Creating Piston Peak National Park

Creating an entire National Park from the ground up is no easy job, but that’s exactly the task that Toby Wilson, art director for Planes: Fire & Rescue, was charged with. As the art director, Toby was responsible for using the film’s visuals to facilitate the story. He oversaw the design of the characters, sets, effects, lighting, and even coloring of the film.

After a special advance screening of Planes: Fire & Rescue, we were fortunate enough to speak with Toby about the great deal of artistic skill, creativity, and–most importantly–research that was needed to make it all happen. We also got a ton of great concept art to share with you.



Research, Research, Research

Director Bobs Gannaway and Wilson knew that they wanted Piston Peak to have a great deal of history behind it. To fully understand the scope of the world that they would need to build from scratch, Toby and fellow filmmakers traveled to Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks. It was here they took in the sights, sounds, and smells of the great outdoors — but it turned out that the research for the film really began decades ago.

“My journey creating Piston Peak started when I was just a kid,” said Wilson. “Summer and winter breaks were spent camping throughout national parks all over the country. I was extremely fortunate to have been exposed to nature as a child, and it was awesome because I could take all of those childhood experiences and bring them to this film.”

Art director, Toby Wilson, visiting Yosemite National Park.

The filmmakers went to work taking thousands of photographs and compiling interviews, from park rangers to hotel owners.

Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn inspired the Grand Fusel Lodge, which was designed and digitally built out to feature 327 hangers, a gift shop, and even a spa named “Details.” The staff at the Old Faithful even allowed the filmmakers to travel up high through the hotel’s maze of catwalks and into the off-limits crow’s nest. The crow’s nest is an indoor treehouse built in the lobby that leads outside onto the steep roof of the inn. One particular element that was added directly from the Old Faithful was the exterior sprinkler system, used to douse the building in water during the threat of a wildfire.




The Details Matter

Spanning two miles across, Piston Peak National Park contains over 2.5 million trees that were digitally placed among the hills and valleys. Each tree was individually placed to allow the animators to control the movement and all elements, such as fire and water, as they interacted with the shrubbery. The foliage was carefully chosen to be indigenous to the pacific northwest region of the United States, including huckleberry oak, ponderosa pines, aspen trees, buckthorn, and spicebush.

Although realism was one of the overarching goals in the art direction of the film, it was important to give these elements a style.

“You want it to look real from a distance, like a photograph,” said Wilson. “But then we do things like take the bark of a tree and mix it with a tire tread, and then we get skidmark bark on our ponderosa pines. We integrate that technique into the flowers as well. We have caddy pinks that look like tail lights, our purple turbines that look like cowlings with propeller blades, and our yellow radiator fans.”


With all that in mind, take a ride with us and explore Piston Peak National Park from the sky!

Thunderbolt Bluffs


Separating the northern and southern portions of the park, their splendor is fascinating and their power compelling. Any visitor will be awestruck by these breathtaking bluffs.


The Grand Fusel Lodge


Every traveller is taken care of at the newly restored Grand Fusel Lodge. This historic inn is considered the largest log structure in the world. The lodge features 327 hangers and garages, as well as Piston Perk, the gift garage, and Details – a spa.


Piston Peak


The namesake monument towers over Piston Peak National Park, welcoming guests from all over the globe. No visit is complete without a nature drive to this majestic wonder of the world.


Anchor Lake


The largest body of water in Piston Peak, reflecting the beauty of the surrounding valley. Precautions should be taken by all boats as the lake feeds turbulent Whitewall Rapids.


Rail Ridge


All aboard! Your delightful tour of the valley is not complete without a visit to impressive Rail Ridge, which acts as a locomotive-themed gateway to Augerin Canyon.

You can explore more of Piston Peak National Park when Planes: Fire & Rescue comes to theatres in 2D and 3D on July 18, 2014.

Posted 7 years Ago
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