Former St. Louisan is driving force of ‘Cars 2’

‘Cars 2.’

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

If you like what you see—and we do mean see—when “Cars 2” opens here on Friday, you have native St. Louisan Jeremy Lasky to thank. Lasky, who grew up in St. Louis County, is director of photography of the new 3D animated Disney/Pixar movie. Son of Barry and Ellen Lasky of St. Louis, Jeremy Lasky grew up at Traditional Congregation and graduated from Parkway Central High School.

He started in Pixar’s layout department for the company’s second feature “A Bug’s Life,” and did layout work on both “Toy Story 2” and “Monsters, Inc.” before moving up to director of photography for the original “Cars” film, which came out in 2006. He continued as director of photography on the Academy Award-winning  “Finding Nemo,” “WALL-E” and “Toy Story 3.”

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We spoke recently by phone with Lasky from his California home.

On a live-action film, the cinematographer, or director of photography, is in charge of the cameras and creates the visual style along with the director. But what exactly does the director of photography do on an animated film?

It’s very similar. When we make our animated films, we start out with storyboards, which are drawings that they put together with music and some kind of temporary dialogue, and that plays like a quickly drawn sketch version of the film. Teams build virtual sets in the computer and modelers build — again in the computer — the characters. Our job in layout is to take this story and these sets and characters, and figure out where are we going to put the camera in the set, where are we going to stage the characters, in order to come up with a shot. It’s really figuring out what is the visual language of the film.

How large a team do you work with?

The director of photography is overseeing a group of about 15 or so artists trying to make this vision cohesive, to make the whole film feel like it was really shot by one camera man, what a live-action film would feel like.

What can you tell us about the second ‘Cars” movie?

The second one takes the characters we loved from the first and puts them in a much bigger drama. It’s a friendship story between Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) and McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), but it’s also this really cool spy story. There is this new character, Finn McMissile, voiced by Michael Caine, and he’s a British secret agent who’s also a car. Mater gets involved in this plot as he is mistaken for an American master spy. It is a much bigger canvas, which is exciting for me. It is a lot more action along with all the humor.

Was it different working in 3D?

You know, it turns out it isn’t really that different. What makes a great 3D movie is making the shots dynamic, and making the viewer feel like they are pulled into the middle of the action.

Any favorite childhood memories about growing up in St. Louis?

Oh, what’s not going to get me in trouble? Mostly when I think about growing up in St. Louis, I think about it being really cold or really hot, which is very different from California. But I think the more I am away from St. Louis, the more I appreciate things that I didn’t quite appreciate when I was there. We were just back recently and I took my wife and son to Forest Park. We just walked around and it’s just such a beautiful area. When I grew up there, I took it for granted. But once you move away and you come back and look at how friendly everyone is, and look at all this great open space. The parks are so beautiful and the playgrounds are so well-kept.

You were awarded the 2008 Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Award from the St. Louis International Film Festival. How did it feel to be honored by your home town?

I was very flattered. It was pretty remarkable. If someone had told me when I was 15 or 22 that was going to happen, I wouldn’t have believed it. It was really, really cool.


Any advice for budding filmmakers in St. Louis?

If you’re in St. Louis, I think there is really no barrier to success, especially now. If you are interested in computer graphics, there are some great programs out there, online or free or really inexpensive, that you can learn and figure out what you want to do and get better at it. You don’t have to go to an expensive college far away. You can do this stuff at home with your own equipment. When we look at people to bring into our department, for animation or the art department, it’s really all about the talent. You can demonstrate talent with a very limited budget. With some perseverance, and hard work and skill, there is no telling where you are going to end up.