THE BIG INTERVIEW: Jay Ward, Franchise Guardian, Cars, Disney-Pixar

By Christopher Dring

August 2nd 2011 at 5:10PM
THE BIG INTERVIEW: Jay Ward, Franchise Guardian, Cars, Disney-Pixar

We find out what makes the brand such a hit as it nears $10bn at retail.

What does a Cars 'franchise guardian' do?
Anything related to Cars. Theme parks, video games, publishing, consumer products and I am involved with the movies, too. We have so many Cars-related products going that John Lasseter can’t see everything. So his focus is specifically on the movies and my focus is pretty much on everything else. So for games, such as the Avalanche game, I am the person that would fly to Utah and check with this: ‘No we don’t do this we do this.’ And keep things in check.

How huge is the Cars franchise?
Cars is a multi-billion dollar franchise. It is a big franchise and it wasn’t really expected to be something that big. When the first film came out it was a small initial offering of toys and some related things, and then this world of Cars kept growing beyond the life of the film. Then the DVD came out and it got bigger again. This world of Cars kept growing for years and years after the movie game out. It was pretty amazing.

Out of all of Pixar’s products, it is not the franchise you would expect to do the big bucks. Why do you think it has done so well?
I think it relates to a lot of people on a lot of different levels. For cars to an adult who is a bit of a petrol head, he can be all like ‘Wow, I love vehicles and there’s all these cool cars.” And for kids I think it is this relatability of these really beautiful characters in this very beautiful and colourful environment. This has a lot of heart and people find there’s a lot to relate to in this movie, and they have a lot of characters to relate to; they can find a kindred spirit with some of these cars.

With all this merchandise, some people could accuse this movie as being just one big advert for the toys?
It has to be a movie first. It has to tell a great story. And these things are only related to it and worth doing if people go and see the movie. If you don’t do a great movie then none of it really means anything. I think the hard thing for us is doing something different than the first Cars, making a movie that is very unique, while keeping it fun and exciting and yet growing that world into different places that we didn’t see in the first film.

The new Cars is set around the world this time, is that right?
It starts in Japan, then there is a race in Italy, we made up a location called Porta Corsa, and the final race is in London. And when you watch it, it is amazing how accurate these environments, with these great colours and graphics, are to these real environments. You really feel like you are in these places when you watch it.

And from a marketing and brand point-of-view that should allow you to open up to new territories?
Cars is a very global thing. We found that. As much as the first Cars movie was about radia screens and Route 66 and Americana, this new Cars film is much more about a race around the world and seeing the way people love and appreciate cars in different parts of the globe.

There’s a large number of Cars video games. Why do you think video games have been such a natural extension for the Cars franchise?
You always have driving and driving is a natural aspect of gameplay, right? The challenge in the Cars world is that yes these are cars but they are also characters. They have personalities. In your typical driving game you are just looking at the back of your car for the whole time. So the challenge was getting the face time with the Cars in there, getting the chance to see the front and having the character emote. You will notice in the next game lots of opportunities where the camera spins round and you can see the front of the car. You will see the characters expression as you drive along. That’s was a big thing I pushed on them. Make sure you remember these are characters, because otherwise they will just become a car.

So you have been quite hands-on with the game?
Very much so. I have done a lot of work with Avalanche. They are very respectful of the Cars property, they did the Toy Story game previously and that was a great game. They don’t want to do anything that lets us down from a Pixar standpoint in terms of quality. So they were really good about working back and forth and making sure we were good with it.

It must be important that this quality remains across all of the Cars products?
Yeah, it needs to be consistent throughout. If it's something related to Cars it needs to have the same level of quality and care and concern that we put into the movie. And if it doesn’t then it kind of brings the whole thing down, it dilutes the whole thing, so we are pretty careful about that.

Why should consumers be excited about the game?
It has racing, but it also has this great espionage and spy element as well. So we have this cool thing where you are doing combat racing with other cars, shooting missiles at them or launching these devices that make the Cars cough or fly through the air. It makes it much more of a mixture of racing and combat combined, which I think is fun and is a little bit like the movie as well. And the other thing we wanted to stay in the realm of is with multiplayer. So when you are playing it, and you are one of the people that likes to race and you are playing with a little brother or sister who isn’t very good at it, they can still have a fun experience even if they are not as good as you. And if you are super good, and you are in a multiplayer mode, then the game will actually knock first placed players back and make more obstacles for them, so that the player in last can catch it. It levels the playing field a bit and I like that.

You moved into MMO with Cars a little while ago. How has that gone?
The Cars MMO launched about 18 months ago. That’s a different experience altogether. That’s more about community and talking to different characters. MMOs are unique. Disney has had success with Club Penguin, and Cars is just one more world they wanted to try an MMO with. The new Cars is much more like the movies and obviously it is a Cars 2 game. We’ve got the voice talent for most of the characters. And there’s a lot of cool unlockable cars, such as Professor Z.

Pixar is such a successful animation studio. Why not move into gaming yourself?
If you go way back, Pixar used to do software. And then we realised we should focus at what we are best at and not spread ourselves too thin. At Pixar it takes a lot of work to do a movie. It takes about four years and 250 people to make one movie. So imagine us trying to do games, or television, or live action? I don’t think we could do it and maintain this great lightning in a bottle that we have right now. We do have so much creative talent in the house that we could use them for other things. But we can’t ever sacrifice what we do is making movies.

How long have you been at Pixar now?
12 years. I started there right when Bugs Life came out.

Is Cars the only franchise that you work on?

No, well Pixar only has a few films that we consider franchise films. So Cars is one, Toy Story is obviously one, and I think Monsters, Inc has a bit of a franchise and Nemo as well. Cars is unique in the size of the scope of the franchise. We have never had a person in-house at Pixar that does what I do now. It is kind of a new thing.