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Lightning Strikes the Detroit Auto Show

Pixar rolls out life-size Lightning McQueen ahead of “Cars 3” debut.

by on Jan.08, 2017

Pixar's top executives John Lasseter, left, Jay Ward and Jay Shuster, as well as Lightning McQueen, provided a sneak peek at "Cars 3."

Making a return to “where the idea of ‘Cars’ got its life,” John Lasseter and several other members of the Pixar creative team rolled into Detroit’s Cobo Hall on Sunday afternoon – along with a life-size replica of the film franchise’s hero, race car Lightning McQueen.

The film, a runaway 2006 hit, is about to bring the wise-mouthed McQueen back in the latest sequel, “Cars 3.” But this time, the rookie racer has become a fading veteran, struggling to hold back a challenge from a new generation led by the film’s villain, Jackson Storm.

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“The goal (for Storm) was to create a car that looked completely different – what a NASCAR racer would look like in 20 years,” explained Lasseter, the Pixar creative director and son of an auto parts depot manager.

His team scoured the 2001 North American International Auto Show to help pull together the original idea for “Cars,” Lasseter explaining that “getting the details right” is crucial for his animated films. (When he worked on the first “Toy Story,” another whopping hit, he says he bought up every toy he could think of – “all on the company credit card.”)

(Disney to debut Cars 3 star in Detroit. Click Here for the story.)

Pixar's Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter talks about the third sequel in the "Cars" line-up of films in Detroit.

The work paid off. “Cars” has become one of the biggest franchises the Walt Disney Company has, the film giant purchasing the digital animation factory in 2006. It has not only launched a series of sequels, but a theme park and plenty of tie-in merchandise that has reportedly generated $10 billion in sales to date. So expectations for Cars 3 are running high.

Lasseter and colleagues Jay Ward and Jay Shuster offered a sneak peek at a climactic scene from “Cars 3,” a film that raises the question of what happens when old race cars face a new generation of challengers.

The new film introduces an assortment of new characters, including Storm, whose design is “angular and sharp,” according to Shuster, in contrast to the soft curves of McQueen. There’s also a new “female” lead, in the form of Cruz Ramirez, who helps coach McQueen in his bid for a comeback.

(Click Here to see the fastest Bentley ever.)

Designing the car stars proved nearly as difficult and drawn-out a challenge as it is to design a real new car. Surprisingly, the Pixar/Disney team, known for their digital animation prowess, took a low-tech approach, starting out with sketches on paper and then translating the images into clay models. Only when they were happy with the design did they turn the cars into digital renderings that could come to life in virtual reality.

Jackson Storm, left, is Lightning McQueen's new rival in "Cars 3."

“‘Cars 3’ is a love letter to racing and its roots, so we could not be more excited to be a part of the North American International Auto Show to share a little bit of our film with our fellow car enthusiasts,” the sequel’s director Brian Fee said in a separate news release, adding that the goal was to “create worlds and characters that ring true to our audiences,”

The film is expected to take “a few unexpected turns,” and there’s a hint that McQueen’s original mentor, the Hudson Hornet, might make an appearance – a bit of a surprise since the character was voiced by film legend Paul Newman, who died in 2008.

(Get sneak peak at what’s coming to this year’s NAIAS. Click Here for the story.)

Expect to hear more as the film prepares for a nationwide opening on June 16.

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