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Soren, Burgess, and the Turbo team wanted to be faithful to the sport. (As faithful as you can be when a snail is racing against 32 cars, anyway.) They needed someone who knew the course. So DreamWorks brought in three-time 500 winner Dario Franchitti (posing with Turbo at the top of this story) as a consultant. “Dario is a stickler for detail in his own career,” Soren says, “and he’s appreciative that we are as well—even though animation couldn’t be slower and a racecar driver couldn’t be faster.”
To create this world from scratch, the animators wanted Franchitti to share information about racing strategies. What would the cars be doing in the background in relation to what Turbo’s doing? What is the flow of the race? Why are cars positioned the way they are? They talked about the minutia of what the drivers are thinking. Emotionally what they’re going through. The g-force they’re dealing with.
Early on, they also talked about the obstacles the Turbo character would face while racing only an inch off the ground. Franchitti told them about marbles, the pieces of tire that fly off during a race, showing them footage and explaining that hitting marbles is “like hitting ice.”
“One of the guys asks, ‘What does a marble look like?’” Franchitti recalls. “That’s a good question because, of course, there are going to be some points of view from Turbo. So a marble is going to appear rather large to a snail. The next thing, they called Firestone and said, ‘Can we have some marbles?’ So a bucket of marbles from Indianapolis arrived at DreamWorks.” That level of detail, he says, “showed me what these guys are all about.”
When you look at the serrations on the track in the film, Franchitti continues, they’re identical to the way the Speedway appears. When the characters walk into Gasoline Alley and go underneath that gantry, it’s just like the real version. “What they’ve been able to do is astounding,” he says. “And that’s besides the story, which is hilarious and good fun. But the actual job they’ve done at animating it, you’ll think you’re at the Speedway. It’s incredible.”
Creating the illusion of the Indianapolis 500 was an enormous technical challenge, animator Burgess says, especially when a snail has to navigate the track. In the story, when Turbo’s adrenaline kicks in, his shell powers up like an engine, its signature swirl glowing bright blue, and he rockets forward at up to 240 miles per hour—faster than last year’s 500 pole-winner, Ryan Briscoe. Still, “He’s this living, breathing creature in a world of 1,600-pound dinosaurs zooming all around him,” Soren says. The last thing they wanted to do was use the standard cartoon device of having a driver’s cheeks blow backward to suggest g-force.
Ultimately, Franchitti made four trips to Los Angeles to advise the filmmakers. He also provided some voice work—as did fellow drivers Will Power and Mario Andretti—although whether they will make it into the final version was up in the air at press time. But the level of detail impressed him, regardless: “They’re very much like a race team in that way.”DreamWorks could animate the most realistic version ever of the 500 and the Speedway, but it takes the right actors to bring the characters and their surroundings to life. The Turbo team wanted to aim for a cast who would not only best fit the roles but would also play off of each other well. They started with Ryan Reynolds—who as Green Lantern learned a thing or two about dealing with superpowers—as Turbo, and then made a wish list from there.
Everyone said yes.
Paul Giamatti stars as Turbo’s brother, Chet, who gives Turbo grief over his interest in racing. “It’s left turn, left turn, left turn,” Chet tells him, echoing Soren’s own “naive impression” of racing before getting deep into this film.
Michael Peña (of The Shield) is Tito, who gets Turbo to Indianapolis. Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live) voices Guy Gagne, Turbo’s hero and inspiration. Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) and Ken Jeong (The Hangover) are shopkeepers named Bobby and Kim-Ly, respectively. Turbo’s pit crew includes Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids) as Burn and Samuel L. Jackson as Whiplash. [Editor's Note: Pena will serve as the honorary starter at the 97th running of the Indy 500.]
“We encouraged them to improvise, bring their own personality to it, and bring a ton of spontaneity to an otherwise unspontaneous, long process,” Soren says.
Snoop Lion took that direction to heart and turned in the performance that surprised Soren the most. He plays Smoove Move, a lanky, Zen-like, low-rider snail who is also a member of Turbo’s pit crew.
“He’s actually a really good actor,” Soren says, “and when he got into the recording studio, he completely embraced the character. I’m a Canadian Jew from Toronto. My vocabulary is not exactly the same as his, and he was bringing so much of what he does to the table, and it just made the character come to life. There are things he said I could have never dreamed up.”
“I don’t even think I could translate. He’s got his own language, almost.”
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