Years of technological development and research, more than a hundred technical consultants, and one Australian rock band come together to make this high-flying scene from Disney’s Planes: Fire and Rescue. In the sequel to last year’s animated hit, Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) has put aside his career as a racer to join a wildfire air-attack team protecting Piston Peak National Park.
"We like to change genres," director Roberts "Bobs" Gannaway (Secret of the Wings) tells Yahoo Movies in a phone interview. “The first film [directed by Klay Hall] was a race film. I wanted to look at a different genre, in this case, an action-disaster film.” Gannaway also wants to make clear that this follow-up is, well, no fly-by-night operation. Production, he says, commenced just six months after the start of the first: ”We’ve been working on this film for nearly four years.”
That work began with the filmmakers researching the world of air-attack teams and smokejumpers. Gannaway and his team worked closely with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) — and even sent a crew went to the U.S. Forest Service’s annual training exercises for smokejumpers. “We actually hooked cameras onto their helmets and had them drop out of the airplane so we could catch it on film.” All told, they did nearly a year of research before they even started working on the story.
While the first Planes had Dusty — an undersized cropduster — defying the odds to become an air-racing champ, the notion of him fighting fires is actually not so far removed from reality. During their research, Gannaway says they discovered that back in 1955, planes like Dusty were among the first to be used in aerial fire fighting: “There was a group of cropdusters who reworked their planes so they could drop water.” One of the planes on which Dusty is modeled is still used in emergency efforts. “It’s known as a SEAT — a single-engine air tanker — and it’s the smallest plane in the wildfire air attack fleet,” explains Gannaway. Which serves to make Dusty an underdog once again.
Music, of course, is an essential element in bringing a character to life — and Gannaway made the surprising choice to include the song “Thunderstruck” from bad-boy Aussie rockers AC/DC on the soundtrack. He explains that because the scene introduces the air-attack team, he wanted “to have a piece of music that was tough and cool — that would not only get the characters pumped, but also the audience.” Gannaway says that they used the track on the very first story reel — in which they pair still drawings with dialogue and sound — and it worked so well they never changed it. He admits he wasn’t sure at first if family audiences would go for a hard-rock selection, but so far he’s not heard a single negative reaction. Gannaway says, “It felt right. It’s like, ‘Yes, that’s what those characters would be playing.’ That’s why it locks in.”