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... then checks under the hood on "The Art of Cars"

... then checks under the hood on "The Art of Cars"

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Let me begin by saying that I am not a car guy.

As in: I don't have "grease under my finger nails and gasoline in my veins." But I certainly know more than a few folks who qualify in that sense. And while I don't own a hot rod or a sports car, I have enjoyed my fair share of experiences involving both. Add in everything from a 26-year career with AAA to participating in long distance & course marker gimmick car ralleyes to watching NASCAR races (short tracks & road courses) to car shows to road trips and then some. Fate has also allowed me to know some truly inspired automotive artists along the way as well.

So when I first saw the book "The Art of Cars", it was something of foregone conclusion that I was to end up purchasing a copy of it. In what I suppose could be considered a rather ironic twist, this happened on the same day that Pixar's stockholders approved acquisition of the company by Disney – Friday, May 5th. And in the weeks since, I have truly enjoyed looking at the work of the talented artists that is presented on every page.


Image courtesy of Chronicle Books.

If you have read any of the previous Art offerings from Chronicle Books including "The Art of Finding Nemo", "The Art of Monsters Inc." or "The Art of the Incredibles", then you have an understanding of what it takes the folks at Pixar to go from story idea to finished product. The difference this time out is that "Cars" takes place in a world that truly has no connection to our own. It is a place populated by motor vehicles -- without humans! And for that reason, it may have presented the biggest series of challenges of any of their films so far.

Trying to take audiences into a vehicular world like that was just filled with challenges from the start of the project. Everything from how cars would move to what kind of flora and fauna might be found in such a place had to be considered. And to get the proper inspiration required the right guides to the automotive world.

One of those happened to be Michael Wallis. His book, "The Mother Road" (about the fabled Route 66), offers a great starting point for any looking to learn more about the American road experience. As much as the automobile is transportation, it also is culture – both high and low. That common bond that puts us behind the wheel also defines our lives in ways that we may not see for ourselves. So thanks to books from authors like Michael, drivers and passengers are able to see things from a variety of perspectives -- not just from behind the air-conditioned, tinted glass Interstate perspective.

"The Art of Cars" shares the story of the people who brought this film to life. We get a glimpse into a series of road trips along Route 66 that inspired much of what became the town of Radiator Springs and some of it's inhabitants, too.


Art: Bud Luckey (layout), Paul Topolos (paint) and Andy Dreyfus (graphics),
Image courtesy of Chronicle Books.

But inspiration did not end there. The Pixar team headed off to car shows, race tracks and all kinds of sporting events to be sure that they had things correct in their quest to make an "automotive" world. For one example, they even consulted the director of the NASCAR race broadcasts for his input on what would be the proper camera angles for us (as viewers) to see the big races. When you see a low camera angle with cars flying past at speed that is the same one that the broadcasters use to bring audiences closer to the speed of the race at tracks such as the Lowe's Motor Speedway.

That kind of attention to detail is a real treat in this book. Some of that includes the sponsor stickers on the various cars (including Lightning McQueen's sponsor Rust-eze and nemesis Chick Hicks sponsor, the Hostile Takeover Bank), a great series of Curio Shop Souvenir postcards for Radiator Springs and the Ornament Valley and much, much more. I particularly enjoyed Bud Luckey's rather detailed map of Radiator Springs on page 100. It gave a real background to the small town that is so typical of many I have driven through myself.


Sunset over the Cone Motel.
Just like many I've seen from similar places…
Art: Tia Kratter, Image courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Even art for the race fans came to life!
Art: Craig Foster, Image courtesy of Chronicle Books

This book is dedicated to the late Joe Ranft. Along with a wonderful photo, is the following text:

"In Galena, Kansas, we found a lonely old tow truck that most folks would pass by without a second glance. Our Head of Story, Joe Ranft, however, saw beyond its rust and broken-down parts – he saw the inspiration for the character Mater. They soon became kindred spirits. Joe gave Mater his warmth, his sense of fun, his humble and generous spirit, and his capacity to see – and bring out – the best in others.

There's a piece if Joe in every movie Pixar has ever made. But Joe truly was the heart of Cars."


Storyboard by Joe Ranft.
Image courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Perhaps that explains a lot of why -- after having seen this film -- that Mater became my favorite character…

Now if you have enjoyed the images that I used to accompany this review, then you might also wish to pick up the 100 postcard set that Chronicle Books offers to commemorate Pixar's 20th Anniversary. At only $14.95, it has some great images from all (and I do mean all!) of Pixar's projects to date, including all of the short subjects. Check out the family vacation photo of the Parr family. Bob's Reyn Spooner shirt should be familiar to folks who own one!

Now -- if you will happen to be in San Francisco on Saturday June 10th  -- then you really don't want to miss this upcoming event: Chronicle Books will be hosting the Art of Cars artist signing event at their flagship location at the Sony Metreon at 101 4th Street beginning at 3 p.m. So not only can you pick up all of the Art books and the postcards, too, you can meet some of the folks whose efforts brought "Cars" to the screen. Sounds like a winner!

Coming next? Roger offers his own look at "Cars" with a few surprises along the way…

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  • Now if you have enjoyed the images that I used to accompany this review, then you might also wish to pick up.

  • In Galena, Kansas, we found a lonely old tow truck that most folks would pass by without a second glance. Our Head of Story, Joe Ranft, however, saw beyond its rust and broken-down parts

  • then you really don't want to miss this upcoming event: Chronicle Books will be hosting

  • their flagship location at the Sony Metreon at 101 4th Street beginning at 3 p.m. So not only can you pick up all of the Art books and the postcards, too, you can meet some of the folks whose efforts brought "Cars" to the screen. Sounds like a winner!

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