Franchitti's attention to detail helped shape 'Turbo'
05:00 AM, Jul 16, 2013
Dario Franchitti pays attention to details. It’s the nature of his job, which requires split-second reactions at upward of 200 mph.
His work as a consultant for the animated film Turbo, which opens nationally Wednesday, revealed enough details of a different genre to keep him in wonder even today.
“They were asking me all kinds of crazy questions,” he said about director David Soren and others involved in the DreamWorks Animation movie.
“They asked me, ‘How would a snail react to 3 g’s?’ ‘What would downforce do to a snail’s shell?’ ‘How would turbulence affect a snail?’ I was asked some very bizarre questions, but it was all quite fascinating. They were all about the most minute of details.”
Among those details were the voices. Race fans who listen carefully will recognize cameo appearances from Franchitti and Mario Andretti. Their roles are under the radar, nothing close to the number of lines spoken by lead actor Ryan Reynolds as Turbo, a snail who gains the superpower of extraordinary speed and races in the Indianapolis 500.
But if reaction to pre-release screenings is any indication, the film could put Indianapolis Motor Speedway site of the Indy 500 and the IZOD IndyCar Series which has been struggling to expand its audience since the end of a contentious split in 2008 on the map with a younger generation of fans.
The 1.1 TV rating for a race July 7 at Pocono Raceway was considered solid by IndyCar Series officials, but it’s a fraction of the attention that open-wheel racing commanded in its heyday of the 1980s and early 1990s.
A movie about a make-believe snail could provide a timely boost.
“I do hope it makes an impact for them,” said Soren, who attended the New York premiere last week along with three-time Indy 500 winner Franchitti, 2013 Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan and several other IndyCar drivers. “To me, the greatest compliment in terms of the racing is that the drivers are genuinely excited about the movie.”
Their optimism comes with a yellow flag.
As highly anticipated movies go, open-wheel racing has been burned in the past. Those involved in the sport still cringe about the buildup to Driven, the 2001 Sylvester Stallone-Burt Reynolds film about CART that has a 14 percent approval rating among critics at rottentomatoes.com. That premiere, unlike Turbo’s premiere, was met with stunned silence as cars flipped wildly, impossibly and unrealistically, one landing in a river.
A dozen years later, and some of the film’s cringe-worthy images remain with fans. On Sunday, during the second race of the Honda Indy Toronto, a photo of a coin stuck to one of Ed Carpenter’s tires was posted on Facebook. Fans immediately began mocking a Driven scene in which Stallone’s character, Joe Tanto, used his car’s left rear tire to pick up three coins placed on the track.
As bad as Driven was, Turbo is expected to be well-received and far more beneficial to its subject. Kanaan, who appeared in Driven along with Franchitti and 18 other then-CART drivers, says the two films can’t be compared. One is a drama that was supposed to be believable, the other a playful animated film that asks viewers to suspend belief.
“I don’t want to compare these movies or bash Driven, but that movie didn’t have a message,” Kanaan said. “It was fiction. Cars don’t fly like that. Days of Thunder was the same thing; the racing was mostly unrealistic. Turbo is in a different category. It’s animation, but it’s so real. I’ve never seen a movie like it.”
What the films share, though, is the use of realistic sites, backdrops and licensing. While the stunts in Driven were often comically implausible, the cars and locations were recognizable to race fans. So, too, is the backdrop of the Indy 500, IMS and the city of Indianapolis in Turbo.
“There’s a beam that goes across the top of the entrance to Gasoline Alley,” Franchitti says. “They’ve got that down to the texture of the steel. That’s how detail-oriented they were in making everything as lifelike as possible. The pagoda looks exactly as it is, and even the serrations in the track are perfect. The details of the facility itself are incredible. People who know the Speedway will recognize it immediately, and those who come to the race after seeing the film will recognize the Speedway immediately.”
That, of course, was by design. Soren said he chose the Indy 500 as Turbo’s eventual goal because of the speed. After coming to an agreement on licensing that would allow elements of the Speedway and the race to be used in the film, Soren used extensive and complicated computer imaging to recreate IMS, the 500 and its surroundings.
For help with that, he turned to Franchitti.
“We bonded over the fact that our careers are both so detail oriented,” said Soren, who was an artist on DreamWorks’ 2001 hit Shrek. “His career is based on the most painstaking details of car preparation and the racing itself, and we have a great deal of detail minutiae in animated films. He came on board and was floored at the detail we put into it. He gave us solutions to things as they would actually happen if a snail raced in the Indy 500.”
Beneath the detail lies the optimism. DreamWorks Animation has produced some of the most popular computer animated films of the era including Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon and officials at IMS and IndyCar are hoping Turbo is a hit that provides a tangible bump in interest in the race and the series.
“I love it, and I think it absolutely will help us,” said Kanaan, whose car has carried the Turbo sponsorship for three races this season and will again in the next IndyCar race Aug. 4 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. “There are two things I took out of it. One, it gives people an idea of how big and how fast the Indy 500 is, and two, it’s a snail in the Indy 500. It has a positive message. Everyone is drawn to his determination and the message that nothing is impossible if you try hard enough.”
Fresh from his third Indy 500 win, in 2012, Franchitti was asked to consult on the film. Soren said he wanted someone experienced with winning the race to help perfect the racing scenes.
“We wanted to talk in-depth with somebody from IndyCar to make the race as authentic as possible,” Soren said. “It had to be grounded in a believable reality. Dario came on board and sat through the race portion of the movie. I told him to call us on stuff that felt inauthentic. He did, and it ended up improving the storytelling.”
Franchitti, in turn, credits ousted IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, now CEO of Rural Media Group, with helping Hollywood and Indy meet in the real world to collaborate on a make-believe story.
“Randy was very instrumental in putting all of this together,” Franchitti said. “In years to come, IndyCar will definitely thank him for it.”
But whether the movie makes a splash a good splash, not a Driven splash remains to be seen.
Follow Jeff Olson on Twitter @jeffolson77