At Disney's "Planes" Aviation Media Screening, the Process of Respecting Aviation Reality is Explained

11:12 PM

The Studio environment for Aviation Media Day
By Scott Connolly,
Airplanista Guest Blogger

We all find airplanes sexy. Their long sleek lines and robust power make a pilot's heart thump like only a powerful mate can. Every time those hanger doors open and that beautiful girl is revealed, I know most pilots have feelings that in most other situations would only be reserved for the opposite sex.

Or sometimes we often give them human names and refer to them as members of the family. I am sure you have all met Av8rdan's airplane, Katy.

What would have happened when someone had been given the task of bringing Katy to life? Somebody turns to you and says "I want you to give Katy a voice." What does she sound like? What is Katy’s personality? Does she get along well with others? What are Katy’s friends like? What about her potential suitors?

Director Klay Hall, left, and Producer Traci Balthazor-Flynn
discuss the movie with Aviation Media
This is the task that was given to the creators of the upcoming animated feature film Planes, to be released this August by Disney. Recently I was lucky enough to be one of the fortunate few from the Aviation Media invited to spend a day with the creators and get a rare chance to peek into the mind of these amazing artists.  I could tell immediately that every member of the team from start to finish loved what he or she was involved in. Each conversation always started with what really attracted that individual team member to the world of aviation. Although very few were pilots, each person had related to the aviation world in a very personal way. 

The day started out with a screening of the film, which was a joy to experience. We were then given a few minutes to interact directly with the director and producer in a large conference room covered from floor to ceiling with big beautiful illustrations of each of the Planes characters along with a notation of its voice actor. 

Director, Klay Hall, described how he and his team gave life to characters that began as only concepts in their imagination.  He explained that with the exception of Skipper, who was described as a reclusive old Navy Corsair, most of the planes were not necessarily modeled after a particular aircraft in the real world but were often inspired by several and combined to create a character that fit its personality. Individual personalities of the aircraft were then modeled around the actors he had cast to voice each aircraft.
A mock-up of Dusty Crophopper waits to greet the
Aviation Media prior to the screening

The characters are highlighted by the always-funny Dane Cook as Dusty Crophopper, Stacy Keech as Skipper and Priyanka Chopra as Ishani, a super sexy and sultry Indian champion. Mr. Hall was also sure to pay homage to the movie, Top Gun with the inclusion of the characters Echo and Bravo, voiced by Anthony Edward and Val Kilmer respectively.

Although Mr. Hall is not a pilot himself, he felt he had developed a personal attachment with the world of aviation stemming from his father’s military career.  He told us of the journey of discovery he had taken and the research he had completed over that past couple of years to bring the story to life.

When our time with the Director had come to an end, we were taken into sessions with the writer, Jeffrey M. Howard, the Art and Production Design Teams, and the Character Designers. Each member expressed to us how he or she developed their portion of the world that is Planes, with the Production Designer showing us individual elements in the world that were shaped like planes, and talking about developing mood with color.

The writer, Howard, showed us pictures of the team's trips around the world where they visited little airstrips to find inspiration. Throughout the day, several members referenced a particular fuel truck that had been found abandoned. They modeled the character of Chug after that truck because it was just one of the many treasures they had found along their journey.

Guest Blogger Scott Connolly
Meeting with the character designers was one of the most fascinating sessions to me. I was really interested to know how you give life to something that has already been given a personality, but you could never really imagine having a conversation with. Remember the characters have no hands to grab or pull things with so how do they interact with the world around them? I had to ask “how do two planes kiss?” Just the pure dynamics of the way they move while trying to stay as close to reality as possible is a true task.

Our last stop for the day was with the group of aviation consultants. This group of pilots and aviation experts were challenged with keeping the entire crew of artists within the realm of aviation reality. The consultants looked at each scene and sometimes had to give the bad news that in the real world, a plane couldn’t do a specific maneuver or look a certain way, before making suggestions that more closely resembled aviation reality.

Disney's Aviation Media Day was a wonderful experience for an aviation and movie buff such as myself. I was truly refreshed to see so much importance given to the aviation community by everyone making this movie. They succeeded in creating a product that was not only entertaining to all audiences, but also respected realistic aerodynamics and aviation principles.

Will there be the occasional aviation miscue, something that literal thinkers will have to pick apart? Sure, but when you take this fun movie at face value - that it is a CARTOON about talking airplanes - Planes becomes a movie aviators should love, possible even more than their kids or grandchildren.

Scott Connolly is Head of Production for The Astronaut's Guild, based in Los Angeles. He is also an independent film producer and in this capacity he serves as Director of Video Production for Celeste/Daniels Advertising and Design. Full Bio and Reel is here.
(Editor's Note: Airplanista was one of a select few aviation media outlets invited by Disney to their Aviation Media Day for Planes. We chose our Video/Film Producer to cover this event - Av8rdan)

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