can we look forward to hear the original voice of Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) in Air Mater?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: Absolutely! Larry the Cable Guy is the voice talent behind Mater in all of our shorts and features. He brings so much to the character, he’s able to improvise lines and he’s hilarious!
Q: What was your job in detail during the production of Air Mater?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: As director I was involved from the very beginning of the story until the last shot in lighting. I rely on a very talented pool of people. I don’t do any one thing by myself, it’s a collaborative effort.
Q: What are the major difficulties and challenges in doing a short film?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: There is so much that we want to put in these shorts. The challenge is to keep it under six minutes and have all the fun we want to put in there. There is usually no shortage of ideas; it’s what to keep and throw away that’s hard. It’s always easy to add, it’s hard to take away.
Q: Pixar has a huge resume of short movies; you have directed or co-directed a good amount of those shorts; can you describe us your approach to filmmaking?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: In each of the shorts, we have tried to stick to a certain genre; we want each short to have a different feel. For instance, Monster Truck Mater, is much different than Mater Private Eye. Monster Truck Mater was inspired by professional wrestling and monster truck rallies. While Mater Private Eye was inspired by film noir. Once we decide on a genre, we try to stay true to that approach of filmmaking, camera moves, dialogue and overall look.
Q: The new short film Air Mater was produced in Canada. Did you get support from the colleagues in Emeryville?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: It’s an extremely collaborative effort. We do all the storyboards, art, design and editorial in Emeryville. Then we deliver a story reel to Vancouver and they do everything from building the characters in the computers to layout, animation and lighting.
Q: Did you settle in well in Canada? What was it like working there?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: I live in California, but I love to visit Vancouver. The studio has such an awesome space and the people that work there are wonderful. I would live there if I could.
Q: Where did the sound recording for Air Mater take place?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: We record dialogue in Los Angeles and Emeryville. The sound design is done at Skywalker Ranch in Marin County.
Q: You have a huge personal background in storyboarding. Was this helpful in terms of the communication with the animation and art department – was it easier for you to visualize your ideas for Air Mater?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: Yes, absolutely. Working with the story team and doing a lot of the storyboards myself, I’m familiar with every aspect of the characters’ motivation. That helps with the communication with the animators. I also rely on their talents to bring acting and gestures to the characters.
Q: Where do you see the “Cars” franchise going in the future?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: We love the Cars world, and we are attached to these characters. I hope it will continue as long as we have great stories to tell.
Q: If you could have worked on any animated movie or cartoon which one would it have been and why?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: I loved Roger Rabbit, I had friends that worked on it and envied them. I love that world, because there is no limit to what you can do with those characters.
Q: Why Cars for all the shorts and not any of the other Pixar movies?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: Pixar has a tradition of creating new and original shorts every year. The Cars world is just another extension of that.
Q: What does your role of director and writer on the Tow Mater shorts entail?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: In the beginning stages, as a writer I rely on my team to help with the story. When it comes down to the actual writing, I work with my editor, producer, John Lasseter and the voice talent to create the dialogue. As a director, I oversee every aspect of the production. Again, I have an awesome team of people that I rely on.
Q: What sort of mindset do you get into when you’re working on the “Cars Toons?”
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: I try to familiarize myself with the genre we’re working with. I get a lot of inspiration from watching movies. Sometimes it’s just bouncing ideas off my colleagues.
Q: How did you choreograph the Falcon Hawk sequences to get them right?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: We watched formation flying videos and mimicked a lot of the camera work and choreography. Also, in San Francisco every October there is fleet week, which is an amazing demonstration of aerial acrobatics.
Q: Do you feel the Cars shorts will have the longevity of classic cartoons such as the Looney Tunes?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: I certainly hope so. From my experience, I know that there is a large audience that just loves these shorts as much as I do.
Q: What do you think defines Mater as comedy character and one of the best Pixar characters ever?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: Mater’s such a genuine and loyal character; he has a big imagination and a big heart. I will say Larry the Cable Guy, brings so much to Mater’s character. When we animate Mater, Larry is a huge part of our inspiration.
Q: Do you believe in pen and paper to catch your ideas or do you use also a lot of modern technologies/tools (like Wacom Cintiq pen displays) for the visualization of your visions? Did you use other special tools/software for the development of the story of “Air Mater”?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: I start with pen and paper and now do a lot of my storyboards using a Cintiq tablet and Photoshop.
Q: Is there something you did learn from John Lasseter during the co-direction of the previous ‘Mater’-episodes for TV?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: John Lasseter has been a huge part of the shorts from the very beginning, and yes, he has guided me every step of the way.
Q: What is your favorite part of being involved in the “Cars” world?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: I worked on the first Cars movie, and during that time we were inventing the whole world of Cars as we went. Cars are so limited in what they can do; finding creative ways of animating them has been challenging and fun.
Q: When were you originally boarding “Cars,” do you ever think that these characters would become as popular as they have? That they’d then become the basis of a successful series of films & shorts?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: From the beginning I saw huge potential for these characters. At first I had no idea they would take off like they did, but I’m so glad they have. Working on the shorts has given me a great opportunity to explore the world of Cars as well as work with awesome people.
Q: What was the inspiration for the Falcon Hawks?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: The Falcon Hawks were inspired by the F14 and F16 jets and formation flying. It’s just amazing what those pilots can do.
Q: What are the key points that as an animator you can use to make a car or a plane (or a machine) interesting as a character?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: It’s about being inspired by real life. Whether it is an astronaut, a jet plane or a private investigator. We pay attention to every detail of the subject we are exploring.
Q: Can you give young artists, dreaming of working at Pixar, some advice for making that dream came true?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: It’s not just the knowledge of technology, it’s the passion to come up with ideas and tell good stories. I loved drawing as a kid, and I found a school called Cal Arts that helped develop my talents.
Q: How much freedom do you have in producing a short, especially one based on a feature length film? How did you work with John Lasseter on it?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: We have all the freedom in the world at first, but then we have to decide what a good idea is and what isn’t. Limitations inspire creativity. Without setting boundaries within the Cars world, it would be impossible to develop any of these stories. We had a lot of time working with John Lasseter on these shorts; he was involved from the beginning of each concept to the very end of production. He has been an inspiration and a wonderful mentor in creating these shorts.
Q: Mary Gibbs, your daughter, put her voice for the adorable Boo in the ‘Monsters Inc.’ movie. What does she think about the work of her Father? Do you ask her advice or to check your work to see what might work and what not?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: She is 15 now, and I often bounce ideas off her to see what she thinks is good. I would like to think she’s very proud of me, but at her age I’m just not that cool.
Q: Why did you and the studio decide to make Mater the star of the shorts and also the sequel, don’t kids identify more with the ‘cool’ Lightning McQueen?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: We started coming up with ideas for shorts to expand the Cars world. One of our animators, Bobby Podesta, had a little idea that Mater could tell tall tales about previous adventures. That sparked a whole series of thoughts of what Mater could do. Lightning McQueen is an awesome race car and Mater is a rusty tow truck, each are appealing to kids in their own way. After we decided to center these shorts around Mater, we thought it was a great idea to include Lightning McQueen in each one of them. At the height of each short Mater reminds Lightning McQueen that “he was there too”.
Q: Rob, any final thoughts on Air Mater?
Rob Gibbs: Rob Gibbs: After completing each one of these shorts, the latest one becomes my favorite. Air Mater is right up there with the rest. Working with the studio in Vancouver and our artists here in Emeryville, it was a huge challenge to build the world of Propwash Junction and its characters. It was so rewarding to see it all come together; I hope you enjoyed Air Mater.
Cars 2 is now available on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD.
For more information on Cars 2 and Air Mater, visit the official Cars 2 web site.