The inspiration for Mater and the Ghostlight came when John, Dan, and a few others took a research trip down Route 66 and made a stop at the Eisler Brothers Market – Michael Wallis said it’s, “where they went to get some real handcrafted sandwiches”. The Pixar team met some great people during their stop, in particular a man named Dean Walker.
It was Dean who began to tell the story of a floating white orb that haunts Route 66 and is also known to enter cars as they drive by. By the end of the story the team was captivated and inspired – as were we when we heard about this”Spooklight.” John Lasseter always knew that he wanted to have a Pixar short on the Cars DVD and it was Joe Ranft who had the idea to do the short based on the “Ghostlight” story.
Years ago, John Lasseter bought Joe Ranft a pair of the Billy Bob Hillbilly teeth from the internet, when they first came out, “It was the best $20.00 I ever spent” said John. As soon as Joe put in the teeth he became this “Hillbilly” guy. When designing the concept of Mater for Cars, the team always knew that he would be a Tow Truck, as tow truck by nature helps people – which instantly gave Mater a big heart. Joe always did the scratch vocals for Larry the Cable Guy, and he always wore the “Billy Bob teeth”, it was this that helped mold Mater into the character we all love today.
Michael Wallis who does the voice of Sheriff is what John Lasseter calls “One of the greatest storytellers he has ever heard.” While on a research trip along Route 66 with Michael in tow, John and Dan both stated that Michael would pull over on the side of the road and there would be, for example, a burned-out building, and Michael would sit there for about an hour and weave this elaborate story – “You would just sit there, riveted as he was that good of a storyteller” explains John. Dan said, “The littlest thing would be turned into the most poetic beautiful story”. So, as a nod to their beloved storyteller, it was Sheriff who told the harrowing story of the “Ghostlight.”
John shared that the team used models that were already created from the film Cars for this short and only a few items had to be created as new. Those items are the lantern, a.k.a., “The Ghostlight”, Mater’s garage door, Mater’s headlight falling out, and of course, The Screaming Banshee.
Country crooner Brad Paisley lent his voice to Pixar, agreeing to write one song for the film. However, Brad enjoyed the film so much that he wrote a second “Behind the Clouds” which was featured in this short. You can hear Brad singing the song in the beginning as Mater scares his friends, then you can hear Mater singing the lyrics as he tries to comfort himself inside his garage in fear of the “Ghostlight.”
The end credits include Joe Ranft’s original concept drawings of the short. Just by looking at this art, you can really see the storyline – my favorite sketch is the middle one with Mater in full panic mode driving as fast as he can away from the “Ghostlight.”
Steve Purcell, who John said worked as a storyboard artist on Cars was always sketching monsters throughout story sessions – “He just wouldn’t stop drawing” stated John. When Mater and the Ghostlight was in production and the idea of the character The Screaming Banshee was created, John and Dan knew exactly who should create it. Steve, already working on another project came back to the Cars arena and created the “Metal Monster” known as The Screaming Banshee, which was modeled off of parts from Mack, Mater as well as T.J. Hummer.