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Head in the Clouds
Klay Hall was into airplanes long before "Disney's Planes" ever got off the ground. So when executive producer John Lasseter asked the Disneytoon Studios veteran if he'd be interested in directing a feature film set in the skies, it was a no-brainer. "I've always loved airplanes," says Hall. "My dad was in the Navy and his dad was also a pilot. They flew all their lives and passed that love of aviation to me.

"When I was a kid here in California," continues Hall, "my dad and I would grab some burgers and Cokes and go to the local runway to watch the planes take off and land. I'd sit there and sketch as he talked about the characteristics of the airplanes. I still have a couple of those drawings. So when this project came up, I was able to really jump into this universe."

Hall's passion for and background in aviation clearly made him the ideal choice for the film -- but the director was already on board another project when "Disney's Planes" landed in his lap. At the suggestion of John Lasseter, Hall spent more than six months researching and building a story set in the American frontier and featuring railroading. "I'm a history buff -- just like John -- and it was neat world full of steam locomotives," says Hall. "It really seemed to be coming together and then John called me. I remember exactly where I was when my phone rang. He said, 'What do you think about shifting gears and working on a film about planes?' I paused for a second -- John likes to say that as soon as the blood went back to my head after I got off the floor, I was all in. I told him that if there's one thing I love more than trains and the wild west, it's planes."

The director, who attended Cal Arts with fellow animation vets Rich Moore ("Wreck-It Ralph") and Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo," "WALL*E"), came to Disney in 2005. "My background has always been primetime comedy," says Hall. "I spent 10 years at 'The Simpsons' and then 'King of the Hill.'"

So when it came time to build the story for "Disney's Planes," humor was a key ingredient -- along with the kind of action a film about airplanes called for and -- of course -- authenticity and heart. Hall credits the story team with finding the right blend. "What's really cool about making an animated film is -- hands down -- the collaboration. I think animation is the most collaborative art form there is. It takes an army of talented people to do one of these films."

Hall, Lasseter and Jeff Howard came together early in the process to hammer out the story. "We sat in a little room for five or six hours," says Howard, who welcomed the opportunity to brainstorm with Lasseter. "We all respect him so much, creatively -- and we were invited to hang out and spitball with him. That's when we came up with the idea of a crop duster who wants to be a racer. We named him Dusty that first day and talked about a race around the world where he'd meet racers from different countries."

"It just felt right," says Lasseter. "There's a great group of new characters who fly throughout different parts of the world -- Iceland, Germany, India, Mexico. We knew from the start that it had to be better than good. It had to be great. And it is. It's beautiful. To say that I'm excited about this movie is an understatement."

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