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PLANES

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The magic of Disney animation begins with research, which informs everything from story development to character design to lighting. Filmmakers' research efforts ran the gamut for "Disney's Planes" -- from helicopter flights and long drives along winding rural roads to a rare opportunity to come aboard a working aircraft carrier.

"Authenticity is everything in a movie like 'Disney's Planes,'" says producer Traci Balthazor-Flynn. "We needed to know airplanes inside and out, how they fly, how they react to different forces of nature, and how they sound. We needed to know how a small plane might perform in the world of racing."

At the core of "Disney's Planes" is the fact that Dusty was built for one thing. "He doesn't really belong in this big around-the-world race -- or any race, for that matter," says director Klay Hall. "He's just a crop duster, but when he gets a chance to step out of his comfort zone and challenge himself -- he surprises everyone, including himself."

Hall says the key to allowing the character to become more than he was built for was to understand how airplanes are built and how they operate so they could help Dusty break his predetermined mold. "Working with John Lasseter is incredibly inspiring. He firmly believes in getting the facts right, getting as much information as possible."

The research they conducted helped ensure they embraced Lasseter's philosophy: truth to materials. The principle -- as applied to "Disney's Planes" -- required artists to keep an airplane's physical structure -- its frame, its size and weight -- in mind while designing and animating the characters. Wings couldn't be bent, bodies weren't stretched or squashed and propellers had to move as real propellers would move. Filmmakers had to find much more subtle ways to convey action and emotion.

"We had a lot of fun exploring the world of airplanes," says Hall. "We've been able to experience all kinds of flight -- hot air balloons, World War II bombers, and different types of jet and civilian aircraft."

Hall was invited by Sean Bautista, a long-time pilot who became the flight and engineering specialist for "Disney's Planes," to take part in a memorable flight. "We took off out of a little airport in Fresno in a 1926 open-cockpit Travel Air -- you spin the old prop outside and get in and start it up. I was in the front with a leather hat and goggles. That feeling of the wind in your hair, hearing the motor and experiencing the soft turns and gentle glide of that aircraft was pure magic."

The research included field trips for several members of the production team -- attending air shows, museums and a number of small-town airports -- to soak up the atmosphere, bolster their knowledge of airplanes and ensure authenticity in the story. "I was like a kid in a candy store," says Hall. "We were able to talk to aviation pioneers and fighter pilots, Korean War vets, civilian test pilots. We had special access to the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds. It's been amazing."

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