The attention to detail included a road-and-air trip taken by Hall and several members of the production team to learn more about the airfield environment and its denizens. Says Hall, “We knew our setting was going to open in the Midwest, so we flew out to North Dakota and worked our way to Minnesota, spending a week at rural airfields in small towns and getting the flavor by talking to crop-duster pilots and farmers while also checking out a couple of big air shows in Reno and Dayton, Ohio. We met with the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels, as well as dozens of World War II, Korea and Vietnam vets; commercial and private pilots; news-helicopter crews; the list goes on and on. We went to aircraft carriers and met with Navy pilots. Just tons of research.”
The most important thing Hall wanted to know: Why do these aviators do what they do? “It’s more than just a passion for flying that runs through them,” Hall says. “It’s something in their soul. They need to have that experience of being up in the air. I tried to get that feeling across in our characters and what audiences will feel once they put on those 3-D glasses and go flying along up in the clouds.”
Voicing vehicles in Disney’s Planes are John Cleese, Teri Hatcher, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Brad Garrett and Stacy Keach, among others. Hall says his habit of hiring comically gifted actors is intentional. “I’ve always been a huge fan of stand-up comedy, so we came up with lists of comics who would be great in this kind of film,” says Hall, whose previous efforts include a Tinker Bell direct-to-DVD movie and numerous King of the Hill episodes. “A guy like Brad Garrett [from Everybody Loves Raymond] can give you a line of dialogue as written in the script, but then he’ll also riff on 20 funny other ways to say it, as well as a half-dozen or so lines not in the script.” Having all those options can be invaluable to a director and an editor seeking the right pacing, tone and continuity.
About half of Disney’s Planes had been completed when Hall and Lasseter reached out to Cook. The part of Dusty had originally been voiced by Two and a Half Men star Jon Cryer, but it seemed in dire need of more edge, more forcefulness. “We were at this for three and a half years, and the story morphed and evolved in a different direction,” Hall says. “As the story changed, so did Dusty’s character.”
Though most animated films record the actors prior to animating the film, Cook came onboard midway through the animation process and was therefore able to do much of his recording in a soundstage-sized screening room, where nearly completed scenes from the film were projected on a 100-foot screen as he went through his vocal paces. Reading each line different ways to give animators choices with which to match their computerized drawings, Cook recalls how he repeated some pieces of dialogue “as many as 40 or 50 times.”
“I had room to play because the scenes were right there in front of me — we started at frame one and went right on through,” he says. Cook approached the film with the mindset that “even though this crop duster looks feeble in the world of these big bad racers,” he needed a “sound of strength.”