Interview with Planes: Fire and Rescue Director Bobs Gannaway and Producer Ferrell Barron #FireAndRescueEvent

 During our trip to DisneyToon studios, we had the pleasure of being the first people in the world to see Planes: Fire & Rescue, the first in the world! We also met Bobs Gannaway (Director) and Ferrell Barron (Producer), and participated in a question and answer session which was extremely fun. Both of the gentlemen are hilarious and a pleasure to speak with.

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Q: We were just discussing the first one was great and it was cute and it was heartwarming but this was compelling. It was like you were cheering them on. It was the ultimate goal that they had to meet and it was just, it was amazing.

Bobs Gannaway: It’s really great because I feel the same way. [LAUGHTER] No I know, I think what was really nice is Clay and his team along with John, did a good job, a really great job, teaming up the world, and a lot of his choices informed our choices. A good example is Dusty’s relationship with Dipper.

We were looking at what could we do for a romantic sort of story-line here that’s not derivative of the first film where Dusty facilitated a relationship between two characters, and that was actually our first idea. So you sort of go to truth, like what would really be happening. He would have fans, some fans might be sort of super fans and may feel like they already know him, like it  happens to celebrities. Jeff Howard and I who wrote the script, we sort of said, well let’s take Dipper through the stages of a relationship, you know, and then Dusty never reciprocates. It would just be fun for her to go through, and sort of gave her that arc and it made her sort of charming.

Bobs Gannaway: We did have them break up at the end originally. She let him down easy, that whole Summer romance that kind of thing, and then John was like oh no, let’s leave that story alive.

 

Q: How much time did you spend at National Parks Institute?

Ferrell Barron:  A lot of time. Yellowstone and Yosemite are the two parks, you can see there are a lot of monuments in there that are kind of taken from both. Waterfalls I think from Yosemite. Our art director spent a lot of time there obviously, taking a lot of pictures. We met with a lot of park rangers who toured us around and Old Faithful Inn, our lodge is based on the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone. So we got to take a quick trip and didn’t have enough time. It was one of those vacation trips where everyone’s cramped in a car. Griswold’s like. Speeding to one location, jump out take pictures, speed to another. And you see places in the park that  a lot of people don’t get to see which was really a lot of fun.

Bobs Gannaway: There’s research, you know, research informs everything right down to a gag. Little things like the lodges, there’s rocking chairs in front of the fire places. We had the head of National Parks watch the Movie and after I explained to him that Cad isn’t a bad guy, just has misguided good intentions, he wants to protect the lodge, just at the expense of maybe innocent people. But the old Jammer, I’m sure you’re familiar with it, is the tour buses that are used, and still used today in Glacier National Park in Yellowstone. They’re called Jammers because they would jam the gears. They’re not standard anymore, but still called Jammers today.

So Jammers name is based on a historical vehicle and so someone might pick up on that. If they don’t, it’s alright. Boat Reynolds appears there, any idea where that guy came from? Anybody? That came from research. We were driving through Yellowstone and there was a sign that said boat rentals, and I went, “Oh look, boat rental, Boat Reynolds.” So you know, just the littlest tiny thing will inform, you know, big choices. And even something no one will even get which is the railway station that’s hooked to the Grand Fuselage which is the best pun in the movie.  The railway station is actually based on a railway station that no longer exists that was the north side, north end of Yellowstone, that was designed by the same architect as the Old Faithful Inn.

So I thought oh, that would be a cool little homage to him, just sort of put his railway station, connect it, so you know, little things like that that nobody will ever pick up on. A few people might. Talking about research, the mine sequence where Blade sort of shields the fire for Dusty is based on a true story. It’s based on the the Polaski story and a fire fighter who came in and saved a group of firefighters by taking them into a mine, in 1910 I think. One of our fire fighters came and watched the movie recognized that story and that mine sequence.

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Q: Who was the Chips fan? (My question)

Bobs Gannaway: Well you know, it was the easiest thing. I just had to change one vowel and it worked perfectly. I knew from the very first pitch I wanted that. In looking to tell a story that was different from Planes, I wanted a mentor character who was fully realized, not broken, like Skipper in the first film, Dusty helps heal him. I wanted someone who fully realized, had come to terms with the change in their life, like what happened, and then could distill that wisdom onto Dusty at a time when it, when he needed to talk him off the ledge.

I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we all sort of  just used the idea like he used to play one on TV and now he does it for real. I just thought, that’s such a fun thing and then I don’t know how we thought of Chips and Chops. Then we got Eric Estrada to come in and play Nick Lopez and he was awesome, and that was fun. We were very careful not to make fun of Chips but to try to recreate the Show as truly as possible, even our composer noted that the music for Chips was never scary, it’s always, you know, [SINGS].

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Q: And then you brought in Firemen. Did you have to go and get any other Fireman. I heard you brought in a Jumper or something.

Ferrell Barron: Smokejumpers, yes. So smokejumpers we brought. They’re in the US Forces Service. Obviously, Cal Fire, LA County Fire. We brought in an oil analysis which is really interesting when Dusty has his mishap, his kind of heart attack. It was fun to realize that when that really happens. It can actually happen when gear starts shredding in an airplane, they release metals into the oil and that’s how they analyze it and they analyze the oil and find out what kind of metal is in the oil, which will determine what part of the engine is faulting. What was interesting is that’s very much like a blood test basically because they’re taking it and they’re looking under a microscope and so it lent itself to having a medical problem.

So it goes back again to the research, bringing in as many consultants as we can to help every aspect of the movie that related to the story, to bringing truth to it all. The flight is of course, as with Planes, the flight is all accurate. We had the same team, the same consultant Jason McKinley who made sure the flight was accurate. We have helicopters in our movie and we brought in Chuck Aaron. Chuck Aaron is the top helicopter pilot in the world, and is just– You Tube Chuck Aaron and you’ll see the amazing things he does. He flies the Red Bull Helicopter.

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Bobs Gannaway: Only one of two pilots in the world who does an inside loop in a helicopter, actually goes upside down in a helicopter. He trained the other guy and helicopters aren’t supposed to go upside down and — and he does it, so it’s pretty amazing. And he actually took us out and did an inside loop in the helicopter with us so you get the feeling of what it was like to do them, to do that.

All the people we met, the fire fighters are everything you think they are. They were amazing, giving, caring, courageous people, so charming, and so giving with their time and wanting to help. It was really a wonderful experience and they’ve become friends of ours now.

Ferrell Barron: Because of that, we really took this movie to heart. We really put it on our shoulders and we wanted to tell a story that really paid a tribute and gave homage to fire fighters. Again, we saw the tribute at the beginning of the movie to fire fighters around the world. You can count on one hand really how many fire fighter movies there are, certainly none in animation. So they were all so honored to be talking with us and being a part of the film, helping tell their story. That was the biggest goal, not only for kids and parents, we wanted to make the story for them. That’s been the biggest part of this whole project is just making sure that we’re being, bringing, being truthful and making them proud to watch the movie.

 

Q: Are National Parks or places reaching out to you to help with like PSAs to speak to children about fire safety?

Ferrell Barron: Totally it’s already in the can. Yeah, we’ve actually done that very thing tied in with Smokey the Bear. So we have some PSAs working with him right now, which is fantastic.

Bobs Gannaway: They were really helpful and generous right down to letting us use the Arrowhead on the Park, which is their emblem. They are thrilled. Clay did such a great job with Planes and sort of opening up the aviation world to youth. We had both helicopters and a National Parks in making them sort of relevant to kids.

 

Q: What kind of research did you do to get the fire to look so realistic? Did you just watch videos of a fire? Did you actually see a fire?

Ferrell Barron: Years and years and years. Well we will never confess to that. No, we didn’t jump into a fire but we certainly have a lot of footage. Cal Fire provided us with a lot of great footage. This was probably the biggest undertaking we’ve ever tried here to Disney Studios was the FX.  53% of our movie I had visual effects and the joy of that is fire, smoke, and water, so when Bobs first pitched this to John Lassiter and he saw that first image, they knew we had to get on, call R&D Research and Development right away on the fire, because  it’s essentially a character. So you want to be sure you’re developing this character that it looks real. He was very specific. He wanted it to look real and not fake. In the effects world, fire is a fluid simulation, it’s one of the most difficult things you can do. It takes a lot of time to get it right and it can also bog things down because it’s so heavy. I mean, you’re dealing with zeros and ones, it’s all computer generated, and it’s very heavy. So we had to first build a fire that looked real, but it had to be a fire that was also sustainable through the course of production and couldn’t, wouldn’t lock us down. So that was two tasks. It had to look right and be sure that we could actually produce it for, you know, over 600 shots.

Bobs Gannaway: The shots become very dense. There’s about 2 and a half million trees populating the park I think. You know, and your shots get really dense and you put those, light them all on fire, and it becomes a very complicated thing to produce and render and all of the things that you have to do to get it on the screen.

But we looked at mostly real fire footage and some elements that go in the movie are loosely based on the 1988 Yellowstone fires. Old Faithful Inn had been restored I think ten years prior to that fire, it had just gotten sprinkler systems put in, and we climbed the roof of the Old Faithful Inn and took pictures of the sprinkler system so it looks like the sprinkler system. If you happen to get a chance to climb on the Old Faithful Inn.

So yeah, from a fire standpoint, it was challenging, it’s so challenging.

 

Q: It looks very accurate and believable so…

Bobs Gannaway: That’s the trick. I mean, that and scale, how fast the flames move. It’s amazing when you look at actually trees burning how large the flames are. You know, so scale is a tricky thing because sometimes you make it look exactly right, it doesn’t look right. Maybe your memory of what you think it should look like vs. what it really look like. So it’s all those sort of things and not losing scale cause the flames are too large.

Ferrell Barron: That brings in our Cal Fire guys and our smokejumper was more, even more interesting is the smokejumper we had coming on our fire with us. We also brought him in at the end and he commented on the sound effects. We wanted to be sure it sounded right and there’s very few people that are actually in a fire, in the middle of a forest fire. So our sound designers actually sit with Josh our smokejumper, and he would comment and provide adjectives, until he was like yeah, that, you got it, that sounds just perfect so that’s, again the amount of detail we go to be sure that we’re being as accurate and truthful as we can.

Bobs Gannaway: The same as retardant drops and the water drops. We actually went out to training days, and stood out in fields. We had water dropped on us. We got a nice email one day from our consultant at Cal Fire who had seen the trailer online and just email and go, exactly right, you guys got it exactly right. And that’s tricky stuff. I mean, the momentum of the way you do a water drop is, you know, you have to drop at the right height and you hurry or it’ll dissipate or it’ll, it won’t spread properly. The water has to go and drop straight down or you’ll get shadowing.

If the water pushes that way and you have a tree, it’ll shadow so that part of the ground won’t get covered. So they have to do it just right so it settles and falls. There’s a certain height that you have to drop it at, above the canopy, tree canopy. When our consultant from Cal Fire saw it he was like “Oh, I didn’t realize that the trees were gonna be that high. That would be a coverage level six, not a coverage level four.” So we went in and changed it.

John Lassiter talks about  the things you need, and you have to create it like a book– I’m sure you guys have heard this but you — you have to create a believable world and so that’s one of the first things you have to do. So this has to be a real National Park and this has to be a real fire and they have to be reacting the way you would react and all those things.

 

Q: There was a lot more adult humor in this movie. I really enjoyed it. I’m not complaining. I like the drinking game.

Bobs Gannaway: Crazy you caught that. You know, when you do these we have multiple screens, we put the first reels up and I wondered if people would be able to get that because it requires a little bit of math. Like this is a popular show and Blade had this hoist that he uses often and so it’s so popular they decided to create a little game out of it where every time you use the hoist to take a drink of oil. So I’m glad you got that because it requires a little bit of quick math in your brain.

You get the sense that this is actually a thing that has existed for a long time and that’s the fun. It’s so much fun crafting these worlds and kind of doing this sort of Planesification of it and what would that be? It’s so much fun so I’m glad you picked up on that. And the humor. You know, we want to make it entertaining for everyone and again, you make the movie for yourself and I let the characters say what the characters would say. Hopefully we’ve created real characters that have personalities that are true and to be honest and it sounds a little pretentious but there is a point where you characters start to kind of speak and say what they would say.

Chris Armstrong who plays Marew, who’s worked on many projects I’ve worked on in the past. We wrote the part for him cause I knew he could play a lovable cranky guy because I always ask him like how can you yell at your kids because you make me laugh every time you start yelling. He’s like, I know it’s frustrating. Wes Studi, who plays Windlifter, we always wanted him to be a man of few words, the sort of gentle giant. Then I discovered at the very end that Windlifter and Marew are really good friends. I hadn’t really figured it, I hadn’t really found that yet. And we had that scene in the lodge and we put that scene where maybe he’s trying on sunglasses and he asks his buddy how they look.

Ferrell Barron: That’s why casting becomes so important. You can have a great script, beautiful scenes, beautifully shot scenes but it’s the characters that are driving the story. So we always want to cast our characters with actors that you feel are really going to embody the essence of those characters. And that’s what made it so easy, and authentic.

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Bobs Gannaway: It can’t be someone putting on a voice, they have to embody the character, like Winnie and Harvey, who are Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller, who are a comedy couple, who have been married for 50 plus years. They were my first choice because I have a married couple who have been married for 50 years, I want that chemistry that comes from a married couple who have been married for 50 years. So I’ll get a married couple who’s been married for 50 years and they’re already a comedy team.

 

Q: Speaking of what we have to look forward tomorrow, talk a little bit about what that experience was like.

Bobs Gannaway: Since Jeff Howard who wrote the first film and I wrote this together, the script for me is a guideline for the recording sessions. It’s not something that we’re married to. It’s not written in stone and the recording sessions are one of the great opportunities where you get to sort of play a little bit, so in the moment. So having Julie come in who’s pre-caffeinated as you’ll see, a bundle of energy, and just to run the scenes with her and let her sort of play, and ad lib.

You don’t need to be married to the script, just sort of the essence of the line is what we’re trying to get. I’ll let you know if it’s something that’s technically we need to say, or something important for set up for later but let’s just play and have a good time because it has to come across as genuine or people will see right through it.

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Ferrell Barron: You want actors to do what they do. I mean, you don’t want them to act. I mean, most of the times in animation, the majority of the times you bring an Actor by himself and they’re in a booth and they just read with a reader or with the Director and that’s how they do it. But for instance, John Michael Higgins who plays Cad and Fred Willard plays the Secretary of the Interior, both of them are great comedic improv actors and they actually have a history. So we knew, you take advantage of that just like Stiller and Meara, like bring them in together, let them play off each other, and just use the script as guide and you will always end up getting more gold than what you have provided with them because  that’s their job.

 

Q: It’s very interesting that you would, you know, bring the actors then and just let them go. How often does that really happen? It sounds like you would need to trust them an awful lot.

Bobs Gannaway: Well in animated film we go through multiple screenings. We storyboard, we put it up there sometimes with temp dialogue, sometimes the actors. We watch it. We then take it down. We show it to our colleagues. We get notes. We put it up again. So the actors come in, you know, 5, 6, 7, 8 times over the process in, uh, the 2 or 3 years that you’re making it. So you get a relationship with the actors and a kind of comfort level. Some of them you may have already known. And several of them, I had worked with in the past. Other people like Ed Harris, it’s one of his very first times, his very first time doing a film, an animated film. Um, he’s a 4 time Academy Award nominated actor and I’m running lines with him. He’s a little scary, right? Nope, he’s the nicest, a super nice guy, but they have to get comfortable with the process. You need to know where you’re going, what you’re trying to accomplish, and how you’re gonna get there, and you want to bring everybody along the ride to plus it and make it better along the way and sort of be, again the kind of curator for all these great ideas and very talented people to help you sort of, you know, make something hopefully great so..

Ferrell Barron: You always start with a script and once they start loosening it up, then Bobs will start putting in other ideas just to try to get other things that he might be thinking of and then he’ll let them, allow them to kind of go off in different directions. So we always have a huge amount of material to go through. The editors go through and pick those special nuggets that he thinks work will work well, that he and Bobs will then work together with and choose for that final product so it’s a fun part of the process.

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PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE opens in theaters on July 18, 2014!

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Disclosure:  I was provided with an all expense paid trip by Disney. This is accordance with Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of. Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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