The Cars franchise might mark the nadir of Pixar as a creative enterprise, but graphically, the company still has some surprises up its sleeves, as evidenced by the new Cars 3 trailer released today:
Pixar has been steadily creeping toward a photoreal approach, most recently seen in projects like Piper and The Good Dinosaur. Not necessarily the studio’s character animation, which is still recognizably cartoon, but environments and atmosphere have pushed realism further than most other studios.
The contrast between cartoon and naturalism works to powerful effect in this trailer. The muted palette of the environments allows the cars in front to ‘pop’ (see images below), creating a different effect from earlier Cars films where the natural environments felt as artificial as the cars. Much has been made of the more serious emotional tone of this latest installment, but what hasn’t been discussed is how the shift toward naturalism in the graphics plays a role in heightening the emotions.