Pixar hits Detroit with an early look at 'Cars 3'

We got a sneak peek of the latest animation that's sure to please gearheads, children and gearheads with children.

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Josh Miller/CNET

In 2001 the team from Pixar came to the Detroit Auto Show in search of inspiration for a new story about a hotheaded rookie racer who learns that life's not all about finish line but about the journey.

The team released that story in 2006, and "Cars" became a huge hit for Pixar. The team behind it are all "car guys", so for them the devil was in the detail. Flies became tiny VW Beetles with wings, cows were old tractors, mountains are a mix of hood ornaments and upturned Cadillacs. It was a treat -- not only for the kids who fell in love with Lighting McQueen and his chums, but for hardcore car nerds who could delight in spotting details that were placed in the world just for them.

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2017 sees the release of "Cars 3". More than a decade after the original, we find out what's happened to McQueen and things aren't looking too good. In the first film he was an excitable rookie, fresh on the scene ready to take on everyone and win at all costs. 10 years on he's the old guard, the guys he was racing against in the first film have all retired, and he's the oldest dog in the pack.

The Pixar team revealed that McQueen's "Cars 3" rival is called Jackson Storm, a take on what a NASCAR racer will look like 20 years from now. Much like McQueen in the first film, Jackson is the modern hot shot taking the world by storm. He's a sharp, modern car - one more suited to 2017 than Lightning McQueen's rounded edges.

While the Pixar team remained tight lipped on major plot details, we do know that McQueen will be involved in a crash and he'll meet another new character: Cruz Ramirez. She's not a racer, but a trainer who can teach an old dog some new tricks and get him back in the game.

Pixar's team also showed off its car design methods. The cars aren't simply rendered on a computer and sent off into the virtual world -- the team takes time and effort to get them as good as possible before they see a full render. Legendary Ford designer J Mays was on hand to help with the initial design of Jackson Storm, one that was refined over and over with pen and paper before a clay model was made.

Much like a real car, new "Cars 3" characters were sketched, then created in clay to see how they'd look in real life. Why? To see if the lines of the cars work well, to ensure they look "right" before making the journey to the silver screen. It's a painstaking process, but one that has to be done to get the best results.

After the clays are approved, models are rendered to make sure the characters can sit happily in the same space together. It would be easy enough to create something radical and throw it up there, but to make something that fits into an established world but still looks new... that's impressive stuff.

As a final treat, John Lasseter, Pixar's big boss and huge car guy, showed off a short preview from the beginning of the film. Minor spoilers ahead, so stop reading now if you don't want to know anything before the summer.

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Josh Miller/CNET

We open with McQueen on track, surrounded by other cars and keen to win. Jackson Storm appears by his side and asks him where all his old friends are. It's a psych-out, sure, but one that hits home. McQueen is the last of his generation, after all. The race heats up, the camera showing off the track, and we witness some stunning race action. The film looks incredible.

Both McQueen and Storm pit for fresh rubber, the latter in the lead, the former pushing his trusted pit team to work fast so he can grab the lead from his upstart rival. McQueen gets out first, but is soon met by Storm who utters some harsh words, causing our hero to slow down. A commentator notes that McQueen is dropping back, causing him to push hard, too hard. He loses his back and has an almighty crash, akin to the one that took Doc Hudson out of the game in "Cars". McQueen's crew look on in horror as he flies through the air, and the screen fades to black.

"Cars 3" is set to be a tale of accepting that you can't be number one forever, and that arrogance won't carry you through forever -- or at least I hope that Jackson Storm chap will get some comeuppance along those lines. It'll be released this Summer, and should be a treat for children, gearheads and gearheads with children.

Detroit Auto Show 2017

Roadshow covers the new models and concept cars shown off at the 2017 North American International Auto Show in blogs, photo galleries, and video.

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