McQueen’s Return: Go Behind-The-Scenes of ‘Cars 3’ & Read Our Initial Review (With Photos, Concept Artwork & More)

Lightning McQueen is back! He may not be the racer he once was, but is he ready to retire? Read our early review of Cars 3 and go behind the scenes.
Cars 3 Behind the Scenes

Lightning McQueen roars back onto the screen in a big way in Cars 3 — but, is Lightning back in the way we once knew him? Well, maybe for a while, but during the 45-minutes of the film we screened at Pixar Animation Studios a few weeks back, we got to see a different side of the historic racecar. McQueen is taken aback by the next-generation racers, overcome by the sudden realization that his confidence has made him oblivious to the changes happening all around him.

“He’s struggling with the kind of issues a lot of athletes face later in their careers,” says producer Kevin Reher. “Do you go out on top or fight till the end?” This is where Cruz Ramirez, the tech-centric trainer at the newly revamped Ruse-Eze Racing Center comes in — Lightning needs someone to get him back into the game. Is Cruz the right trainer for McQueen, or is McQueen really the trainer?

Cars 3 Ledends
Legends lineup concept art by Artist John Lee. ©2017 Disney•Pixar.

Fans of the first Cars film will be thrilled with the way Cars 3 brings the Radiator Springs gang back into the fold and especially how the film honors Doc Hudson. One of the more special moments from the film is when Lightning reaches out to Doc’s coach — Smokey for guidance and inspiration. Something clicks in McQueen and he now understands the power of mentorships in a much deeper way than he had.

DOC HUDSON FUN FACT — You may recall hearing Paul Newman’s voice in the Next Generation Cars 3 teaser. We confirmed that all of Doc’s lines were pulled from unused recordings from the first Cars. (Stay tuned for an upcoming episode of the Pixar Post Podcast where we dive into these facts and more with the Pixar story team.)

The Pixar team, known for their in-depth research, wanted to make sure that all aspects of racing and NASCAR were properly represented in the film. In addition to attending the Daytona 500 (among other races) and talking with a sports psychologist, the crew also wanted to look to the future of racing as well as the all-important history of the sport to accurately represent the roots of stock car racing. The legends of racing that Lightning meets are all based on real drivers who raced through adversity and overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to succeed in the sport (as highlighted in this article).


When you watch the film, be prepared to be blown away by the beauty of the images you see. The cars look 100% real and some scenes are so stunning you can’t help but feel that every department had a hand in crafting it to completion. One of these scenes is the Crazy 8 sequence in which Lightning and Cruz find themselves square in the middle of an over-the-top demolition derby. Not only are the characters perfectly designed and voiced, it’s as if you can feel the fire exploding out of Miss Fritter’s “smoke stacks of doom” as she charges towards Lightning. From the choreography of the characters to the direction that Brian Fee brought to the scene, everything from the top to the bottom is perfect.

Cars 3 Concept Art
(left) Art by Production Designer Bill Cone. (right) Miss Fritter by Matt Nolte. ©Disney•Pixar.

Speaking of the bottom, the mud in the Crazy 8 scene posed the biggest technical challenge for the crew as they had to work to figure out the right balance of dirt and water to animate mud and make it feel authentic. The process took months as the team literally played in the mud to perfect the look of the scene and even attended some demolition derby’s (you know, for research purposes). (Note – more details and interviews will be coming over the next several weeks leading up to the film’s release as part of the Pixar Post Podcast.)

JACKSON STORM FUN FACT — Jay Ward, the Cars franchise guardian noted that “Jackson Storm is Lightning’s nemesis — the film’s baddie — though he isn’t a true villain. He represents what’s happening in racing.”

Don’t let all the adventurous moments we’ve written about fool you — this is not solely an action film. The reason Cars 3 works so well is that there’s a blend of heart and action. Balanced on either side of the Crazy 8 scene are a pair of more sincere moments where you really get invested in the characters at a much deeper level.

Cars 3 Behind the Scenes
Cars 3 writers (left to right) Mike Rich, Bob Peterson, Kiel Murray & Story Supervisor Scott Morse (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

One of those heartfelt moments comes in a touching scene where Cristela Alonzo’s real life experience with self-doubt was mirrored in the character she voices (Cruz Ramirez). “Cruz’s story isn’t a glass-ceiling story,” adds screenwriter Kiel Murray. “That would be easy to do, especially in the world of professional racing. For many, the greatest obstacle won’t be the limits imposed by the world, but the ones they give themselves. With Cruz, we wanted to explore what happens when people get in their own way.”


We could go on-and-on talking about Cars 3 and the brilliant work that the team put into the film, but the good news is that there’s no rush. We have so much new content to share that we’ll be discussing it over the following weeks in posts, sharing snippets on social media, and even share audio recordings from our sessions at Pixar Animation Studios as well as the Sonoma Raceway. A summary of what you can expect is below (as well as a quick look at the superb short film, Lou, which will premiere alongside Cars 3 in theaters on June 16, 2017).

Also, be sure to chat about your thoughts on Cars 3 and this article by leaving a comment below or chatting with other fans in the Pixar Post Forum.


  • START TO FINISH: PIXAR’S PRODUCTION PIPELINE – Hear about the technical achievements and challenges that artists experienced in the making of Cars 3 with Bobby Podesta (Supervising Animator), Michael Fong(Supervising Technical Director), and Jon Reisch (Effects Supervisor).
  • THE NEXT GENERATION – Overview on designing, creating and bringing life to the next generation of cars – Jackson Storm and Cruz Ramirez with Jude Brownbill (Directing Animator), Jay Shuster (Production Designer), and Michael Comet (Characters Supervisor).
  • THE STORY OF OUR STORY – Exploring the challenges and successes of how the writers of Cars 3 approached this third installment and continuation of Lightning McQueen’s story with Kiel Murray (Writer), Bob Peterson(Writer), Mike Rich (Writer), and Scott Morse (Story Supervisor).
  • HISTORY OF RACING – Listen to details about the history of stock car racing, including the evolution of car design, stories of legend drivers and more with Jay Ward (Creative Director) & Ray Evernham (Former Crew Chief for Hendrick Motorsports).
  • PRESS CONFERENCE discussion about everything relating to Cars 3 with Brian Fee (Director), Kevin Reher (Producer), and Andrea Warren (Co-Producer).
Cars 3 at Pixar Animation Studios
Pixar Animation Studios Images © Pixar Post

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