We’ve seen how Lightning McQueen changed between the original Cars and the upcoming Cars 3 and we’ve met his new rival, the overconfident Jackson Storm. In the final part of Under the Hood of Cars 3, we meet McQueen’s newest friend, Cruz Ramirez. By the end of this final piece, I think you’ll see why she’s such an important character and why she is sure to inspire a new generation of kids the same way Lightning McQueen did twelve years ago.

“We inherited this great story, a character that had a great dilemma and some side characters that were doing really well, but weren’t necessarily focused enough to push Lightning McQueen into where he needed to be with his flaw of trying not to age gracefully,” recalls Writer Bob Peterson. “And so our first job was trying to focus a side character and that became Cruz Ramirez. We put ourselves on the task of focusing her a bit more and what we ended up with is a personal trainer who treats McQueen like an old guy. And it’s exactly what he doesn’t want to hear, that he’s her ‘senior project’ and all that stuff. But she is going to push him to a place of self-recognition and she’s of that next generation, so just to look at her is tough for him.”

“It was clear what McQueen needed to be, but once we realized we needed someone to push him, we wanted to know ‘Who is she? What’s her own thing?,’” explains Writer Kiel Murray. “McQueen aside, who is Cruz? And Cristella [Alonzo]’s personal situation was helpful. She talked to us about trying to break into comedy, how tough that was to just look and sound different than everybody else at the time. Growing up in a small town with sort of low expectations placed on her and having to exceed that on her own, dealing with confidence stuff.”

In the same way that Ellen Degeneres helped define the character of Dory in Finding Nemo, comedian Cristella Alonzo was the missing piece to making Cruz Ramirez work. “The character of Cruz is very much based on Cristella Alonzo,” explains Directing Animator Jude Brownbill. “Smart, determined, funny, from really modest beginnings, trying to make it in a field that isn’t very conventional. Just as the story artists had done in looking at Cristella for inspiration, so did the animators. So we spent a lot of time looking at her standup, her TV show and just immersing ourselves in everything we could find that Cristella had done just to absorb her acting choices, her facial expressions and even her comic timing.”

“A character’s actions and mannerisms can actually spark a design direction for us in the art department,” explains Production Designer Jay Shuster. “I really wanted Cruz to be inspired by American muscle car proportions, but infuse her with a little bit of European sports car as well. She was a unique design challenge, she’s not a racecar, she’s a unique female character who has to meet the next generation of racecars at their level.”

“We found that we could be a lot broader with her body,” adds Brownbill. “She’s full of energy, she’s got a big personality and just a really honest delivery, so in your face honesty. But it was also important to contrast those big movements and humorous moments with quiet, subtle, honest moments where she’s really being vulnerable. I think the most important thing we learned about Cruz overall is she’ll always react with honesty and humor as a way to mask her own vulnerability. She gave up on her dream of being a racer so she channels all of her passion into being the best trainer that she can be. She’s very honest, very direct, very blunt even to the surprise of McQueen. And when we approached her acting choices with that in mind, I think it really brought Cruz to life in a believable way.”

“I started to read up on confidence in girls and there’s a lot of research now in the last few years about the confidence gap and self-limiting, assessing your own ability in a second and just walking away assuming that you can’t pull it off,” explains Murray. “So we tried that with Cruz, we tried that in scenes, we showed women at Pixar and I was actually really surprised to see how many of the women in leadership positions actually really identified with that. The sort of secret self doubt that plagued them. There’s great stuff to read about it now and there’s amazing female athletes that talk about it, and CEOs. So that was a big piece.”

“One of the things for me with Cruz is that my daughters are eleven and eight and we were talking about musical instruments and the response I got back from them was ‘Guitars, that’s for boys,’” explains Director Brian Fee. “And that floored me, I had not heard that musical instruments have gender attached to them. The fact that at such a young age they were already drawing labels and attaching things that are not even for them, that was a red flag for me. When I see Cruz, I see my girls and I want her to be someone that can rise above any labels that society puts on things.”

“I love Cruz, she’s one of my favorite characters in this movie,” adds Producer Andrea Warren. “She’s inspiring, she’s charming she put herself in an industry where she’s a fish out of water, but she’s charging ahead anyway. She’s bold and I love what we learn about her in this film. I love the relationship that she has with McQueen, how they influence each other, how they help each other face their fears and I think it’s a really cool relationship that emerges. I think she’s a great character.”

On the screen, Cruz Ramirez has to compete for your attention between Lightning McQueen and Jackson Storm, but Jude Brownbill is confident that she won’t have any trouble making a big impact. “Her design lies somewhere between McQueen and Storm. She’s powerful and a next gen racer, but she also has heart and love and passion for racing.” Audiences can fall in love with Cruz Ramirez on June 16th when Disney/Pixar’s Cars 3 takes us all on a thrilling and emotional joyride.