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Tuning Up The Story
CARS was a very personal story for John Lasseter. As a boy growing up in Whittier, California, he loved to visit the Chevrolet dealership where his father was a parts-department manager, and he got a part-time job there as a stock boy as soon as he turned 16.

According to Lasseter, "I have always loved cars. In one vein, I have Disney blood, and in the other, there's motor oil. The notion of combining these two great passions in my life—cars and animation—was irresistible. When Joe (Ranft) and I first started talking about this film in 1998, we knew we wanted to do something with cars as characters. Around that same time, we watched a documentary called ‘Divided Highways,' which dealt with the interstate highway and how it affected the small towns along the way. We were so moved by it and began thinking about what it must have been like in these small towns that got bypassed. That's when we started really researching Route 66, but we still hadn't quite figured out what the story for the film was going to be. I used to travel that highway with my family as a child when we visited our family in St. Louis.”

It was at this point that Lasseter's wife, Nancy, persuaded him to take a much-needed vacation, during the summer of 2001. Lasseter recalls: "Nancy said to me that if I didn't slow down and start paying attention to the family, the kids would be going off to college before I knew it and I would be missing a huge part of our family life. And she was right!”

The entire family packed up a motor home and set out on a two-month trip with the goal of staying off the interstate highways and dipping their toes in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

"Everybody thought we would be at each other's throats the whole time,” adds Lasseter, "but it was the exact opposite. When I came back from the trip, I was closer to my family than ever, and I reattached to what was important in life. And I suddenly realized that I knew what the film needed to be about. I discovered that the journey in life is the reward. It's great to achieve things, but when you do, you want to have your family and friends around to help celebrate.

Joe loved the idea, and our story really took off from there. Our lead car, Lightning McQueen, is focused on being the fastest. He doesn't care about anything except winning the championship. He was the perfect character to be forced to slow down, the way I had on my motor home trip. For the first time in my professional career I had slowed down, and it was amazing. The unique thing about Pixar films is that the stories come from our hearts. They come from things that are personal to us and that move us. This gives special emotion and meaning to the films.”

In 2001, Lasseter, Ranft, producer Darla K. Anderson, production designers Bob Pauley and Bill Cone, along with other key members of the production team, flew to Oklahoma City and headed out from there in a caravan of four white Cadillacs on a nine-day trip along Route 66. Historian/author Michael Wallis led the expedition and introduced them to the people and places that make that road so very special. At each stop along the way, the team observed firsthand the "patina” of the towns and tried to capture the richness of textures and colors.

Painted advertisements on the sides of buildings, weathered and overlaid, were of particular interest. Careful studies were made of rock and cloud formations and the variety of vegetation along the way.

Wallis notes, "Every road has a look based on where the road goes. It reflects the territory on both shoulders. The look of Route 66 is everything from the licorice-colored soil of Illinois in the land of Lincoln, to the desert sands of the Mojave. It's the all-American look.”

"On our research trip, we went to the cafés and mom-and-pop shops, and motels along the<

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