Racing Idols -- Reel and Real
Providing a sharp contrast to the everyman qualities of the Starlight Plaza ensemble is racing superstar and egomaniac Guy (rhymes, appropriately enough with "Me") Gagne, a French-Canadian and five-time Indy 500 champ. Guy comes across as an eccentric yet charismatic charmer, but he's really a competitive narcissist who will do anything to win. He's all speed, and no heart.
When we meet Turbo, he is Guy's number-one fan -- watching tapes of his idol's racing triumphs and interviews over and over again, while slurping the toxic energy drink Guy endorses. Guy -- or at least, his public image -- inspires Turbo, until the two come face-to-face (if snails had faces, that is) at the Indy 500, where Guy reveals his true nature.
"Guy is the greatest race car driver in the world, and he's happy to remind you of that fact," says SNL's Bill Hader, who takes on the role. "I'm always looking for new challenges, and I've never played a French-Canadian race car driver, or used that accent," jokes Hader, no stranger to offbeat characters like SNL's nightclub "correspondent" Stefon, chain-smoking Italian talk show host Vinny Vedeci, and game show host Vince Blight.
Soren notes that a French-Canadian accent is not easily replicated, one of several reasons he called upon Hader. "Bill came in and literally the character that you hear on screen came out his mouth fully formed." That's high praise from Soren, who is Canadian, but Hader admits to researching accents on YouTube before his reading for Soren.
To ensure authenticity and maximum impact for TURBO's high-velocity Indy 500 scenes, the filmmakers turned to some of the racing world's most iconic figures. Four-time IZOD IndyCar Series Champion and three-time Indianapolis 500-winner, Dario Franchitti was the primary racing consultant. The legendary Mario Andretti, and the high-profile drivers Helio Castroneves and Will Power also provided invaluable input.
"They were instrumental in helping us make our on-screen Indy 500 feel as authentic as possible," says Soren. "I felt strongly that replicating a real race was essential to upping the stakes for Turbo. And, since our story concept is obviously far-fetched, I wanted to make everything around that idea believable and real. So that was where having racing consultants was especially helpful."
Adds Lisa Stewart: "One of our big challenges was getting audiences to suspend their disbelief and go on this journey with Turbo. So we made sure to place our characters in a world that was authentic."
Soren says that his conversations with Franchitti were especially enlightening. "We talked about Dario's first time racing an Indy car, how he got into racing, and the emotions involved in a driver's first big race," he recalls. "The character of Turbo is having his first race, so it was invaluable to get Dario's take on that experience, and have him walk us through the aural and visual experiences that surround a driver."
Although he's no stranger to glamorous and high-profile events, and to meticulous preparation, Franchitti was dazzled by the moviemaking process, which he got to experience first-hand. "It was fascinating to see the level of detail that went into the making of TURBO," he enthuses. "I was impressed with David Soren's desire to learn as much as he could about the Indy 500."
Franchitti hopes that the film's depiction of the epic race will lure more new fans. "I think TURBO is going to open Indy up to a whole new audience," he says. "When I saw the passion that everyone has working on the film, and for creating the best possible racing sequence, I thought that anyone who sees the film could become a racing fan."
Additionally, the racing sanctioning organization IRL provided access to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and other key events, like the Long Beach Grand Prix. This was important to keep the racing scenes authentic. "Our design team took tens of thousands of photos, covering every inch of these facilities, from textures on the ground to the details of the pit crews, equipment and garages," says Soren.
The filmmakers' quest for racing verisimilitude even extended to ridealongs in modified Indy cars. Donning fire suits and full racing gear, Soren and Stewart, as well as key department heads were strapped into their cars, and channeled their inner-Franchitti as they raced around the track at speeds of over 180 miles per hour. "It was thrilling, intense and scary," says Stewart. "And it got a little too adrenalized when my car went spinning at a 270-degree turn, and then stalled out. Dear Lord that was terrifying!"
Soren's use of 3D enhances the "you-are-there" thrills of the Indy 500 sequence, as well as the challenges Turbo faces with the cars racing alongside him, which to him are super-powered behemoths. "I also wanted to tackle stereo thematically," says Soren. "Audiences will feel it when Turbo's world opens up, and the 3D lets them experience the magic he's feeling."
Beyond the racetrack, Soren also discovered that the 3D enhanced the snails' vulnerability, heightening the vast differences in scale between them and objects and textures surrounding them. "Being down on their level and in their world, with the 3D, really helps the overall effect and engagement with the characters," he explains.
The TURBO team brought a similar authenticity to those other environments, vividly capturing the gone-to-seed vibe of the Starlight Plaza, and the workaday world of the Tomato Plant.
The morning garden-path commute to the plant is punctuated by a sudden appearance of a crow swooping in to pick off a hapless snail. It's unfortunate, but all part of the day. They must also deal with non-airborne threats, like a tricycle-riding kid/snail assassin and the dreaded "Gardener Day" and his weapon of choice: a lawnmower and its deadly blades. Upon arrival at the plant, the snails punch in, and slowly (what else?) and methodically go about their mundane tomato-harvesting tasks of "pick 'em/sort 'em/eat 'em."
Another key locale, the Starlight Plaza, captures the spirit of the San Fernando Valley in a way not seen before in animated features and most live action pictures. "The beauty of the TURBO production being based in Los Angeles was that all our locations and research were easily accessible," says Soren. "On far-flung shooting locations, filmmakers often have to resort to doing much of their research online, but I strongly encouraged our teams to leave their offices and take photographs all over the Valley. And that makes a huge difference in the movie. It feels much more specific."
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