PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE interview with Jeff Howard and Paul Gerard



I had a fabulous time in LA. I had the privilege of interviewing Jeff Howard (co-writer) and Paul Gerard (Director of Creative Development). The interview was fasinating. I hope you enjoy it!

JEFF : So you guys went out to LA County this morning? Yes? We went out there and we had lunch at 94th air squadron. I think that might have been where we had our first lunch when we were brainstorming.

PAUL : Very early on.

JEFF : Like, “Let’s go out there and just sit and look at the airplanes and talk about what we want to make,” for the first Planes movie.

Did they have both the super scoopers and the helicopter there? (Bloggers say Yes) Okay, good. We weren’t sure if they were gonna have the helicopter there, too, ’cause those were basically the two things that we saw, but anyway —

Then Paul and Jeff introduce themselves to us.

PAUL : This is a Truth in Materials.

JEFF : Do your research. It has an exclamation point. It’s a command, so this is a mandatory thing.

PAUL : John Lassiter, our executive producer, believes in this idea, Truth in Materials, which you know. We can find not only character, but story, but the grounding of our movie in our research. We have a huge conceit going on, which is that airplanes talk and have eyeballs, so everything else around that should be as grounded in reality as possible.

JEFF : Right. So we went out and talked to dozens of aerial firefighters and ground crew and smoke jumpers and air traffic controllers, and visited several national parks to try to get all of the details of the movie right.

PAUL : One of our biggest resources was the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which, to their friends, are known as Cal Fire, which is why we are required to still call them the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and everyone who’s ever heard that joke before never, ever goes over.

JEFF : I think it’s solid. I think it’s very solid. It’s at least a B plus joke, I think. I left it in. Are you kidding?

PAUL : I know. He’s mad at me about this shirt.

JEFF : No. That’s another thing, and he tricked me. It’s a long story.


PAUL : We were both supposed to wear the same shirt. I always do this to him.

JEFF : And it’s the second time he’s pulled this on me, but never mind.

PAUL : I always do this to him.

JEFF : No, I didn’t — it was my own fault, really. It was my own fault.

PAUL : I’m Lucy. I’ve just pulled the football away, and he fell on his back, but our first stop was Hemet Ryan Air Attack Base, which is about an hour and a half southwest of here, or, actually, southeast of here.

Yes. That’s right. It would be in the ocean, yeah. That would be bad. Our main contact was Travis Alexander. He was a huge help to us. As you can see in the picture, he’s actually physically huge. The man is about six foot four, six foot — no —

JEFF : No, he’s like six 10. He’s like, six eight, at least.

PAUL : Yeah. It just keeps growing, the more we talk about it.

JEFF : No, our — our caption for that picture has been, “Travis, can you show us the was to Mordor?” He’s the greatest. He’s the greatest guy, really. He’s wonderful.

JEFF : Yeah, so, one of the things that was interesting to us when we went out and visited Hemet Ryan was that all of our aircraft had a previous life. The S2, which is their main tanker, which is the one Bobs is standing in front of us, used to a sub-hunting aircraft. The Huey, in the upper right, goes back to Vietnam. The OB10 Bronco in the upper left was a reconnaissance airplane. So, this whole theme of second chances started to sort of gel in our heads, that all of the aircraft are really on their second lives.

PAUL : They also let us check out the retardant or slurry that they drop. Actually called PhosCheck, but that’s a brand name.
JEFF : Trademark. Don’t say PhosCheck.

PAUL : Don’t say? Sorry. Don’t say PhosCheck. Yeah. But it’s like —

JEFF : But that’s what it is.

PAUL : It actually feels like snot, which I know a lot about. I have an eight-year old. So it’s really just nice and —

JEFF : Yeah. It was one of those things — that is Hernandez, who is our head of story, and it was one of those things where it was like, “Ugh, this feels like snot, come feel this,” and everybody is like —

PAUL : Okay. Eww.

JEFF : Everybody who is in animation is like, “Yeah. I want to feel that.” It was one of those kinda things. We discovered that, you know, many of the things at the air attack base are scratch built.

They had this Quonset hut that they’d just built themselves. They had a lot of repurposed equipment and stuff like that. It’s a lot of hand-me-down things. Even their display cases. They had these display cases where they had their t-shirts and coffee mugs and stuff that were just display cases from a video game store that used to be a Nintendo thing. So this whole idea of “Better than new” started to creep into our minds, as well.

PAUL : Their personnel, though, were anything but hand-me-downs. Their personnel are the best of the best. You know.They are all well-trained firefighters, as well as amazing pilots. In fact, this gentleman over here, here’s Travis, and this guy sitting next to Jeff actually was the pilot of Marine One which was the president’s helicopter, before he came to Cal Fire. If you think about it, you have to hold position, you know, hold either bandy bucket or hold directly over the hoist to rescue somebody.

JEFF : The hoist. Rescue basket.

PAUL : To hover in those conditions where you have thermals and updrafts, it’s insane.


JEFF : You are in a canyon, and you don’t want to drop the person, so it requires a high degree of skill. So we talked to them about their terminology, their tactics, how they identify the different parts of the fire. They sort of, you know, diagram, “Here’s what the airspace looks like, and who is at what altitude, and when they’re clearing people in and what the different parts of the fire are, and how they maneuver in this crowded airspace. Who coordinates everything.” Ironically, it’s Travis in the smallest aircraft they have. He fits into it, somehow, and that’s all reflected in the commands that Blade gives to Dusty.

So, you know, things like, when he says, we would ask Travis, “Okay, if you’re gonna tell somebody, ‘Drop it a little bit more over there,’ you know, how do you say that in pilot-ese? What would you say?” He’d say, “Oh, I’d say, ‘Come left one wingspan on your next drop.’” So I’d say, “Okay, that’s easy for me as a writer. I can just put that straight into the script.” I’m like, “Okay, but what if somebody gets it dead on, and it’s the perfect drop, and no adjustments necessary,” and he just sort of paused. The other pilots around the table were just sort of looking at their shoes, and he’s like, “There’s no such term for that.”

He had nothing in his vocabulary for good job. There was always something he could correct and give feedback on, and that’s a little bit reflected in Blade’s personality. Blade’s personality was sort of amalgam of a number of different people we met, and things from our own imagination, but that part of Travis definitely went into him.

PAUL : The other thing that amazed us was how often they go out and fight fires. Guess how many fires Cal Fire fights in one year?

JEFF : You’re not allowed to answer.

PAUL : Yeah, anybody who has heard this before is not allowed to answer. 20? Any more? Little more than that.

JEFF : One dollar!

PAUL : About 5,600. –

JEFF : Just in California. It’s actually 50,000, nationwide, with all of the different agencies.

PAUL : Yeah. That’s just California, and this year is actually a banner year for fires. They were on track, last time we talked to them, for like, 6,500 this year. And, so — but the public only hears about the big fires, which actually became a line in the movie, when we were talking — first presenting our pitch to the different directors here.

JEFF : Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

PAUL : One of our directors is like, “Well, isn’t that convenient? He arrives at the Air Attack Base, and they happen to be going out on a fire?” And the reality is that’s the way it is.

PAUL : We did our research.

JEFF : It would actually be weird if they weren’t going out on a fire when they got there.

PAUL : Exactly. In fact, when we arrived down at Hemet with our board artists, this is exactly what happened. These are all our storyboard artists.

JEFF : They were like, “Can you get out of our plane, we need to use it.”

PAUL : Yeah. They were loading up. You know. They had to load up immediately. All of our board artists came over to the side. There’s the OB10 Bronco. That’s Travis in the back there. They fired up the engines, I was watching. They let us listen on the headphones, to all of the chatter between the pilots and the actual ground crew, and between the fire boss and the pilots coming in.

JEFF : So, that became a line, and went straight into the movie. That you know, we almost had Dusty ask the very question that our other director asked when he gets there, and they get an alarm, and Dusty says, “Really, there’s a fire already” and Dipper answers back, “Yeah, you guys only hear about the big ones,” which is literally what they told us. We’re like, that’s a great detail, we gotta put that straight into the story.

JEFF : So we learned a lot from those guys. Travis has come out here several times to watch the movie as well, give us notes, and a bunch of people from Cal Fire, have come back. You know, we’ve gone to them, and they’ve come here to see the movie, and helped us out with everything.

PAUL : Our big location for most of the movie is Pacific National Park — which is really a — an amalgamation of all of the big national parks in the country we decided to visit two of the most famous in the United States. Yellowstone and Yosemite, which were amazing. Our fuselage is really inspired by the Old Faithful Inn, which is at Yellowstone.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, but I’d recommend it, highly. They let us go all of the way up into the rooftop of the Old Faithful Inn, which was actually enclosed, since they’d had an earthquake in 1959. We got to crawl up into the crow’s nest, which they said was just a little bit dangerous. It’s unstable, since the earthquake, but they let us go.

JEFF : Yeah. You guys are expendable, it’s okay.

PAUL : You guys can go.

JEFF : They even let us up onto the roof to see the sprinkler systems. So, you know, in the movie there is a — the lodge has this whole sprinkler system that Cad activates, and the sprinkler system at Yellowstone actually saved the lodge in 1988, when they had had a huge, forest fire. I think they’d only put in the sprinkler system the year before.

PAUL : Yeah.

JEFF : It would have been destroyed, if not for the roof sprinklers. Yeah. So we took pictures of everything. The sprinklers on the roof, and what the valves look like. You know. There’s the one scene where Cad is throwing the valve. And we just took, you know, like, okay, it should sort of look like this, and modeled it after that.

PAUL : The landscape also inspired the design for the movie. This is actually, you know, really, the inspiration for Fogger and Canyon in White Wall Falls, although we actually put a bridge in the background.

JEFF : We suggested they should build a bridge so that it should match our movie.

PAUL : Yellowstone, also, we saw these iconic tour buses that they’d had there since the 1920s that were the inspiration for Old Jammer. Because they actually called them jammers.

JEFF : Didn’t we find out it was the drivers who were the jammers?

PAUL : It’s the drivers that are called jammers.

JEFF : We had said that, and Bobs corrected us. He said it’s actually the drivers called jammers.

PAUL : Yes. It’s the drivers that are called jammers, because they had no synchro-rings. They had their all manual transmissions and they were going up and down the mountains, so you just — they grind the gears, and they called them jammers.

JEFF : They also had structural firefighting. There’s like, regular fire engines, they call them structural engines, because the aircraft fight the fire in the woods, and these guys protect the buildings, much like the character of Pulaski that you see in the movie. We also saw some of their other equipment that inspired parts of the smoke jumpers, like the treads on Avalanche and Blackout’s saw blade, although we realized later that theirs ironically was much more cartoony and ridiculous than ours was. These actual tools that they will put on these little vehicles.

PAUL : They also have their own patch. She’s not in the tower, actually. She’s in a little building that’s been there for 140 years, but she actually gets these lightning strike maps all throughout Yellowstone Park. So on this map, she actually sees where every lightning strike is, and then can send helicopters out and actually check where the fires are inside of the park, which actually has been a part of our story.

JEFF : The 25th.

PAUL : On the 25th, they had four lightning strike fires while we were there. Yeah, most people think they’re caused by campfires.

JEFF : Yeah, lightning is the most common cause of wildfire. Yosemite, where, again, one of our other great national parks. The team visited the Awanee Hotel, which also gave a lot of great details for the fuselage, and you know, the great vistas and waterfalls up there that Toby Wilson, who I guess you guys are gonna meet as our art director, took a lot of these great shots.

Yeah. Scorchy the Deer sign. So, Scorchy was a character that we were originally going to put in. Which was a tractor that survived the last big fire. Scorchy the Deer. Much like Smokey the Bear was a bear that actually survived the forest fire…

JEFF : The real Smokey the Bear, yes.

PAUL : We have the sign. We actually have the Scorchy the Deer sign. In the film, we had this great piece of inspiration art for — which is true — from Yellowstone, where the Fire: Danger sign is actually on fire during the ’88 fire.

PAUL : So, there’s this great photograph of danger — high — high: danger, forest fire, and then the whole sign is on fire, and so we wanted that shot in our film.

JEFF : That’s a hat on a hat.

PAUL : Chuck.

JEFF : So, Chuck Aaron was one of our other big consultants for the movie. You know, we wanted Blade to be one of the coolest helicopters in the world, so we went to one of the coolest helicopter pilots in the world, who’s Chuck Aaron, who flies — he’s probably one of the few aerobatic helicopter pilots in the world.

PAUL : He’s the only one the FAA has actually given a license to fly aerobatic helicopter flight —

JEFF : And I think after they saw what he does with the helicopter, they said, “Okay, no more licenses.”

PAUL : Yep.

JEFF : This is some footage of what he does at air shows with his helicopter, and it’s something that a helicopter isn’t really supposed to do, like loops and barrels and stuff like that. His helicopter is a MMBB0105 that he’s customized heavily. He wouldn’t even tell us the modifications he’s made to it, ’cause it’s sort of a trade secret. He actually tears this helicopter down and rebuilds it at the end of every air show season, just to make sure all of the parts are working correctly. And he spent a long time trying to figure out how to actually aerodynamically do a loop in a helicopter because you’re not supposed to be able to do that.

PAUL : So dangerous.

JEFF : Yeah. Very dangerous. He won’t teach his own son how to do it. Who also flies helicopters. He’s only taught one other guy who is the guy who flies for Red Bull in Europe, that Red Bull said, “You have to teach this guy how to do it, ’cause he’s going of to do the air shows in Europe.”

JEFF : And like the Cal Fire guys, he has come here, several times, to watch the movie and give us feedback on how the helicopters move and the dynamics of it and everything, and he and Travis came to the premiere, and have been with us every step of the way in developing the movie.

PAUL : We also had an opportunity to go out to Grass Valley and out to LA County Fire, where you guys were earlier today, and had a lot of help with, you know, the different details with the aerial firefighting, ’cause there’s teams that do this all over the state of California, obviously. They’re doing 6,000 fires a year.

While we were up at Cal Fire, which is Northern California — it’s in Grass Valley — we went with a crew that included, actually, Patty Wagstaff. I don’t know if anybody here goes to air shows. She is the number one. She is the number one aerobatic pilot, and there’s men and women. She is the number one aerobatic pilot. She won the national championships in Texas. She actually, in the off season, when she’s not doing aerobatic flying, flies an OB10 Bronco for Cal Fire up in the Grass Valley.

Once again, some of the best pilots in the world are doing this thankless job of putting out fires for us. We also learned how they sort of goof on each other while they’re up there. Because there is a lot of downtime. Grass Valley. I don’t know if you’ve ever been up to Grass Valley. It’s a quiet little place in the woods. They will have a lot of time, just sort of sitting around, waiting for the fire alarm to go off, which really became part of the inspiration for the — the sequence at the beginning of the film where the alarm goes off .

JEFF : Yeah. They’ll goof, and they can seem weird and play pranks on each other, and then when the alarm goes off, they’re totally serious, professionals

PAUL : Completely professional.

JEFF : So we wanted to kind of show both sides of that. So I guess you guys saw this morning, the CL415, which is one of the inspirations for Dipper, and it’s this, and there were a couple of other aircraft that went into her design. The Grummin Goose. She’s actually closer to the size of a Grummin Goose, ’cause the CL415 is quite a bit bigger than what she actually is, compared to Dusty. Also, the PBY Catalina, which is a gorgeous aircraft, if you’ve ever seen that.

I don’t know if you remember the movie Always, with Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter. The opening shot of that is a PBY Catalina scooping off. Scooping off the lake.

JEFF : That was one of the inspirations for Dipper, and I’m sure you know, if you guys got to — did they let you guys walk around the aircraft and go in and everything? So you guys saw the scoops on the bottom, which, you know, if you’ve ever heard the old urban legend of, oh, somebody got — a scuba diver got scooped up, ’cause they found a scuba diver in a tree. You ever hear that?

JEFF : I read that someplace. It was like, this old urban legend. Like, they found a scuba diver in a tree. How did it get there? Oh. It was a scooper thing. And then we went there, and it’s like, that’s complete nonsense.

JEFF : Because the scoopers are only that big, you know, but it can scoop up 1,600 gallons in 12 seconds, and it gets mixed in and I guess, you know. But they had ‘em hooked up with the hoses and everything when we were there, so we went up there, and got to see those, and the sky crane. Which is one of the inspirations for Windlifter along with, you know, there’s a couple of other cues from different helicopters.

Couple of Russian helicopters, the MILMI10, Kmov K-26, or other kinds of heavy-lift helicopters, and ones that had that sort of a modular, design. This was also one where we took inspiration from number of different aircraft for it.

PAUL : We also got to go up to Redding, which was up near Sacramento, and once a year, they have a joint training mission with the Cal Fire, as well as the — the US Forestry Department.

They get together, and they actually practice smoke jumping, and it was a great chance for us to see a lot of the smoke jumpers. While we were there, we actually noticed that how they stored their chutes — we’d already designed — Toby had already designed their barracks, and it didn’t have a high ceiling, and then when we saw it, we realized, oh, my God. They have to hang up their parachutes inside and detangle them and then repack them on these large tables. So we had to redesign all of the — all of the barracks where our smoke jumpers lived.

We also got to watch them do their jump practice. And they always do a flyover. It was one of those things we discovered. And we showed it to the smoke jumpers. We just had them jumping out of Cabbie. It was like, you know, it’s, “Let’s go,” and they would jump out of Cabbie, and the smoke jumpers saw the film and were like, “You know, we look first. I don’t know if you guys want to add that, but we don’t actually just arbitrarily jump out of the plane. We actually throw some streamers down and pick a safe landing spot.” So we actually included them actually picking a safe spot for them to land.

JEFF : And we also got to watch the tankers do their practice drops. Getting the coaching from the ground and the feedback who were telling them, “You know, more this way or that way, or one wingspan left, on your next drop,” or that sort of thing. And they let us strap GoPro cameras to the aircraft and the smoke jumpers, so here is some of that footage, some of which you’ll see, just went straight into the movie.


PAUL : Yeah. This actually inspired many of the shots that are in the film, that first fire sequence. We actually drop our jumpers. And this is off the nose in the last two.

JEFF : Yeah, that should be in this, too.

PAUL : Of course, this footage scared our animators when they first saw it. It’s hard to do this.

JEFF : Other people can tell you more about this, but it’s actually very technically a complex movie, because you know fire is very hard to animate, and water is hard to animate, and then showing water putting out the fire is even more complicated to get those two, and I think there’s more fire FX in this movie than any movie, ever, done by anyone, I want to say.

PAUL : It’s crazy, the amount of fire FX we actually had, and the particulate water.

JEFF : That’s the bandy bucket. Which we didn’t use that style of bucket, but that’s another one where they go out and dip. And you can see some of the — Toby will get into this, probably, but the cues on the smoke jumpers. That sort of — the way the neckline is, fitted — worked into, the smoke jumpers have sort of their own metal collar, going around the edge of their design as well.

PAUL : You’ll see in the footage, they actually throw a streamer out.

JEFF : So they can see which way is going, and then they try to hit where that —

PAUL : Then they try to hit the landing zone, which is where the steamers are. You see them down in the foreground there in the shot, the two little yellow spots. This person hits his streamer dead on.

JEFF : Face plant.

PAUL : Pretty amazing stuff. And that’s all of our research.

JEFF : And, also, it’s Paul’s birthday. He didn’t know I’d put that in there.

PAUL : I didn’t know. I knew you’d messed with the presentation, but, yes, it’s my birthday.

JEFF : Yes. That’s the back of our building, and they had a billboard up out back, and so we’re like, “Let’s go up and take our pictures in front of the billboard.” So we have several pictures of us.

PAUL : Oh, I see. I should have gone to this, then. I could have cut that out.

JEFF : That’s why I — that’s why I went through it again, when I came in here. To make sure you hadn’t taken it out.

Blogger : I have a question. When you’re doing a movie like this, do you have a story before you go out and research or does the story develop from the research?

PAUL : Sort of a little bit of both, yeah.

JEFF : Little bit of both. There’s more of the latter. Basically, the impetus for it was, okay, you know we started it when the first Planes movie was only a year into development and production, so it was still going to be three years before Planes came out, but we thought it was coming together pretty well, and we said, “Let’s do — let’s start working on a follow-up, ’cause we think this is gonna be pretty successful,” and Bobs started looking into the different arenas of aviation. What could we do? We could do this sort of a story, this sort of story, different things.

JEFF : And he started looking into aerial firefighting which is something that hasn’t been shown a lot in movies, and when he first started investigating it, the very — you know, this is where the research sort of led us into what the story was gonna be, because he discovered that the first aerial firefighters were crop-dusting aircraft, and that the type of planes that Dusty is modeled after are also used for firefighting. They put pontoons on them. They let them scoop off the water. Exactly what happens to Dusty in the movie. And we said, well, this is a natural extension for what Dusty’s next adventure is gonna be. It was a great “in.”

Somehow, he has to go do that, and he gets modified to it like these aircraft actually are. Then we went out and started talking to the people who actually do it, and we would get little tidbits of — of things, and the idea of like, second chances. You know. You do go through a few iterations of the story. Like, the first version of the story was not about second chances, necessarily, when we went into it. And then, once we started learning more from the research, we said, “You know, what’s really interesting about this world, is this, that all of these aircraft used to do something else, and what if you had a story — ” You know.

Bobs came in one day, and said, “What if Dusty can’t race anymore. It’s not a choice. What if he’s — it’s like an injured athlete story. You know. You’re at the top of your game, the top of your sport, you break your leg. What are you gonna do with your life? You know?” And so we started thinking of it in those terms, but it was sort of born out of seeing that these other aircraft had second chances as well. So, they sort of both feed each other. Sometimes you will go in with a story idea by the things you discover. Sometimes you go into this story idea and you realize, “Oh, no, it’s actually this,” which would be much cooler of a story to tell, and you shift over to that.

So, they sort of feed each other, and it wasn’t something where we went out and spent three months on research and then come back and write. It was like, let’s go out — we had sort of a nugget of an idea, let’s go learn some stuff. Oh, that’s cool. Let’s come back and write some stuff. You know who we really need to talk, it’s this type of person. Let’s go out and talk to them. Then let’s come back and fiddle with some stuff. We need to visit the smoke jumpers. So it was a much — you know, a year at least.

PAUL : At least a year.

JEFF : Of back and forth, developing the story, and doing the research, sort of back and forth and hand in hand, so —

Blogger : None of the animation is done until you have the story done?

JEFF : Once you have the story together, in terms of like, a script or, you know, a treatment of a script, then you start doing the storyboards, which is just the black-and-white drawings, and you edit it together into an animatic or a story reel where you can watch the whole thing with a temporary voice and sound FX and music and everything to see if it works, and you go through that, four, five, or six or even more times, and at the same time, you know, the guys are doing designs. And building things in CG. And then only when that is nailed down, then you go ahead and say, “Okay. Now we’re gonna really start animating it,” and that part, just the animating takes a year or more by itself. And even then, there are things that you will change down the road, like the thing about the smoke jumpers looking before they jump out. That was late in the process.

JEFF : So, we were like, even though we’re in animation, it’s like, all right, we need to go and put that sequence in, and sometimes we’ll change lines, you know, up till even a month before it’s done, you know we’re tweaking stuff, with, you know, Travis, or Chuck, would come in and say, “You know what? It’d be better if they said it this way or you showed this, or maybe you need a shot actually clarifying to say this.” We would add stuff later on.

PAUL : Yeah. Takes a long time. I mean, people are already shocked — that, like, it takes three years to.

JEFF : Yeah. Some people were like, “Wow, you churn that out in a year after — ?” Well, no, we started it three years before the other one came out. This is — both of them took, you know, a really long — it’s just very labor intensive.

PAUL : Lot of people. Yeah. It was interesting that we really, I feel, found the theme of the movie a good year and a half into the research, I think.

JEFF : Sometimes you have to go down a path that doesn’t work before you’ll find, you know, what is going to work for the story.

PAUL : We’re looking at the story and realizing, oh, just talking to the guys at Hemet-Ryan, realizing how they are underfunded. They don’t have -to make do with what they have.

PAUL : All of their stuff is hand-me-down, everything is hand-me-down.

PAUL : So, you know, things like that are flying at night, things that you — you’re really — the more you’re there, and the more you understand what they’re going through and what they’re doing, you have to incorporate that into the story.

JEFF : And people can tell that. Even if you’re not familiar with the world of aerial firefighting, I think people can inherently tell when you’ve made something up — when you’ve made something up, versus, like, it’s a real detail, or, you know, the real truth of what these guys are like, and it’s easier for us to take — you know. We think the best stories come from the reality, whether it’s the aircraft or the paths and the lives of these people they take, so —

PAUL : There’s nothing better to hear when a firefighter is like, fighting a fire, you know, and they’re like, oh, you know, “If you want an accurate depiction of what this is like, watch ‘Planes: Fire and Rescue.’”

JEFF : We’ve heard that. Somebody said that — we read that in the last couple months. Somebody said, like, “Oh, it’s the most accurate movie .

PAUL : The most accurate depiction. And you’re like, that’s awesome, because we’re an animated film, but we’ve actually did it very accurately.

JEFF : Plus, you were terrified of Travis, if we got anything wrong.

PAUL : Yeah. [LAUGHTER] Travis will come and hurt you, if you make anything that doesn’t sound true.

JEFF : No, he is the nicest. Nicest guy in the world. Actually, his daughter was interested in getting into filmmaking, so he brought her here for a tour to meet all of us.

PAUL : They’ve been so helpful, Cal Fire, and — and forestry —

JEFF : We literally could not have made the movie without those guys.

PAUL : — and people in Yosemite and Yellowstone, and just everybody was so helpful as far as getting — getting our story right, and that was, you know, and they watched the movie and they — they were happy, so we’re happy.

JEFF : Because we want to honor them. You know. It’s something important that they do. It’s why we have put the dedication at the beginning of the movie.

PAUL : [OVERLAP] Risk their lives for people they don’t even know, which is a line in the movie. That’s true.

JEFF : I’m quoting our own movie as if I’ve just made it up.

PAUL : Jeff got quoted by the New York Times today.

JEFF : [LAUGHTER] We don’t want to talk about that.

PAUL : So funny.

Blogger : So, you said that you’d started working on the second film three years before it’d come out. So, are you planning another one?

JEFF : We cannot say.

PAUL : I cannot confirm or deny that.

JEFF : Confirm nor deny. Cannot confirm nor deny anything that we’re working on. Just don’t walk around the building too know, we’re always thinking of stuff. It’s, if people want to see it, and we have a good idea, then it’s totally a possibility but, we’re not allowed to say. Stephanie has a gun, and she’ll shoot us —

Blogger : When we went today, I actually saw the aircraft that you modeled the animation after. I was so blown away by the accuracy, like, wow, this is so awesome, and I appreciate that. I have a nephew that’s autistic and he loves cars and planes. I love that he’s learning, it’s not just a cartoon or animation. He’s actually learning stuff.

JEFF : Yeah. Well, that was part of the intent. We’ve talked to different — you know, we had this one screenwriting consultant come in who talked about how people in movies loved to see process.

PAUL : Immersion.

JEFF : — to get insight into a world that you know nothing about. Whether it’s, oh, this is how chefs operate. This is how fighter pilots do it. This is what it’s like in the boiler room of a brokerage firm. You know.

PAUL : This is what the bottom of the ocean looks like.

JEFF : Yeah. People are interested in seeing that. There’s fun in being able to learn those kinda things, so, you know we didn’t set out to make an educational movie. But the details that we would learn, that we’d think were cool, we’re like, “Oh, let’s put that in, just ’cause we think that’s interesting and fun and we’re all animation — we’re all aviation geeks to begin with, so…”

PAUL : You don’t have to make stuff up if the world is fascinating. It makes your job a lot easier if the world is really interesting and you’re seeing a lot of really cool things, and, you know, I always liked the idea of immersive experiences, where you’d go and you explore a world that you’d never seen before. I think that that forces you to be original, and it forces you to actually be honest with your storytelling. So, you know, it’s fun, it’s fun when you get to go to the movies and get entertained, and learn something.

Blogger : For my nephew and kids that are autistic, they are very detail-oriented, so after he saw the movie, he would quote stuff.

JEFF : Oh, great.

Blogger : Like, if we said something that was wrong, he was quick to correct us on what was actually said.

PAUL : A kid came into the lobby set up here. A kid came in before the movie came out, I don’t know, he was a guest of someone, and it was so funny because I was standing there, talking to him, and I don’t know if he was — I would say he was like, six or seven years old. He knew all the characters’ names, but I was shocked, because, like, the movie isn’t out, and I don’t know how he knew. He must’ve gotten his hands on a book or something, ’cause he knew all of the characters’ names, and I thought that was so neat, that he actually, could, like, identify all of the characters around the room. I wasn’t sure if I could actually do that.

Blogger : The smoke jumpers. How did you guys come up with the look for them?

PAUL : Oh. The, like, the physical look? Well, I was going to say, one of the things, like, looking at the smoke jumpers that we met up at Redding, you know, they had the collars in their outfits.

JEFF : Well, no, but this is sort of the color, but, uh —

PAUL : Oh, yeah, yeah, good. Well, at least we can see a real person. So, you know, the collars — and they actually have these, like, football helmets, that have, like a — like a — sort of like a mask that goes all the way over, and that sort of became part of the design.

JEFF : Don’t think we can see it in that one. Can’t really –

PAUL : You can’t really see it in this one, but you can see it a lot you can see a lot in prep.

JEFF : Oh, here. This one. This one’s a good example, where you can see on Avalanche, sort of, the collar.

PAUL : Oh, there we go, well, yeah, this is a good example. So, you can see the collar. See the collar here? Which is a lot like the collar here. And then they wear these helmets that actually have, like, a mask that goes all of the way around, in case they’re hitting branches or stuff when they come through the trees, and that actually made it into the design. Toby is —

JEFF : Oh. Like, the cage on the side.

PAUL : Yeah. Toby —

JEFF : So, that they don’t want to be coming down and then have a branch just — but it was an idea where we said, we want all of these little, you know, either small bulldozers or ATVs like, the gators and those kinda things, and we looked at all of the different attachments that you can get for them. You know. There are ones with the rakes, and there’s ones that have those big saw blades on them, and stuff like that. And so we looked at that, versus the different tools that the humans will use, between fire axes, and rakes, and there’s actually — you know, we used the character name, Pulaski, because there is a tool called The Pulaski.

JEFF : That’s sort of half axe, half — it’s like, a sort of a pickax looking thing, but it’s a specific firefighting tool.

PAUL : Yeah. It’s — it’s named after a very famous firefighting, Pulaski. Which is actually in our story but —

JEFF : Yeah, Pulaski, this was around, what, the turn of the century?

PAUL : Yes.

JEFF : The previous century, there was a famous woodland firefighter whose team was being boxed in by fire, and he had them hide in a mine, an abandoned mineshaft.

JEFF : And they thought they were all gonna suffocate and were ready to try to leave, and he held a gun — — he held ‘em at gunpoint, and said, “If anybody tries to leave here, I’m going to shoot you, because you’re dead if you go out there,”

PAUL : He saved all their lives.

JEFF : They survived, because he had the foresight to go in there and let the fire burn over. So that became the inspiration for this scene with Blade and Dusty in the movie, but we also liked the name, so we took the name and put it on [SOUNDS LIKE: Patch] Corbin’s character.

JEFF : But they named a firefighting tool after that real-life guy.

PAUL : Pulaski. It’s an axe on one side, and a shovel. Like, a pickax shovel kind of thing on the other side.

PAUL : And it’s used — actually, it’s funny. It’s one of the main tools that a lot of the jumpers use is this, just a little — they go to like, an Osh or a Coast to Coast or whatever hardware store, and they have these little rakes, just small, little, metal rakes, like the smallest one, like the kind you’d clean out your eaves spout with, and that they used to like, dig up the dirt, flip it over, and that was like one of the big fighting tools. You know. And they had all of these tools, and chainsaws and everything, but the rake is like, really important —

JEFF : They’re very resourceful.

PAUL : — to actually turn over the dirt, and to actually, you know, basically make a fire line which is whatever the width of whatever the height of the fire is.

JEFF : So, if that answers your question —

PAUL : I know a lot about firefighting. It’s frightening, how much you will learn.

PAUL : There’s something to fall back on.

JEFF : Except for you would need to get into better shape.

PAUL : Yes. I would have to get into much better shape.

JEFF : I mean, all of much, not just [INAUDIBLE]

Blogger : What was your favorite part about the researching of the movie?

JEFF : Spending time with Paul. No.

PAUL : Yeah, all those days.

JEFF : It was, you know, well, the helicopter ride with Chuck was pretty fun.

PAUL : That was pretty awesome.

JEFF : That was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. Going out to Hemet-Ryan and seeing the aircraft up close, it was a lot of fun. I was already a big aviation geek coming into these projects.

PAUL : Jeff wrote Planes 1 as well as —

JEFF : Yeah. We both worked on the first movie.

PAUL : Yeah.

JEFF : — fun parts, and meeting the guys. They were so — the Cal Fire people were so welcoming to us and so helpful, and anything we needed, and always forthcoming with information, and advice, and help, and, yeah. They were just fantastic people.

PAUL : It’s weird when you’re watching a fire on TV and then going — sorry — and then like, saying to my son, like, “I know that guy,” when they’re interviewing one of the firefighters. And Trey is like, “You’re just saying that.” Like, it’s really true.

Blogger: Of all of the people that you interviewed through your research, was there a message that you were hoping you could convey to the public through your film?

PAUL : Flying. Flying at night was something that we wanted to make sure we got right —

JEFF : Well, that was early on, we had — there were some detail things. The flying at night thing was a sort of a little bit of a political hot button with them, so that was something they wanted us to be very careful about how we handled that in the movie. Because it is very dangerous to fly at night, which, sometimes, the general public like — we didn’t really understand that, that, yeah, when you’re flying around at night over woods that is unfamiliar terrain and you could very easily crash. Flying that low at night. It’s very [OVERLAP] dangerous.

PAUL : You’re flying a few hundred feet above the ground. Not — because, to make an effective drop — I mean, obviously you’ve seen the films, of you know, it’s like, you — if you’re too high, it’s just going to dissipate. If you’re too low, it’s going to hit the ground, right? You have to be at a height that really is prime, power-line, low-antenna —

JEFF : Mm-hmm, a hill can just pop up in front of you.

PAUL : Yeah.

JEFF : So, it’s very dangerous, and they wanted us to be careful about that, and not just have our guys, “Hey, go out and fly at night,” because then, the public would be like, “Well, the guys in the movie did it, you know?”

PAUL : Yeah. The guys in the movie did it. I saw it in a movie. They can do that.

JEFF : They were like, just please, don’t cause problems for us by portraying it this way and we’re like, “That’s great. We want to portray it realistically.” But as far as an overall message, there wasn’t anything that they said outright. It was more like, once we’d met them and saw how selfless they are, and how cool they are, and the — just the variations in their personalities, we wanted people to know that about them. And you know, like we were talking about, the big detail of that they do this every day, multiple times a day, and nobody really knows about it.

PAUL : Every day.

JEFF : They only see the big fires on TV.

PAUL : Yeah.

JEFF : And that was our perspective. That every couple weeks, you’ll see, oh, there’s a fire in the summer. It’s every couple of weeks or a few times a year, but I had no idea it was that many, and that they do it all the time, and you don’t even know about it. You know, and put out little ones. And it’s only the big ones we ever hear about. So —

PAUL : Anywhere in the state of California, they hit it in 20 minutes. So the minute they get the call, the entire state of California is mapped out, and I should have shown that in one of the slides —

JEFF : Right, yeah, no, I’ll find that slide, that was, uh —

PAUL : The whole state of California is mapped out, and if they get the call, they will actually have a plane on top of it, uh, here we go.

Uh, yeah. See? There’s Grass Valley. Each of these bases has an area, uh, a geographic area that they are hovering, and they get a call, from the minute that call is, you know, received, to where there’s retardant on a fire, it’s 20 minutes, and they can hit any spot in the state of California in 20 minutes. So that’s, you know, there — their job is to keep us all safe.

JEFF : It reminded me of, in Clueless, where Cher’s dad says, “Anywhere in LA is 20 minutes.”

PAUL : Anywhere in LA.

JEFF : It’s the same thing, except it’s anywhere in California, so —

PAUL : Yeah, so it’s amazing that so many people, they’ve built their houses in the interface, which is, you know, right next to forestry areas or grass areas, and, you know, they may not realize it, but there’s a whole team of people there who are going to try to keep them as — as much as they can, um, and I think we all take it for granted. You know? This is people putting their lives on the line to make sure that people are okay, so I’m glad that we were able to make something that honors what they do.

Blogger : So, how much of their personalities — I liked how the jumpers were cocky and funny, and they had humor, but were also serious. Did you play off of meeting the smoke jumpers?

PAUL : Yeah. The Redding smoke jumpers were a lot younger. You could sort of pick up on the age difference between different characters because the — a lot of these smoke jumpers — it’s not a thing a person my age does. I remember, and I don’t want to quote anybody incorrectly, but it’s like, one of the guys was like, “Oh, yeah. He was really old. He was 31.” And you’re like, listening, like, “Oh, wow.” But you understand why that’s old for smoke jumpers, because these guys — what they’re doing physically — I say “guys,” I mean, men and women — are doing something so physical, they naturally sort of are younger jumpers.

JEFF : It’s like athletes.

PAUL : Yeah. And then the pilots, a lot of the pilots, you can see here, this is — this is actually Hoser, I don’t know if you notice he’s missing a finger there in that picture, but he was a — he was a fighter pilot, and a lot of these guys are actually, you know, older pilots. They came from commercial aviation, some came from the military, um, you know. Some came from, you know, flying helicopters with the president in it. So those pilots are —

JEFF : Or news.

PAUL : News copter, I was gonna say.

JEFF : She’s actually the only female Cal Fire helicopter pilot, who used to fly news in LA, and has been flying helicopters since —

PAUL : She did the traffic reports for years.

JEFF : Has flown every kind of helicopter.

PAUL : Yeah. So, it’s you know, yes, so, the answer is yes —

Blogger: So young and cocky that you couldn’t jump out of a plane if you weren’t young —

PAUL : Exactly, exactly. But then Cabbie’s voice, and Cabbie’s character, really fit the kind of plane that Cabbie is and the type of pilot that would actually be flying that plane.

Blogger : It’s just cool to see your research come alive.

PAUL : Yeah.

JEFF : Yeah. We did want to show kind of both sides of their personality where they will goof on each other and play pranks and are super easygoing, but are professionals who risk their lives every day. It’s that sort of just casual confidence in what they’re doing. That they aren’t these intense military-style guys. You know. They’re more easygoing, when they’re not on the mission, but when they are — maybe it’s a product of them having to do it so many times.

It’s just like this just — they — they take it — you know. I don’t want to say they take it for granted, but they don’t seem like it bothers them. Like, it’s just — they seemed pretty fearless about it.

Blogger : Have you ever been to a volunteer fire department? Because what you’re describing —

PAUL : I grew up near one. There was one a couple miles from my house.

PAUL : Well, something that we wanted to show in that very first scene, when you get there, they’re sort of weird, and then boom, they’re pros. You know. So great, thanks. Thanks for coming, you guys. Appreciate it.


I had a fabulous time in LA. I really enjoyed being able to share my experience with you! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! 

About Author

LaDonna Dennis

LaDonna Dennis is the founder and creator of Mom Blog Society. She wears many hats. She is a Homemaker*Blogger*Crafter*Reader*Pinner*Friend*Animal Lover* Former writer of Frost Illustrated and, Cancer...SURVIVOR! LaDonna is happily married to the love of her life, the mother of 3 grown children and "Grams" to 3 grandchildren. She adores animals and has four furbabies: Makia ( a German Shepherd, whose mission in life is to be her attached to her hip) and Hachie, (an OCD Alaskan Malamute, and Akia (An Alaskan Malamute) who is just sweet as can be. And Sassy, a four-month-old German Shepherd who has quickly stolen her heart and become the most precious fur baby of all times. Aside from the humans in her life, LaDonna's fur babies are her world.

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