Michael Comet, character supervisor for the Pixar film Cars 3, says he always had an interest in computers, drawing and art.
"I loved the traditional Disney movies from Snow White to Bambi and 101 Dalmatians up through Warner Bros. cartoons like Bugs Bunny," says Comet, who grew up in Beachwood and attended Case Western Reserve University, via phone from his office at Pixar Animation Studios. "At the same time, I was a bit of a nerd. I went to computer camp at a young age."
His father picked up an old Apple computer, and Comet started teaching himself some basic programming. His aunt bought him a book about how to create animation, and he learned how to do 3-D animation at home. While at Case, he became a computer science major and took a computer graphics programming class.
"I was originally thinking of going pre-med, but I realized my passion was computers and programming and computer animation," he says. "At the university, I created some graphics for the brand-new website pages we had for our first-ever site of the university."
A chance meeting with Doug Kelly, who worked at the Case library at the time and has written books and articles on 3-D animation software, led Comet to want to become an animator. He got his first gig at a video game company in southern Illinois before landing the job at Pixar. He came on board at Pixar just as the first Cars film was released in 2006.
"For Cars 3, the biggest thing for us was to get the next generation of racers and make them look as amazing as we could," Comet says when asked about the latest installment of the series, which opens area-wide on Friday. "The story of Cars 3 is about [the stock car] McQueen getting older and facing these new challenges as the next generation appears on the scene. [McQueen rival] Storm is the anti-thesis of McQueen. McQueen is rounder and softer. Because he's so round and soft, the art department designed Storm to be sharper. Our job is to take the artwork and translate it. We wanted to increase the level of detail and realism."
Comet says an updated rendering system allowed the animators to go into more detail. For example, some of the cars have metallic paint and even "micro scratches."
Stellar animation aside, Comet says the Cars films appeal to viewers on a few different levels.
"For me, cars are a passion of mine," says Comet. "My dad was big into cars. I have fond memories of being in one of my dad's old Jaguars. And Pixar movies talk about emotions and things that transcend cultural and national boundaries. Cars 3 is no exception."