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Toonzone Presents a Virtual Roundtable with Rob Gibbs, "Mater's Tall Tales" Director

Rob GibbsAs the director or co-director of the “Mater’s Tall Tales” short films, Pixar’s Rob Gibbs has become quite familiar with the rusty tow truck from Radiator Springs. His animation career spans several studios, with credits on films as diverse as Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest, Cool World, Life with Louie, Pocahontas, Fantasia 2000, Dinosaur, and Atlantis. He joined Pixar Animation Studios in 1998, working as a storyboard artist on Monsters Inc., Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo, and Up, before settling into the director’s chair for the “Mater’s Tall Tales” shorts.

Toonzone News was able to sit in on a virtual roundtable session with Gibbs on the eve of the release of Cars 2 on DVD and Blu-ray on November 1, 2011. The release will also feature the newest “Mater’s Tall Tales” short film, “Air Mater,” where the tow truck earns his wings to take flight with the Falcon Hawks flight demonstration team. Questions asked by Toonzone are marked.

Q: What first inspired you to want to work in animation?

ROB GIBBS: My passion for drawing as a kid and a love of cartoons inspired me but it wasn’t until I discovered the animation program at Cal Arts that I learned this could actually be a career.

Q: You have been directing a lot of “Mater’s Tall Tales,” would you please let us know the how you were assigned the “Mater’s Tall Tales” projects?

ROB GIBBS: It started out with developing short ideas for the Cars world. I drew the storyboards and worked with an editor to create story reels. From there, they thought it would be a good idea for me to direct them.

Q: Do you think you resemble Mater yourself? Are there any similarities or do you relate more to another character in Cars?

ROB GIBBS: Sure, there’s a little Mater in all of us. My teeth might not be as big, but like Mater tells his tall tales, I like to tell a few tales of my own. I’m a little rusty but all my stories have a hook.

Q: What is your personal favorite character in the Cars universe and why?

ROB GIBBS: I’ve worked more on Mater then any of the other characters, but in the world of Cars, Guido the little fork lift is always fun to have around. He even has a small part in “Air Mater.”

Q: My six year old twins who are big fans of the “Tales” wanted to know how did they think up the idea to do them.

ROB GIBBS: We were exploring a lot of ideas for shorts with the Cars characters. One of our animators, Bobby Podesta, suggested that the shorts could be about Mater telling tall tales. That opened the door for endless possibilities. I don’t think we could ever run out of situations to put Mater in.

Q: How long does it usually take to complete an animated short like “Air Mater?”

ROB GIBBS: “Air Mater” was unique in that we were starting a new studio in Vancouver, Canada and it was to be their first project, so it took a little longer than the previous shorts. From start to finish we worked on it for about a year.

Q: What was the inspiration to get Mater up in the air?

ROB GIBBS: We’ve taken Mater so many places so to the air seemed like the next step. We loved the idea of Mater becoming a part of an elite formation flying team. One of the challenges was turning Mater into an airplane and a jet, while still keeping him Mater. In order to show Mater’s progress, we designed him as an airplane keeping him rusty with a leather cap and goggles. When he becomes a Falcon Hawk, he has a shiny new paint job with awesome graphics.

Q: Have you ever run into a situation where you had an idea in mind for something to look a certain way in an animated feature, but just couldn’t get it the way you wanted to?

ROB GIBBS: With “Air Mater,” we went through a lot of different steps. Our production designer started with sketches where Mater looked more like a jet then a tow truck. John Lasseter’s input was, “don’t lose Mater in the design.” It was a big challenge to make it believable that Mater could become a plane. With all the films, we get there eventually, but it’s not always where we started.

TOONZONE NEWS: I know there are a few Pixar employees with flight experience. Did you pull in their knowledge to make “Air Mater”?

ROB GIBBS: Our lead story artist on “Air Mater,” Jim Capobianco, has extensive knowledge of planes and flying. Bob Pauley, our character designer, also knows a lot about planes. So much of the attention to detail came from their knowledge of airplane design. Even the language was heavily researched. Knowing that we can’t slip anything past John Lasseter keeps us on our toes to remain authentic.

Q: You’ve cited Looney Tunes as an influence on your work. How do you think it’s made its way into Cars and “Air Mater?”

ROB GIBBS: As with Looney Tunes, we’ve tried to maintain that quick comedic timing for “Mater’s Tall Tales.” We also enjoy putting Mater in ridiculous situations.

Q: Is there a sequence in “Air Mater” you’re particularly proud of? Why?

ROB GIBBS: So many of the aerial shots that showed off Propwash Junction. Pay particular attention to all the corn!

Q: Was directing this animated short any more demanding or challenging than other productions you have done?

ROB GIBBS: “Air Mater” had different challenges then any of the other shorts that I’ve worked on. We had to design the world of Propwash Junction, not only from the ground, but what you see in the sky. Another challenge was getting a sense of movement in the sky without it being a cloudy day.

Q: Since you are dealing with known characters in Cars, do you try not to introduce anything new that could interfere with the main story while still continuing to develop their characters? Or do you try to just stick with their established character?

ROB GIBBS: At first, we set out to create ideas using only the characters that we had from the original Cars. John Lasseter pointed out there’s no reason to continue these shorts unless we expand the world of Cars. So that opened up all sorts of possibilities to create new characters and fun environments.

Q: What is your favorite “tall tale” and why?

ROB GIBBS: “Heavy Metal Mater” is an awesome one because of the music and how over the top it goes. “Mater Private Eye” was a fun one to work on because of the dialogue and homage to film noir. However, the most recent one always becomes my new favorite, so, right now, that’s “Air Mater.”

Q: Do you still love creating these Mater shorts or are you hoping to do something new?

ROB GIBBS: I love being involved in the Mater shorts but I’m always open to exploring other possibilities.

Q: What kind of an audience did you have in mind when you make a movie like Cars 2?

ROB GIBBS: We try to make our films appealing to audiences of all ages.

Q: What is the attraction for you to create short films?

ROB GIBBS: I have always loved short animated films from Popeye to Bugs
Bunny. I love going to the theater and seeing a short before the movie. I have always admired the Pixar shorts and I’m glad they continue to make them

Q: What is the difference between directing short films and feature films?

ROB GIBBS: The biggest difference with short films is that you have to setup the situation quickly and “pay it off” in a short amount of time. In a feature you can go a little deeper in developing the story and characters. The attention to detail and quality of work is the same as working on a feature.

Q: Would you be interested in directing full length feature films? If so, what kind of feature films would you like to direct?

ROB GIBBS: Yes. I’ve enjoyed the short format, it has been fun, but if given the opportunity, I would jump at the chance to direct a feature project. The kind of film that would interest me would be one that’s awesome!

Q: Your daughter Mary is the voice of Boo in Monsters, Inc. Her performance of the voice of Boo was really great, and we were so moved. What is she doing now?

ROB GIBBS: She is now 15 years old and in her second year of high school. She has been doing cheerleading and gymnastics and recently started playing ice hockey. You can also hear her voice in the Monsters, Inc. ride at Disneyland.

Q: When a new Pixar release is going to be released in both 2D and 3D, is any of the storyboarding process centered on the 3D element, or is it just handled as its own element after 2D production?

ROB GIBBS: We don’t make our films with the idea that it will be in stereoscopic 3D, but at the time we’re working on them we may think, “oh this will look awesome in 3D”. We don’t intentionally do gimmicky things such as jumping out of the screen at you. We use it to add depth to our films.

Q: I love all the different styles of textures in Pixar animation. Is that a complicated process?

ROB GIBBS: We have a lot of really smart people who work at Pixar that figure out a solution to our complicated requests. So when an artist goes to them with an idea like how to make a car’s paint job extra reflective they figure out a way to do it.

Q: Are you a big fan of cars in real life? What car do you drive yourself?

ROB GIBBS: I love cars although I’m not mechanically inclined. I can change a mean flat tire. Although, I’ve had more sporty cars in the past, I currently drive an Acura MDX. In the past I’ve had a convertible, Volkswagen and Jeep. But my first car was my grandmother’s 1964 Plymouth Valiant.

Q: What is your impression of John Lasseter? What is he like to work with?

ROB GIBBS: Besides his nice collection of Hawaiian shirts, he has been a great mentor to me. He knows everything there is to know about animation and filmmaking, and watching him direct has helped me develop my craft.

Q: Finding Nemo is being re-released theatrically next year. Are you excited to see it on the big screen again? How do you think Pixar films have evolved since Finding Nemo?

ROB GIBBS: I loved Finding Nemo, and can’t wait to see it on the big screen. With each film, we try to build off of what we learned from the previous film and make it better. For example, what we learned in making water for Finding Nemo we were able to utilize in Cars 2.

Q: Mater and Lightning McQueen’s friendship came under fire in Cars 2. What do you think kids can learn about the value of friendship and teamwork from these characters?

ROB GIBBS: Mater and Lightning McQueen are very different from each other, but are able to look past their differences and accept each other for who they are.

Q: Will Pixar Canada ever do a full feature film?

ROB GIBBS: We started the Pixar Canada studio to work on the Cars and Toy Story Toons. At this time there are no plans for them to do a feature.

Q: What is your most favorite character in Disney animation and in PIXAR animation?

ROB GIBBS: In Disney animation, I have always admired Pinocchio but one of my favorite characters is Thumper from Bambi. In Pixar animation, Boo from Monsters, Inc. shares a special place in my heart.

Q: What is your favorite Disney/Pixar film of all time?

ROB GIBBS: Toy Story blew me away when I first saw it and it remains my favorite Pixar film.

Q: What do you believe is the most rewarding aspect of your job/career?

ROB GIBBS: I’ve been drawing storyboards for Pixar and Disney films for years, and I love doing that, but when I’ve completed a sequence it’s out of my hands. As a director I get to stay involved past the storyboard process and work with the people that make these films so beautiful.

Q: Rob, any final thoughts on Cars 2 and “Air Mater?”

ROB GIBBS: What I enjoy so much about Cars 2 and “Air Mater,” is how we’ve put our characters in exciting situations and brought them to new worlds.

Toonzone News would like to thank Rob Gibbs for taking the time to speak with us, and to the many people at Disney PR and Click Communications for setting it up for us. Cars 2 is available now on DVD and Blu-ray, including the new “Air Mater” short.

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