When I was in LA I had the chance to interview Bobs Ganaway and Ferrell Barron . As you all know not only am I a HUGE Disney fan I also love being able to give you an inside look at the movies. I think that hearing about the process, the thoughts, the plans, they emotions all help bring more to the movie experience and when I can I love being able to sit down with people who have worked hands on with the movies to bring you the behind the scenes.
They were also super nice and took a picture with me, which I like because it means I can give you guys a face to put the names to 🙂
Bobs G : We’ll answer almost any question you ask!
Blogger Question : Yeah? Is there a third one?
Bobs G : Oh.
Ferrell B : First one. First question. Hard reporter.
Bobs G : You know, what’s interesting about Disney Toon Studios, again, John Lassiter is such a wonderful, creative leader. He really — and he’s a filmmaker, you know, which is great, to have a filmmaker, a fantastic filmmaker, sort of heading the studios that he oversees. Disney Animation Studios, Pixar. and Disney Toons. These things take so long to make. You know, it’s five years of your life, to make. That’s one of those things we’re always like — insights — even though this came out a year later, still, we didn’t make it in a year.
Ferrell B : Long time.
Bobs G : They can’t feel like assignments, because they are something that you’re going to basically pour yourself into. So he really waits for his filmmakers to be inspired by something, and to go out there, and research it, and meet the people, ride in the vehicles, and come back and tell him and everyone on the team, what you’d discovered that was cool.
Then we come back and say: did you know, and can you believe it, and I’ll bet you didn’t realize — and all of these sort of things. So it takes a long time. We hope to make more stories in this world, but we won’t until we find the right thing. That everybody kind of sort of wants to commit to, for five years. Because it’s a huge commitment, and it has to be a passion, not an assignment. So, yeah. Ultimately I hope to make more. Like I said, I’m still here. We finished the movie, I’m still coming in every day, and no one’s said stop. So I think we probably will do some more. Yeah.
Blogger : Do you see Planes: Fire and Rescue as the new Smokey the Bear?
Ferrell B : We say Scorchy is the new Smokey the Bear.
Bobs G : We did work with the campaign with the park service.
Ferrell B : We did do some PSA’s with the park service about that. I think for us it was mainly wanting to pay tribute to, you know, as we said, it’s the firefighters around the world. We’re focusing on wildfire air attack, but it’s really about — for all firefighters, and all of the research you saw — I’m sure you saw Cal Fire, who we worked with.
I mean, it was really important for us, after we’d met them, they became more than just consultants. They really became our friend — I mean, I still stay in touch with Travis Alexander, who you probably saw in the pictures. Big Travis. Julie Hutchinson, we still see each other and see how we’re doing. I mean, they really became our friends. So it was important for us to do right by them, because of all that research, bringing that truth and accuracy to our filmmaking, so that all firefighters really are honored.
You know, that we did that. I don’t know if they showed — if they talked to you, about, you know, in the movie, we have the wall of fame. A couple of the aircraft on there were actual Cal Fire airplanes that went down. We put them with the numbers, and it’s the actual aircraft, and we put that in there. They were really taken aback, and, you know, it’s such an honor that we honored those brave men and woman that actually lost their lives, but that’s in the movie. The public’s not gonna know that, but they saw it, and it’s something that really —
Bobs G : Someone picked up on that. This aircraft here is one that actually crashed in Cal Fire, and so, we don’t say that in the movie, but that’s the number of the plane that crashed, and someone picked up on it and wrote an article about it, as an honor to that firefighter. When we showed the movie to Cal Fire, they were just like, ” that’s a lovely thing to do.” You know. And it’s just the tiny little details like, we worked with the forest service. I mean, if you listen, the fire in the movie is caused by lightning.
Because I didn’t want it to be a whodunit situation where we’re trying to track down an arsonist and all of that kind of stuff. The majority of the fires are caused by lightning. We always talk about, like, there are over 50,000 wild fires a year in the US, it’s crazy, and these firefighters are out there, putting them out all of the time. Some of them are caused by humans, and so — if you listen carefully, on the dialogue, on the very first, right befor, I believe it’s right before the thunderstruck sequence. You hear that the caused by an unattended campfire. And that’s something we put in for the forest service, because we wanted to — push their message a little bit.
Ferrell B : That’s part of their campaign, be careful, put your fire out.
Bobs G : So it’s little things like that that we do,kind of because the people we work with, the park service, Cal Fire, they become our friends, and we want to do right by them.
Blogger : I’m curious about the process. I’ve heard you guys talk about keeping the scenes versus letting them stay. Do you ever worry about letting something go that could, you know…?
Bobs G : Well. you see, that’s what’s so great — and hard — about the animation process. It’s very different than a live-action where you’ve written a script and you go out and you shoot and script, and you have lots of coverage, and then it’s made kind of in editorial. Then maybe you do re-shoots and things like that, in live action. You also, in a live action movie, it gets turned around fairly quickly, by that I mean, a year and a half. These take five plus years to make. So, what we do is, we write a script, and then we — you know.
We do boards and do temporary dialogue and do temporary music, and then put it together in the editorial, and then we watch it with all of our other directors, and then even the whole studio, get everybody to watch it. We all get notes, and then we tear down and rebuild it, and tear down and rebuild it, so it’s a constant. So the movie you’re seeing is like, the eighth or ninth version of the film. We are doing — during that time, during that two years, or that two and a half years, or three years, or however long you’re doing that, you start to sort of figure out, “We don’t need that,” or “This needs to move along quickly,” or “There’s a pace issue.” Things like that. There’ll be scenes that are in for a long time.
There was a scene in the movie that was in for the longest time, and it was the scene where Blade has crashed. And Duty’s flying around, and he calls for help, and then we had this very lovely scene where Windlifter was carrying Blade back to base. And Dusty’s flying alongside, and we’re playing this sort of — we had like, temporary music in there, so we were playing like, A River Once Stood or something. And everybody was like, “Oh. This is so emotional, and wonderful, and oh, I’m just feeling so much,” and then finally, John Lassiter said, “Yeah. That’s great, and everything, but there’s something bugging me about it.”
We sat there, looked at it for a while. And he goes, “Oh, I know what it is. He’s still alive. Ambulances don’t go slow. They go fast.” You know? It’s like, you know, funerals go slow. He’s not dead. So we’re like, “Oh my gosh, he should be — they should be like, we gotta get him back, and on the base, and then Maru is doing triage right there in the moment.” So, that scene was in there for like, two years before we realized that it was completely and utterly wrong, and it was, the characters were not reacting in this scene.
We had fallen so in love with the emotion. We had blinders on to this emotion, we didn’t look at it relative to what was actually what would happen in real life. What happened was, that little moment where they’re bringing Blade back, we sort of gave to after Dusty crashes where we’re not sure whether Dusty is alive or not. So we still got to have that moment. We just gave it to a different character. Then what we ended up getting out of it was this lovely scene where Maru, (Curtis Armstrong), who was fantastic, gets his like, moment. He’s like, the water boy, right?
He doesn’t get to fly. He admires these guys. So, that’s his moment to shine. When they’re on the ground, he’s gotta put Blade back together. So anyway, stuff like that happens, and it takes a long time. That’s why you rely upon the other directors and the people around here to sort of look at you and give you notes, and you look for consensus in those notes. When you’re making the movie you’re so into the film, that you might need someone else to go, ” That doesn’t work at all.”
Yes, it does! It does work! You know. “Okay, don’t get defensive.” You know, and then you listen, and then you go, you know, eventually you’re like, “Oh, yeah, you’re right, they would be going fast,” and things like that. There are other scenes, you just do it for pacing, and things like that. You know. We had some scenes that were taken out, like at the very beginning when Dusty finds out he’s — he can’t race anymore, and then they go to Honkers and they hang out, and it’s sort of like the “cry in a beer” moment. Then he kind of went back to his hangar and he looked at all of his trophies, and then he kind of felt sorry for himself.
The next morning he sort of snuck out early and went flying. John said, “No, no, no if he’s really in denial, he’d go flying right then.” So we cut all of that out, and just go to him flying, so while they’re at Honkers all talking about it, he’s gone, and they go right to him flying. So things like that. And, oh, would he really just sit around and like, feel sorry for himself and wait till the next day to be in denial? Or he would just go like, no, no, no, I’m a racer. I can still do this, I’ll prove them wrong. I’ll just go fly now. And it ended up being cooler, because now, it’s at night, and now the fire’s caused at night, and visually that’s more exciting. So, just takes a while. You just go through that over and over again. That’s part of what we call the process.
Blogger : I have a question about voice actors. How do you select those? Do you have specific people you’re like, “Oh, this person would be perfect for this character,” or do you audition and decide that way?
Bobs G : Well, we cast characters that we feel embody the spirit of the character. So we won’t say “oh, here’s an actor, and we want to work with them, let’s create a character for them.” We don’t do that. We’ve created the character, and then we go out and find an actor or actress who we feel like embodies the spirit of that character already. There’s a couple of times when you do have someone in mind already, when maybe you sort of — you already know you have a character.
Harvey and Winnie, down there on the bottom, which are Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, right behind you, you know they are the perfect example, basically. So, you have two Winnebagos who are on their 50th wedding anniversary, coming back to Piston Peak to celebrate that. You want to have instant chemistry between them, and then, from a filmmaking standpoint, it’s a plant, because they are gonna be used later. So from a casting standpoint, we got Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara who are a comedy couple who’ve been married for 50 years, you know, and you didn’t have to do anything. It had come preloaded with the chemistry that you’d want to create, so they already embodied the spirit of those characters, and so it was a natural for them to fit into it.
Dale Dye is a veteran, so he’s playing the major ex-military aircraft. Wes Studi is obviously American Indian, and so he’s playing our American Indian helicopter. We got Ed Harris as a tough guy. So, it’s like Julie — we wanted to have Dusty’s biggest fan. Someone who’s just on the verge of being a little crazy hopeful is a better word, and so Julie was fantastic for that.
Curtis, I’d worked with many times, and I know how great of an actor he is. I need somebody who could yell at you, but you don’t take them that seriously. So Curtis is sort of, you know, the more he shouts, the funnier he gets. So you kind of go in and you figure, who is already the spirit of the character? Barry Corbin, plays Old Jammer, and he is from the heartland characters.
Ferrell B : You should know voiceover work is really hard work. These actors, you know, they’re confined in a small isolation booth, alone. Ninety-eight percent of the time, they’re recording alone. They don’t have another actor with them. They’re just there with headsets out, separated out, having to stay on the mics, can’t have them doing a lot of movement.
Bobs G : Not in costume, obviously.
Ferrell B : Not in costume. You know. Exactly, yeah. They come in and the director, the voice director, which is always, usually, Bobs for us, outside, with a sheet of glass between ‘em, reading the lines with them, and they have to perform.
They have to be on cue. Most of these are live action. Ed Harris, he’s used to being in front of a camera with another actor working a scene, like in theatre, and having another great actor with him. That’s not the case in animation. For some of them, it was their first time to do animation, and it was a big adjust for them, as an actor, to be on, and — and embody that character, and, you know, and — and bring that emotion just to the forefront every time, and they all did a great job. We always depend on, you know, having high caliber actors like Ed, like Julie, who we know are gonna bring more to what — to the character than what the script may provide.
Like we always say, Bobs is really good about having the script being a starting pint, that dialogue. Right? Start there. But, if you’re the character, if you feel like you’re gonna say something else, say what you feel like you’re gonna say. Most of the time, a lot of it went in the movie, stuff that they may have just ad-libbed. And Bobs liked better. That’s what we keep, and we cut in, and it’s great. But it’s a lot of hard work, and they all did — they are so — that’s a big part of elevating the movie, too, is the actors you hire. So it’s a long process. Of figuring out who we think is right, because it’s also about the voice quality, and you want that to be right. It’s very important in animation.
Blogger : Can you think of a remarkable ad lib you can remember?
Ferrell B : Oh, gosh. I know there was a ton.
Bobs G : “Yeah, they’re real,” was an ad lib.
Ferrell B : Was that — ?
Bobs G : That was Julie.
Ferrell B : Julie Bowen, when her pontoons go down. “Yeah, they’re real.” And that’s Julie Bowen. She’s such a great comedic actress. She’s great at improv, and, so you know, she was perfect for that role, ’cause she, again, she brought so much more to the table, that — it’s one of the funniest lines in the movie, right? So, thank goodness we had her.
Bobs G : Anyway, with Dale Dyer, we were saying, okay, you’ve got these, you know, what do you call parachuters?
He said, “We call ‘em gravel crunchers.” Say that, you know? So, you know, “Ya buncha gravel crunchers!” You know. So things like that, you know, you know, so, yeah. You always — yes, you know, y’know, Wes Studi, when we said, okay, we have this folktale that’s based on a real American Indian folktale, but what would you do to sort of like, call people together, to sort of like, you’re going to tell the story? So he did that.
Ferrell B : Because he’s a Cherokee Indian, and he has, obviously, some Cherokee that he grew up with, so he had a phrase in Cherokee that he knew that he said.
Bobs G : When he tells everyone to be quiet, we’re like, “Well, what would you say just to be quiet? We don’t want you to say ‘shut up’, you know?” And he’s like, ….. Okay. Great. If you say so. That’s what we’ll do. So those are the types of things that once you get in there, everybody gets — they get the ownership of the characters. Now, then, we also worked with Travis Alexander, who is one of our main —
Ferrell B : Cal Fire.
Bobs G : Cal Fire consultants, and all of chatter went through him. All of the radio chatter, what they would say, “split load,” and things like that. And then when he saw the footage, he changed it. He goes, “Oh, I didn’t realize that those were 110 feet high. That would be different load levels. Let’s change it from four to six.” Things like that. So, and, again, nobody really will know that, but there it’ll feel right. The details, all of those details, add up to it feeling real, versus — the person playing it, the actor, feels like that that’s who they are.
Then what they’re saying is accurate. The flight is accurate. And all those things. All help you nest and kind of settle into the film. The world and the characters all feel real to you.
Blogger : When do the voiceover actors get brought into the process? You said it takes five years, but when do they come in?
Bobs G : Well, the first year we’ll spend doing a lot of research. Then we’ll start looking into what the needs of the film might be. For example, we knew we were going to make a movie with fire in it, so we — we started working on not only our research, but on our fire R&D, and we spent two and a half years to develop the fire system for the movie. Then, usually, what you’d do, is, you’d kind of want to kind of feel pretty good about how the — how the story’s working before you bring them into — bring the actors in too early. Because you don’t want to constantly be kind of — you know, tearing it down and rebuilding it too much, with — you want them to kind to come in an take it to the next level.
So you’re trying to take it to the first level. Often with our first screening, it’ll just be all of us doing the voices. You just want to see if the movie works. Does the story even work? Sometimes, you will tear down 80 percent of the movie, 90 percent of the movie, and just keep — “Oh, well, that character was working, and that one story point was working, but nothing else works. So let’s switch and change it all.” So then, usually around the second or third screening, you’ll bring the actors in, and they’ll come in five to eight times over the process.
Blogger : Did they do any of the research? And go and meet any of the people?
Ferrell B : They did not.
Bobs G : You know. I don’t recall. I mean, there’s no reason not to. Sometimes, you know, sometimes there might be an occasion when our consultants are here at the same time that the voice actors are. You know if there was a need, we’d absolutely do it, and if the actors said, “I want to go out there, and I want to walk on the tarmac,” let’s do it, you know? We wouldn’t even hesitate.
Ferrell B : What Bobs is saying again, you know, we’re building the movie and tearing it down, it’s, again, is, you know, the storyboard reels. You know. We do draw it, and storyboard, and basically, build the movie in storyboard, the actual production voices are recorded before animation, so that goes to the animator.
Bobs G : Right.
Ferrell B : You want the animator to be working with the actual voice of the actor. We usually will then videotape Ed Harris in the booth too, because he’s still exuding emotion, and he’s acting in there, and we send that for inspiration, for the — you know.
Because the animator is also the actor. He’s bringing that character to life. So, to see Ed, you know, do his acting, he kind of inspires the animator, too —
Bobbs G : We have real time code when recording, so we can actually, when we’ve known what take we’ve used, we can actually go in and find the time code of that actual take, and then the animator can watch the actual scene.
Blogger : I remember seeing that with Frozen, where they were showing them doing their voice with Kristen and Idena, when they were going back and forth, and you could see when you watched that scene, that the gestures that they were making were incorporated in the animation. I loved that.
Bobs G : Absolutely.
Ferrell B : I’m not familiar with that movie.
Bobs G : It’s too cold.
Ferrell B : It’s a cold movie. We like fire.
Blogger : But I noticed the planes actually looked like Ed Harris as Blade. If you look at him, he has that slight dimple that Ed Harris has.
Bobs G : Yeah, we worked hard — Wes Studi has a kind of a down-turning smile. So we’ll go in there, as best we can, and , get the actors to inspire the designs of the characters whenever we can.
Blogger : Was Windlifter always supposed to be Native American?
Ferrell B : That was another part of the research was in that, discovering that American Indians actually have a long history of wild fire air attack. Mostly hotshots and smoke jumpers, which are the ground crews. Smoke jumpers smoke-jump in and parachute in. Hotshots drive in, and then hike up to the fire. Both of them are fighting the fires on the ground, but American Indians make up the vast majority of both hotshots and smoke jumpers for hundreds of years. So we thought it was — you know. We wanted to pay tribute to them as well, and have an American Indian as a character.
Bobs G : Actually, at the very, very beginning, it wasn’t. At the very, very, very, very beginning.
Ferrell B : Oh, that’s right.
Bobs G : We hadn’t done all of our research yet. . You do research, and then you come back and play with the story ideas, and those story ideas will then help you develop what questions you want to go and ask the researchers. So it’s very iterative, when you’re going back and forth. We knew that’s a heavy-lift helicopter. It’s designed — it can do — does two main things. It can fight fires, obviously, and they also heavy lift. They put air conditioning units on top of skyscrapers and things like that.
Originally we were thinking, okay, it’s a heavy lift. Well, perhaps it could be Russian, because Russia is very famous for their weight lifters. So that was our first sort of area. But, again, looking at the helicopter inspired what based that helicopter loosely on some designs that had sort of Russian origins. So we thought, okay, that would be one area to start, and we sort of explored that idea. When we had more information, we found out like, we wanted a character that was more connected to nature.
Then we found out the smoke jumpers and the fire fighting, and very, very early on changed it to Windlifter. Then we brought in an American Indian consultant. Because his original name was Strong Wind.
Ferrell B : Strong Wind.
Bobs G : And we thought that sounded a little, um…gassy? So, we actually asked the consultant. We weren’t going to use that name as a placeholder, but we didn’t know what to do, and so we asked our consultant, you know, what — to help us come up with the name.
One of the first things he says, is, “Well, in American Indian culture, you put the afterwards,” so that’s why it’s like “Skywalker,” you put the sort of descriptive after. So, he actually had come up with the name Windlifter. So that’s — you just — you know that Price Is Right game where there is like, four prizes, and you have the four things, and you run out there, and you put ‘em in and you come back, and you throw the lever, and you got three. You run out and you come back, and you throw the lever, and you’re like, “A two, oh no!” That’s what making these animated films are like, because you are constantly changing and testing it and coming back. Watching it and seeing it. You want to get four. You want to win all of the prizes. Right? So, that’s what you do is, you know, you find something that lands. Okay. We had this other thing. We need to work on that now, and now we need to work on that. That’s kind of the process, because you might change something that got worse. So now, well let’s put that thing that we took out back. That little thing — by doing that, we’ve learned this, and we’ll put that in there.
So, from the whole movie, from the story, from beginning to end, right down to a character, you will go through that sort of process.
Blogger: Did you go find Wes Studi? Did you have in mind when you learned about the American Indian part?
Bobs G : We looked at different casting options for Windlifter. We definitely wanted an American Indian to play the part, and Wes Studi was the one that we ultimately chose. I’m from Oklahoma. He’s from Northeastern Oklahoma. We ate at the same hot dog place. We hit it off. You know. Just like anything, we cast him. We looked at lot of different people, but Wes was the one who seemed to embody that. Had that nice sort of gentle giant feel. That kind of very, very even, you know, delivery, in the sense of, that was the little smile he’s such a nice guy.
Disclaimer: I was invited to an all expenses paid press trip with Disney. No compensation was received and all opinions are 100% my own.