Artist's career got rolling in Motor City.
Mark Phelan - Detroit Free Press - June 9, 2006
The animated movie "Cars," which opens today, "is kind of a thank-you note to Detroit," says Pontiac-born Jay Shuster, a 35-year-old sketch artist who helped create the appearance and personality of the movie's animated cars.
"I can't think of a better place to grow up and be inspired," said the former Birmingham resident and graduate of the College of Creative Studies in Detroit.
Adoration for the automobile drips from every frame of "Cars" like oil from the crankcase of a Nash Rambler.
Shuster's father, Stuart, worked in General Motors Corp.'s design department for 43 years, first as a designer. He now is retired but still recruiting new talent to the automaker.
Director John Lasseter's father was the parts manager of a Chevrolet dealership in California. Lasseter directed other modern animated classics like "Toy Story" and "Finding Nemo." He now runs the combined animation operations of Pixar, which made those movies, and Walt Disney.
The 1973 Shuster Christmas card features the family posed in Stuart's prized '69 Chevy Corvair convertible, which he still drives in the Woodward Dream Cruise.
"He's worked for every vice president of design in the history of General Motors," the younger Shuster said proudly.
"I was into cars in a big way growing up," Shuster said. "I used to look forward every year to Family Day at the GM Tech Center" in Warren, where GM designs and engineers cars and trucks.
"Cars" is the story of cocky young race car Lightning McQueen, who takes a wrong turn into the dusty town of Radiator Springs and learns the value of friendship and long scenic drives.
It's also a 1-hour, 46-minute-long hug for the people who design and build cars.
Fast, shiny cars like cocky Lightning McQueen, who meets Sally Carrera, the shy and sexy Porsche.
Rusty, faithful ones that always start when the key turns like Mater the tow truck and Fillmore, the spaced-out psychedelic Volkswagen Microbus.
Cantankerous classics like Doc Hudson, the 1951 Hudson Hornet that bedeviled Ford and GM on the racetrack and still has a few laps on his odometer.
"There were a lot of gearheads at Pixar before work started on this movie," Shuster said. "You don't start a four-year project if it's not something you care about. Our prime directive was to make a movie for car lovers and everybody else."
The team's research included meetings with Detroiters including Ford design chief J Mays and classic car collector Richard Kughn, trips to the annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit, days at the races and visits to vintage car shows.
While he was at the College of Creative Studies, Shuster worked at Roush Racing in Livonia, designing graphics for the company's race cars.
His love for cars twined with a fascination with animation at 6, when he saw "Star Wars." After graduating from college in 1993 with a degree in industrial and product design, he landed a job in California designing pod racers and the aliens who drove them in the second trilogy of "Star Wars" films.
"It was the perfect project to me, coming from working on graphics for race cars," he said.
A year and a half after his hitch in "Star Wars," Shuster joined Pixar to work on "Cars."
Everybody working in animation "wants to get in here, but I was perfectly suited to it," he said.
"The artwork dripped off the tip of my pen designing cars. My experience at Roush played tremendously well into developing graphics for race cars in the movie."
He returns to the Tech Center in Warren next week to give GM's design staff - his father will be in the audience - a presentation on how he and three other artists developed the look and character for dozens of cars in the movie.
"It paralleled the design process at GM," from the initial sketches to small sculpted clay models to deadlines for when designs had to be finished and ready for production, he said.
"I see a lot of parallels with my father's career and mine," Shuster said. "Detroit is a hard town to leave."