In our first behind-the-scenes look at Cars 3, we reconnected with Lighting McQueen to find out how he’s changed. You may remember that in the original film, Lightning was a rookie in the sport of racing with no respect for the trailblazers of the sport that came before him. After getting trapped in Radiator Springs, his eyes were opened to a new way of living so that when he returned to the sport, he was a humble team player. In this third installment, McQueen will find himself racing against a character that is reminiscent of his youth, but amplified even farther – Jackson Storm.
“Jackson Storm, if you think about it, is the inverse of McQueen in Cars,” explains writer Mike Rich. “He has everything that McQueen had when he was young. Speed, this personality, a lot of swagger, a little bit more of an edge than McQueen even had. But the one thing that he clearly represents is the same thing that McQueen represented to a lot of older racers when he was coming up. He can be the one that can take from Lighting the one thing that he loves more than anything in the world, racing.”
“Armie Hammer gave a wonderfully rich voice for Storm and he kind of helped push on those traits of confidence, arrogance, and egotism,” examines Directing Animator Jude Brownbill. “When it comes to his personality and how he acts, we knew that Storm was going to be this overconfident kind of arrogant car. We wanted him to feel intimidating to McQueen. He really only cares about himself and about winning with no regard to his opponents or the history of the sport.”
“There’s definitely an echo to a young Lightning McQueen,” Director Brian Fee adds. “I like to think of him as being born with everything, he was born good looking, he was born fast, life has given him everything, he’s never had to work hard for anything. He thinks that the world owes him this, this is his. It’s his day and nobody else belongs. And he lacks the appreciation for who came before him, he lacks the appreciation for sharing it with other people. He’s entitled.”
“For a design like his, we start with a blank sheet of paper,” explains Production Designer Jay Shuster. “The goal is to use shape, paint and graphics to create a character that contradicts McQueen in every possible way. So at Pixar, we have this iterative design process. We’ve got to get every design up on the wall, doing hundreds of sketches, keeping in mind the design conceit that McQueen is round and flowing so Storm has to be angular and sharp. After all these initial design directions and explorations, we employ the talents of folks like Jay Mays, a former head of design at Ford and a good friend of John Lassiter. He workshoped the design of Storm a couple of days at Pixar.”
The design team at Pixar approached new characters like Jackson Storm with the same process used to create vehicles in the auto industry. In the case of Storm, once two-dimensional designs were approved, the next step was to build clay models so the team could sculpt and refine his shape in three dimensions. All of this happens well before any computer modeling begins.
Not only does the name and shape of Jackson Storm contradict Lightning McQueen, but also his decals. “We looked at the graphic design of what’s happening in NASCAR and there’s a lot going on these days… too much,” adds Shuster. “And we wanted Storm’s graphics to be different and we wanted Jackson’s graphics to be as bold and elegant as possible. Storm’s character should actually read through to his graphic design. Since McQueen has his iconic lightning bolt, we wanted to give Storm his own icon. So we took the international symbol for hurricane and transformed that into Storm’s iconic ‘S.’”
“Probably one of the things John [Lassiter] loved the most was the design of Jackson Storm and the next generation racers,” recalls Fee. “John invented Lightning McQueen and John loves the way Lightning McQueen looks, but he wanted to make sure that when Jackson Storm pulled up next to Lightning McQueen, McQueen looked old. John was ready to go there, ‘Let’s make McQueen look outdated.’”
“Storm’s design achieves all we set out to do,” Shuster boasts. “We gave McQueen a rival that completely defines the next generation and we exploited the shape and the paint and the graphic to yield a character that needs very few words to express his intentions.” Audiences can see Lightning McQueen go head-to-head with Jackson Storm on June 16th when Cars 3 races into theaters. Next time, we will look at another new character, the lovely Cruz Ramirez.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.