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PLANES

The Racers
With more wins than he can count and an abundance of fans, Ripslinger is wings-down the biggest name in air racing -- and he knows it. But despite sky's-the-limit funding and state-of-the-art equipment, the world champion's crown is threatened by a small- town plane with zero racing experience. Dusty doesn't belong in Ripslinger's sport and his mere presence makes the pro's fuel boil. And if Dusty's inexperience doesn't take him out of the race, Ripslinger's vast empire includes a couple of underhanded sidekicks to take care of business.

T. Dan Hofstedt, assistant animation supervisor, says Ripslinger's every move underscored his villainous personality. "His movements, his attributes -- right down to the shape of his eyes -- are sharp and a little threatening." 8Stereoscopic supervisor Jason Carter helped underscore Ripslinger by making strategic choices for the depth of his scenes. Close-ups of Dusty -- the protagonist -- are placed a bit closer to the audience than close-ups of his adversary Ripslinger. The idea, says Carter, is to subtly invite the audience into Dusty's inner circle, while keeping Ripslinger at arm's length -- literally.

But filmmakers were keenly aware of Ripslinger's prowess in the sky and made sure his look and animation reflected it. Also aware was Roger Craig Smith, who provided the racer's voice. "Ripslinger is the best," says Smith. "He's carbon fiber, he's lightweight, he's built for speed. He's an ego-maniacal, self-serving jerk, too, but he's the champ. Winning means everything to Rip. It's the only thing."

Team Ripslinger's bombastic racers Ned and Zed specialize in sabotage. Lacking the skills to actually outrace the competition, they simply eliminate it, propelling boss Ripslinger to victory every single time. Zed, a rowdy and reckless flier, and Ned, a strange bird himself, may not be the sharpest props in the hangar, but they have figured out how to draft off Ripslinger's fame.

Gabriel Iglesias, who provides the voice of both henchmen, says he had to find unique voices for each of the characters. Ned was easy, says the actor. "It's actually my voice with a little bit of a sinister feel to it. It's evil me."

As for Zed? Iglesias didn't have to look far. "Klay Hall started asking me about crazy people in my family and next thing you know, we found Zed."

The intensely charming El Chupacabra is a legend in Mexico (just ask him). According to Art Hernandez, story artist for the film, "El Chu is over the top. He's big, he's got a lot of bravado and -- it's not that he's full of himself, exactly -- he's definitely confident. He's a star of telenovelas and a recording artist. His face is on lunchboxes across Mexico. He's the indoor racing champion of the world." Carlos Alazraqui was called on to help bring El Chu to life. "When El Chu meets Dusty, there's an instant connection," says Alazraqui. "They form a great friendship that's built on trust. El Chu's got Dusty's back and Dusty repays him by helping him out with a romantic situation."

Powered by his passion for racing (not to mention the elusive Rochelle), this caped Casanova is anything but low- key -- his booming voice and charismatic presence are as big as his oversized engine. His cohorts aren't really sure what is truth and what is delusion when it comes to El Chu, but one thing is beyond doubt: he races with a whole lot of heart and more dramatic flair than is recommended at high altitudes.

Rochelle is a tough racer and the pride of the Great White North. Always confident and capable, she got her start running mail to small towns in Quebec, picking up home remedies for mechanical maladies along the way. She also developed a knack for fast travel that ultimately inspired her to give air racing a try. Rochelle never looked back (this competitive contender doesn't need to). She is relentlessly pursued by charmer El Chupacabra, but steadfast Rochelle is much too focused on winning the race to return his affections. "Rochelle is voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who does a lovely French Canadian accent," says Abraham. "Normally the ladies go crazy for El Chu, but not Rochelle. She sees through his cheesy come-ons and just keeps shooting him down. Then there's this really funny, sweet moment when he stops being insincere and serenades her. It changes everything."

Ryan Carlson, art director for "Disney's Planes," spearheaded the look of Rochelle, which presented a few challenges. "How do you make an airplane feminine?" Carlson asks. "How do you make her sexy and appealing?" He says it often boils down to a quarter of a line to achieve just the right curve. "It's something I learned when I was in feature animation with a woman who worked on characters like Jasmine and Pocahontas. She taught me how just the right shape, with a little finesse, can make a character beautiful. Rochelle is a sweet airplane who is definitely beautiful."

Bulldog has been racing longer than every other racer on the circuit. As the oldest and arguably wisest, he remembers a time before GPS, when real racers trusted their gyros and navigated by the stars. When it comes to racing, it boils down to two qualities, says Bulldog: good flying and sportsmanship. Period. While the competition secretly wonders if the aging plane is past his prime, he flies his way onto the leader board again and again, proving that this Bulldog has lost none of his bite.

Veteran actor John Cleese provides the voice of the British racer. "Bulldog is red, white and blue -- the British national colors. He is a very decent fellow -- a bit restrained, a little uptight, a tiny bit stuffy, but he's still fun. It's rather nice when he has a big emotional moment with Dusty."

The reigning Pan-Asian champion from India, Ishani is easy on the eyes, but ruthless in the skies. Thanks to her high-speed competitiveness and notable talent, she has amassed more than a billion loyal fans -- including one rookie racer who turns to her for guidance. Exotic and mysterious, Ishani is full of surprises, but always has her eye on the prize.

Priyanka Chopra was called on to give Ishani her voice. "She's sassy and she really wants to win a world championship, but she has a really good heart. Ishani is so much like me -- she is Indian, eloquent, well spoken and sexy. Having worked on more than 40 films, it's so rewarding to literally breathe life into a character like Ishani. I'm very passionate about my work."

Ishani's allure is also reflected in her design. Her eyes have a smoky look, not unlike Chopra's, which helped create the feminine look that was critical to her design. Says Hofstedt, "Ishani's eyes had to be extra appealing. It's Disney tradition that the eyes of female characters are a little more curvy in shape. We might bring the lids down a bit so they're cutting into the iris and pupil. Glen Keane did it in 'The Little Mermaid'; Mark Henn did that with Jasmine in 'Aladdin.' We looked at the difference between Thumper and Thumper's girlfriend in 'Bambi.'"

Also showcasing Ishani's exotic appeal is a henna tattoo that stretches over the top of her wings and across her fuselage. The tattoo was researched and designed by Carlson and executed by character designer Scott Seeto.

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