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|Thursday, 17 July, 2014|
At top, Studi and "Planes" movie director at NAJA screening. (Lori Edmo-Suppah photo) Below, Sara Broncho interviews Wes Studi on his role in the Disney film. (Roselynn Wahtomy photo)
By SARA BRONCHO
SANTA CLARA, California — Native actor Wes Studi is in the new Disney movie “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” that will be released July 18.
The Native American Journalists Association invited Studi and Disney to talk about details of their new animation film July 11 as conference attendees viewed a sneak preview.
Studi plays a green chopper known as “Windlifter,” who resembles Studi but was not solely based on his tribe Cherokee, but was created to encompass the idea of many tribes in a make believe world.
“We have firefighters… a very diverse group of people and this time we have a Native American Indian kind of character who is a part of it all,” he said. Studi acknowledged the many Natives throughout Indian country who fight fire. He added his son-in-law also fights fire.
There were two representatives from Disney that enlightened the crowd on the film.
Jeffrey M. Howard, Disney screenwriter said it is a collaborative effort and beginning with a “story trust,” which is a collective of everyone, each has a part in it and in order to make this happen research is done to determine the smallest bit of detail. They set out to research firefighting and Howard said that they were aware that Native American Indians had a large involvement in the firefighting history.
In the first movie the main character Dusty Crophopper is a crop duster and through research discovered that in earlier years crop dusters had been the first firefighters.
The crew worked with actual smoke jumpers to learn about “their tactics, how they gear ups, the terminology, how they orate the records.” There were designs and redesigns they had to create in the planes, trains, and automobile world. The preview shown to the smoke jumpers who watched the movie said that they noticed the animated characters didn’t look out to see where they were jumping and as real smoke jumpers they actually do look out the window especially when jumping into smoke and a burning forest. So the creators adjusted it to reflect that for accuracy and to make it all believable.
Disney worked with Redding Smokejumpers Base, CAL Fire, or California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the National Park Service consulting on wildland firefighting.
“We learned all about their terminology and tactics, how to identify the parts of the fire, the head of the fire, the shoulder of the fire, how they’re going to coordinate their efforts, how they coordinate the aircrafts with the tight air space, it’s very dangerous, it’s smoke and fire, it’s low to the ground,” explained Howard.
One thing that Howard found interesting was the frequency firefighters were called out. CAL Fire reported out to 5,600 fires last year. “That was astounding to us…you only hear about the big ones,” which was a line that went straight into the movie.
One key thing that stood out about aircrafts was that there were very few aircraft specifically for firefighting, so all of these aircrafts were repurposed and so was their equipment. The topic of being repurposed and being better than new and the theme of second chances started taking shape with Dusty’s journey in the movie.
Howard talked about the characters in the movie and the inspiration behind them.
Dr. Paul Apodaca was a consultant for Disney as they were doing research on Native American Indians for the Windlifter character.
Apodaca is listed as an expert in Native Americans in the U.S. He was born in Los Angeles, raised in Orange County and is Navajo and Mixton. He serves as an Associate Professor of Anthropology and American Studies at the Chapman University and is a visiting professor at UCLA. He has been a consultant on Indian culture and imagery for Knott’s Berry Farm and the Walt Disney Corporation.
Apodoca talked to them about the Native American Indian heritage in firefighting. The early smoke jumpers were Natives and the Indian forestry service, which is over 100 years old had told how they covered over 70 million acres of National Forest land. Howard learned that Smokey the Bear was a cub discovered by Native American Indian firefighters. He said they wanted to pay tribute to Native firefighters with memorable characters.
He said they paid attention to every aspect, name, appearance, personality and to make it inter-tribal. They stayed away from stereotypes of mystics or supernatural. They wanted him to be smart and extremely observant and he was also a storyteller. The story that Windlifter tells derives from a Coyote tale. Researching stories about fire came from when Coyote runs from fire and jumped into an oak tree knothole and hides in till the fire passes by as his feet hang out and get burnt. He thinks they are his favorite snack, cooked grasshopper and eats them. “That is the weirdest thing we’ve ever heard,” Howard recounts.
It is a story about renewal of self Coyote’s act along with fire represents destruction-renewal of self and with fire he will be able to be renewed as it does in the forest after a fire and regrows. Howard said it is a story about renewal and second chances as well as a tribute to the Native American Indian heritage.
Aside from the characters the creation of the environment in which the story takes place is a huge undertaking. With all that the movie hopes to be fun and entertaining as well.
Toby Wilson, Disney Art Director, said it was his first film and he took the audience on a visual tour. The research came from all National Parks combined into one, or the “Uber Park” of all parks. The Disney artists visited and experienced each of the National Parks and interviewed the people who occupy and work at these areas.
“We took thousands of photographs,” he said.
The landmarks of the Uber Park were of course translated into the planes, trains, and automobile world and consisted of engines and mechanical parts along with flowers and pinecones imitating imagery of spark plugs and nuts and bolts.
The forest inhabitants were also invented in the same mind set as the deer — bucks and does resemble tractors and the birds resemble toy airplanes. Tons of sketches were done and once it starts to solidify in visual development the painting starts and built out from there.
Once the colors, patterns and characters are established then “you have to work out all the nuts and bolts,” and “become an artistic engineer basically,” The character is then sculpted out in detail.
The Windlifter character had a dream catcher made out of spokes and metal components and the colors of his residence was red, yellow, black and white like a medicine wheel.
Windlifter’s rotor blades mimic a chevron headdress and along his side is a tattoo, a motif of a stepped pyramid, a symbol of a cloud and as it is repeated a lightning bolt is formed in the negative space, meaning “thundercloud.” Each of the characters was well thought out and had their own ideas and jobs reflected visually.
All of the work is done by hundreds of people, a massive collaboration at hand and all these hands work to tell this one singular story. Over four years of involvement and with the help of Wes Studi and other actors the movie Planes: Fire & Rescue will be out this Friday.