ToonBarn Interview: Planes Director Klay Hall
Planes director Klay Hall comes from a family immersed in aviation with a father and grandfather who were pilots in the armed forces. In this touching clip, he shares his passion for flying vintage planes with his own two sons:
ToonBarn’s Marc Morrell was lucky enough to get some time to talk to the Director of Planes, Klay Hall. In this exclusive interview, Klay Hall talks about vintage airplanes, how important it is to be authentic, how they decided to film the flying scenes, and much more.
Marc: Which did you enjoy more: The research for Planes, where you were able to ride in several vintage planes and attend the plane shows, or the animation, voice recording or story direction?
Klay: Oh man, that’s an impossible choice. I mean, certainly, I’m going to have to split that answer kind of right down the middle. I enjoyed both and here’s why: First off, all creatively speaking, to be able to just start with a story idea between myself and John Lasseter and some of the story guys and then seeing that through all the way through production, working with voice casting and design and color, and everything else in between, was an amazing experience creatively and very fulfilling.
And then, personally, certainly to be able to ride in vintage aircraft, such as P-51s, and Corsairs, and B-17s and 4-tri motors and to be able to talk to and hear stories from all different types of C’s and aviators and legends in aviation and even the new guys, was an unbelievable chance of a lifetime and to land on an aircraft carrier and have coffee with an Admiral… Who gets to do that? So, once again, that’s just too hard to choose one or the other. They’re both fantastic and I feel very fortunate to have experienced both of those.
Marc: Yeah, it’s an amazing job. Of all the vintage planes you were able to ride, which one is your favorite and why?
Klay: I would have to say the P-51 Mustang was my favorite, hands down. It’s been a favorite of mine. It’s been a passion of mine, that specific aircraft, from when I was a little boy. You know it’s known as the Cadillac in the sky. It’s sort of the Ferrari with wings. It’s a classic vintage aircraft that can hold its own till this day. So that would be the one.
Marc: Perfect. Would you say that the attention to detail and the authenticity of planes was one of its strongest features?
Klay: Absolutely. Hands down. It definitely was one of its strongest features, the level of detail and the amount of research that we put into the film. There are hundreds of folks that we talked to, covering the pilots, the crop dusters, the civilian pilots, to military pilots, to commercial pilots, going to different airports and talking with air towers and air traffic controllers. Meeting with all different experts in avionics and the aviation field. All of that information we tried to download into the film as much as we possibly could to make it as authentic as we could and I think we were successful in doing that.
Marc: Absolutely. In an animated film that can use any angle to cover the in-flight scenes, how did you decide your camera was going to cover the action?
Klay: That’s a good question. You know that’s something where I would sit down between myself and the Planes’ cinematographer. With previous teams like Jason McKinley, who is the creator of Dogfights, he would help choose cameras as well; as the previous guys in general, the animators, the CG animators. It was sort of a collaborative effort between the three of us, to sort of come up with what we thought would be the most exciting and most story correct point of views to use.
Marc: How did you feel to see Planes, the toys from your film, and did you get to see any children playing with them? And then lastly, if you were able to keep any of them, would you guys?
Klay: (Laughter) If I was able to keep any of those toys? Okay, well you can only imagine as a filmmaker. This was a four and a half year process from the beginning idea to the finished product and hundreds and hundreds of people were involved and you can only imagine to have started at an alone idea where John Lasseter and myself and a couple of story guys to the finished things. And then to actually see toys being played with, with kids. And yes, I have seen that. I’ve been at the parks where I’ve seen a little boy in Dusty tennis shoes and a Dusty t-shirt with a white jacket on and its just like, “OH MY GOSH! Look at that!” It’s unbelievable. You know that’s pretty rewarding and very exciting and fun to see that you know you can bring joy to people and make people laugh or smile and forget about maybe the things that are going on. It’s pretty cool and yes, I was very fortunate, very very fortunate as the filmmaker to be able to get one toy each of the things that have been manufactured out there and add it to my personal inventory. I’m a collector anyways, and a Disney collector on top of that. So, to have that and be able to get a few of those was pretty special.
Marc: Oh that’s great, it must have been a surreal feeling to actually see kids playing with those.
Klay: It is. It was.
Marc: Characters like Roper and El Chupacabra really became popular with viewers of the film. What is it about those characters that made them so likable and did you expect them to get this kind of positive attention compared to the other characters in the film?
Klay: Well, first the attention that they got, you can only hope for that as you’re helping to create a character. And by the way, when I say ‘help creating a character’, that is also created with the voice talent and the actors that are playing those guys. I’ve been always been a fan. Let’s talk about Roper for a second. I’ve always been a fan of Sinbad… forever. I think he’s a really funny guy and I think what comes with his character and with El Chupacabra is that, yeah they’re funny and they have some quick lines that can make you chuckle and laugh, but also I think what even trumps that, is that they’re also charming and they feel genuine. You know working with John Lasseter, it’s sort of a Pixar thing where you really you want to cast for truth, you want someone that is believable, that is not a put on and I think that really comes through with those characters, where they actually do feel genuine and that’s what I love about both of those guys.
Marc: How important was it for Skipper to buy into the determination of Dusty to be able to mentor him and what was the turning point of the film where you actually saw this?
Klay: Yeah, that is a good question and that is one we really sort of had to really work on to make it believable. OK, first, Skipper. Skipper has a lot of experience, and you know there are certain things he sees in Dusty that we find out later on that is sort of reflective of himself. But at first, he pushes back on Dusty, he actually deep down doesn’t want to see Dusty get hurt, that’s kind of what we find out. But then, through Dusty’s sheer determination and the desire to do more because he feels he has greater things in store, and you know Skipper is at first reluctant, but he does get on board. But then, he ends up helping him and training him and sees that he has serious true potential. We worked for a long time on crafting that believability. Sort of a reluctant head coach if you will, but seeing the true potential of an athlete like Dusty as a racing plane. Now, I think you see that happen in the hanger in that scene where Dusty sort of has that heartfelt moment with Skipper. He goes, “Look, you know I know you don’t understand where I am coming from, but I feel I can do more. I know I am built this way, but deep down, I know I have more in me.” And that is where Skipper goes “alright,” that is where you sort of see the change in Skipper. He’s like, “OK, let’s give this thing a shot. Meet me out on the airfield tomorrow morning at 5 am, and let’s give this thing a try.” And I think it’s a great moment. That is where you see him start to work with Dusty and where he starts to train and actually begins to get better at it.
Marc: We saw Klay’s flight plan on the Blu-ray, this was our favorite bonus feature on the disc, it was really nice to see you share your love for Planes with your sons as well the history about your father. In your words, what were your experiences like with your father growing up and any experiences with your father that helped you bring the film to life on screen?
Klay: Yeah, I appreciate that first of all, that experience of doing Clay’s flight plan was a magical experience for me and that was all somebody else’s idea that they came in and wanted to do that. I was very, once again, sort of just fortunate to experience that, especially with my two sons. I was able to channel a lot of Skipper Riley from my Dad – that was my dad’s name – Riley, as well. You know, being a navy pilot, those guys are, in some respect, sometimes, kind of like tough love, and I was able to get that in there. Where there is that reluctance on Skipper’s part at first, to sort of help Dusty, he has reasons as to why he is that way and what comes from that is, really for lack of a better word, is basically true love from Skipper. That he knows that he can do it and that he believes in him and that comes through, but he is going to make sure that Dusty is ready before he goes out and does it. So, there is certain things like that, you know, certainly has pieces of my dad in there. It’s kind of throughout the film that I was able to tap into that.
Marc: The many different locations that Dusty touched around the world in Planes shows just how much variety our world has to offer. Is there a lesson to children and adults in this film that underscores that “underdogs can compete with big dogs” message?
Klay: I think that kind of says it right there, I think if you believe in yourself and if you’re able to step out of that un-comfort zone. You know, fear holds us all back. Everyone has experienced it. But if you’re able to, just for a moment, step past it, put it on the side, and try, I think you might be surprised with the results. And that is sort of one of the themes in the movie that I think rings universally true.
Marc: Are you going to make a film about trains?
Klay: [Laughs] Everyone is asking. You know, I hope to, I really hope to. I do not know what is in store down the road, but I love trains and I could see that someday, who knows when, hopefully, possibly happening.
We want to thank Klay Hall for joining us on ToonBarn. Klay, great job on Planes!
Keep up with all things Planes at https://www.facebook.com/DisneyPlanes
Planes is available on Blu-ray and DVD November 19th.