2013-08-01 / Family

T.O. resident the wind beneath ‘Planes’ wings

Local man directed latest Disney flick
By Darleen Principe


SOARING—Klay Hall, above, grew up drawing pictures of airplanes at Naval Air Station Point Mugu. He became an animator after attending CalArts, working on the TV series “King of the Hill.”When he was asked to direct the Disneyfilm “Planes,” featuring Dusty Crophopper, shown below center, he said it was like his “passions sort of collided.” Thefilm debuts in theaters Aug. 9. 
Courtesy of the Walt Disney Studios SOARING—Klay Hall, above, grew up drawing pictures of airplanes at Naval Air Station Point Mugu. He became an animator after attending CalArts, working on the TV series “King of the Hill.”When he was asked to direct the Disneyfilm “Planes,” featuring Dusty Crophopper, shown below center, he said it was like his “passions sort of collided.” Thefilm debuts in theaters Aug. 9. Courtesy of the Walt Disney Studios While the military and civilian pilots did their gravity-defying exhibition runs high in the blue skies above him, a young Klay Hall would sit at the Ventura County Naval Base and draw pictures of airplanes.

For the boy, going to Point Mugu air shows on the weekends with his dad, a former Navy pilot, was one of his favorite things to do.

“I would sit there and sketch,” the Thousand Oaks resident said. “I was about 8 or 9 years old, and my dad—he really passed his love of aviation to me—he would talk about the characteristics of all the planes while I drew them.”


Courtesy of the Walt Disney Studios Courtesy of the Walt Disney Studios Although Hall, 53, eventually grew up to become a professional animator—he went to CalArts on a Disney scholarship in the 1980s and was subsequently hired at the Walt Disney Studios—the Burbank native’s passion for aviation never waned.

So five years ago, when John Lasseter, chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, asked Hall whether he’d like to direct an animated film about airplanes, “it was like a dream come true,” he said.

Disney’s new animated feature, “Planes,” directed by Hall, is set to debut in theaters Aug. 9.

The 3-D animated film, which tells a classic underdog story of a small- town crop duster with big dreams of becoming a high-flying air racer, takes place above the world of “Cars,” a Lasseter-directed Pixar film released in 2006.


FIELD RESEARCH—”Planes”director Klay Hall, left, and producer Traci Balthazor-Flynn visited the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego to gather information for thefilm. 
Courtesy of the Walt Disney Studios FIELD RESEARCH—”Planes”director Klay Hall, left, and producer Traci Balthazor-Flynn visited the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego to gather information for thefilm. Courtesy of the Walt Disney Studios “I can’t tell you how inspiring it is to work with (Lasseter) one on one,” said Hall, who considers the Pixar powerhouse one of his biggest mentors. “It was sort of like him handing me one of his newborns and saying, ‘OK, let’s run with this.’”

Passions colliding

Hall, a two-time Emmy nominee for his work on the Fox animated television series “King of the Hill,” said getting to direct “Planes” was like his “passions sort of collided.”

Over the past four and half years, Hall said, he oversaw all aspects of producing the movie, including story development, character design, and the casting and directing of the voice actors.

The cast of “Planes” includes Stacy Keach, who plays an old, reclusive Navy Corsair named Skipper; Teri Hatcher, the straight-talking mechanic, Dottie; Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the tough, French-Canadian racer, Rochelle; John Cleese, the wise and experienced British racer, Bulldog; and many more well-known actors.

The film is centered around Dusty Crophopper, played by comedian Dane Cook, who fights to overcome his built-in fear of flying above 1,000 feet and daydreams about being the fastest air racer in the world.

“Dane just brings a whole comedic edge to the character that’s a lot of fun,” Hall said. “What’s great about having Dane is that a lot of people don’t realize that he’s a really great actor. Everyone’s familiar with Dane’s stand-up (comedy), but when Dusty takes the screen, you can really see the emotions come through.”

Besides directing the voice actors, Hall said, one of the most “incredible” aspects of making the film was researching realworld aviation in order to make “Planes” as realistic as possible.

“I really got to live out my dream through this process,” he said. “I met with hundreds of air pilots—hot-air-balloon operators, civilian pilots, helicopter pilots . . . the list goes on. To talk with guys that have been in the military, who fought in World War II and the Korean War, I’m honored to even be in their presence.

“And then there’s the average guy who’s out there busting his butt and dusting his crops. . . . I really got to see how hard that work is and how dangerous it can be.”

Hall said doing as much research as possible is the most important step in creating a successful animated film.

“By doing that, it gives the film a sense of believability,” he said.

As part of their research, Hall and fellow filmmakers were granted special access to the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier located about 150 miles off the coast of San Diego.

There the production team was able to observe target practice, takeoffs and landings. They were also able to capture some authentic “Navy speak” to incorporate in the script.

The experience proved to be valuable in the development of a few Navy aircraft carrier scenes in the film, Hall said.

“It was crazy cool,” the director said. “We spent two days out there talking to officers who served aboard that aircraft carrier. We even took some early clips of the movie and went through them with Capt. Paul Spedero, the executive officer of the Carl Vinson.”

Taking flight

As part of developing “Planes,” Hall said, he was able to ride in vintage aircraft, including a B-25 bomber and several military jets.

He also took a walk around the Taj Mahal at sunrise, a scene depicted in the film, and met with members of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels.

He not only learned about aviation but came away from the film with a newfound knowledge of animation, he said.

“It took us six months to crack the code on the believability of flight,” said Hall, who also directed “Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure” in 2009 for Disneytoon Studios.

“At first, the planes looked like toys hanging from strings. But luckily we brought in some big-time experts.”

The director credits flight specialist Jason McKinley and ex-fighter pilot Sean Batista with helping his team perfect the flight sequences of the movie.

“We’ve all seen things move through air,” Hall said. “You can tell when things look right and when they don’t.

“We had to get the weight of the aircraft right, and at first we were moving them through the air much too quickly.”

In the end, the filmmakers were able to animate the planes using the proper flight dynamics.

“That was one of the biggest takeaways from this project,” Hall said.

“Overall, I’m very happy with the results,” he continued. “I think we’ve got a fun film on our hands. I owe it to about 600 other people who helped me get there, especially John Lasseter. It all came together in a way I’m very happy with. I can finally sleep now.”

Hall has lived in Thousand Oaks since 1998 with his wife, Debra, and two sons, 19-year-old Luke and 16-year-old Jack. Besides his work with Disney, he also directed the “Natural Born Kissers” episode of “The Simpsons” and worked on the Rolling Stones’ music video for “Harlem Shuffle.”

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