Director Rob Gibbs on the New Pixar Short RADIATOR SPRINGS 500 ½, Choosing the New Cars, New Aspects of Radiator Springs, and the Next CARS Short

     May 23, 2014

Rob Gibbs Radiator Springs Interview

The new Pixar short Radiator Springs 500 ½, available for free in the “Discover” section of the Disney Movies Anywhere digital movie service (, is about a leisurely drive that’s planned in honor of Radiator Springs’ town founder, Stanley.  When Baja racing pros descend on the town and challenge Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), they head out on a treacherously wild course that they hope they can survive.  Directed by Rob Gibbs and Scott Morse, the approximately six-minute short also features the voices of Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Steve Purcell, John Cygan and Jess Harnell.

During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, director Rob Gibbs talked about how the idea for this short came about, how they decide on the type and look of any new car they bring into the Cars universe, why this story centers around Lightning McQueen, exploring new aspects of Radiator Springs, what Owen Wilson brings to the character, why people love the Cars universe so much, how involved John Lasseter was through this whole process, making sure the shorts play well on any screen or device, that they’re already wrapping up the next Cars short, to be released in 2015, and why he loves being a part of making Pixar shorts.  Check out what he had to say after the jump. 

radiator-springs-interviewCollider:  How did this come about?  Was there something that sparked the idea?

ROB GIBBS:  We were exploring a lot of ideas of different kinds of races.  We focused in on a race in Mexico, the Baja 1000, and decided we wanted to do a short that book-ended at Radiator Springs, but took us to other places.  So, we decided to take the idea of an endurance race, like the Baja 1000, and bring in these heavy duty off-road vehicles to do this race.  The big challenge was, why are they coming to Radiator Springs for this thing?  So, we played up the idea that it was a Western with the gunslingers coming to town to challenge the fastest car in the west, which is Lightning McQueen.  That’s where that began.

When you bring a new character into the Cars universe, is there a lot of discussion about the type and look of the car?

GIBBS:  We try to be as authentic as we can, to the actual look.  We take our liberties with redesigning because they all have to have eyes and a mouth.  They have to look like they belong in the world, and in the world of Cars.  But, we had a lot of fun designing those.  We were really inspired by the actual cars that do race in those off-road races, like the Trophy Truck and the Baja Bug.  They have all kinds of different classes of vehicles. 

Was there a process for deciding that this particular story would be set around Lightning McQueen, and not one of the other characters?

GIBBS:  I directed 13 of the Mater’s Tall Tales, and these last two are not focused on Mater.  We did the Mater thing, so we wanted to go back and focus on Lightning McQueen because we love him as a character.  We set the other characters a little bit more in the background, even though Mater is very prevalent in this short.  

cars-2-image-pixarEven though Cars 2 was a big hit, audiences were disappointed that they didn’t get to see much of Radiator Springs, but you explore that in quite a bit of detail in this short.  How did you decide which aspects of Radiator Springs you’d explore and how deeply you’d explore them?

GIBBS:  We’ve all seen Radiator Springs, so we know what’s there.  So, for this short, we wanted to get outside of the area to some of what we haven’t seen before.  Some of the sets you would recognize from the movie, but a lot of it was just getting out to the Carburetor County outskirts.  In Cars Land, one of the rides, Radiator Springs Racers, has the Tail Light Caverns that you go through, so we wanted to include that.

What are the biggest challenges in telling a story that’s really two parallel stories, with the racers going one way and telling one story, and the tour going another way and telling another story?

GIBBS:  We came up with that idea, which really set the stage.  The town is planning on doing this leisurely drive, but these race cars come in and mess things up.  When they take a wrong turn, it goes wrong.  So, we wanted to make it as bad as we could for them, and as fun for the other characters, as possible.

radiator-springs-500-interviewWhat does Owen Wilson bring to Lightning McQueen that makes him so much more than just a car?

GIBBS:  It was fun.  He voice this short and the next one, that will be released next year.  He just brings a really great sense of calmness and coolness, whereas Larry the Cable Guy is a little more high-strung.  They’re a great contrast, and really awesome to work with.

What do you think it is about these characters, in particular, that really endears them to audiences and allows shorts to keep being made about them?

GIBBS:  The first movie established this town that was just so beloved, off the freeway, along Route 66.  It’s a great place to be.  It’s charming.  The characters themselves are so charming, and they’re so interwoven into the town.  It’s fun to keep going back there and exploring.

How much was John Lasseter involved with this short, and was there any advice or guidance that he gave you on this, that really helped you? 

GIBBS:  He’s really involved in all the shorts.  A lot of times, we’ll work on a story presentation and put it in front of him with the storyboards, and he’ll give his input.  He always challenges us to be authentic and to be real to the true world of Cars and Radiator Springs, and not go too far off the beaten path.  So, he tends to reign us in.  He comes in and looks at all the designs, along the various stages.  He’s pretty involved, all the way down to the final sound design.

When you know that people will watch something like this on different types of electronic devices, does that affect how you approach something visually?  At this point, do you have to make sure that anything you do will play well on anything people might watch it on, whether it’s the big screen, a TV screen, a tablet or even a phone?

GIBBS:  It’s made to be seen on any format.  We do review everything on the big screen, to make sure it looks good there.  You’re going to miss some things, if you play it smaller, but it’s gonna play well because of how we frame each shot.  We’re aware of different formats, so we stage things so that things won’t be cut off.  It plays great on the really big screen, as well as it does on the small screen.

Do you think you’ll stay involved with making these Cars shorts, at least while people are still interested and want to see them?

GIBBS:  Well, we do have one more that we’re wrapping up, that will be released next year.  As far as the future of more Cars shorts, I think that’s to be determined. 

radiator-springs-500-and-a-halfWhat do you love about making shorts and telling a full story in such a limited amount of time?

GIBBS:  When I came to Pixar, I loved their shorts.  That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to work here.  It’s a challenge to tell a story in a very short amount of time, and you have to figure out economical ways to do that.  With a movie, you have a little bit more time to breathe and to let the story unfold.  With the shorts, they’re really more about setting up a premise, telling some jokes, and wrapping it up in a nice ending.  It’s not a lot of storytelling, as much as it is having fun with the characters and their setting. 

Radiator Springs 500 ½ is available for free through Disney Movies Anywhere (DMA) in the “Discover” section of the digital movie service.

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