With all the discussion of Finding Nemo hitting theaters in 3D and the rumor of a possible sequel, we thought it would be fitting to post our review of the Finding Nemo director’s commentary.
The Finding Nemo director’s commentary features director/writer Andrew Stanton, co-director/writer Lee Unkrich, and writer Bob Peterson. This trio of Pixarians is a hoot to listen to as we found ourselves laughing along with them and really enjoyed their witty banter – especially when it came to Unkrich joking around with Stanton’s “after-school special” past (I believe it was called ‘Dear Diary’).
Finding Nemo began its conceptualization back in 1997 – right after the completion of Toy Story 2 Stanton wrote the first draft of Finding Nemo – less than a year later it went on story reels.
Why clownfish? Stanton elaborated that he wanted to do a film set in the ocean with a storyline based on a father/son relationship – only he didn’t know anything about fish. So, he opened up a book on fish and saw two orange fish (clownfish) peeking out of an anemone. Stanton also said that having Marlin and Nemo be clownfish and live in an anemone was another way of portraying that they would eventually have to leave their familiar world to tackle their fears.
In the animation test of the anemone, the animators used Sulley’s hair from Monster’s Inc. as the test model for the anemone as seen in the first photo. The second photo shows the anemone in the stages of animation. One thing that was incredibly interesting, was that the animation simulation software moved the tendrils automatically as the character (Marlin) moved through the anemone, without the animator having to do anything. However, some of the anemone tendrils weren’t exactly moving in the right manner, so animator Cameron Miyasaki hand-animated the tendrils of the anemone (pictured in the final rendered shot above). Supervising Animator Dylan Brown stated that it was “99% simulation and 1% animation”.
Finding Nemo didn’t always have the tragic beginning that it does today. An original concept of the film had a “flashback” storyline. Where we, the viewer, would learn about the tragedy of Coral and Nemo’s siblings as the film unfolded. The Pixar team changed that idea because they really wanted the viewers to understand and be connected to the overprotective nature of Marlin right from the beginning of the movie (due to the barracuda attack).
The above photo shows another concept that was eventually changed to the barracuda attack (as seen in the movie). Instead, Marlin was to tell Nemo a bedtime story about his mom and how the ocean took her away. It’s a very touching deleted scene – though I do agree with the change to keep the barracuda attack.
Nemo’s little fin was to originally have a bigger storyline – throughout the film, he was going to gradually learn to swim “better”. This idea was eventually removed, however, Stanton decided to keep Nemo’s small fin as a symbol of the paranoia that parents feel with their kids – whether it be their education, physical abilities, talents, speech – “Are my kids going to be able to handle to real-world without me?”
During the commentary Stanton mentions that he could go on and on about the lighting in the film and how it’s stunning beyond words – we couldn’t agree more! This lightning in this film is absolutely breathtaking.
Kim White, the “Reef Unit” Lighting Lead details some of the lights that were used to create the look of the reef. Kim describes that the reef took ten broad lights, but when you add the characters it could take 100 or more! The lights are built of one key light (main light source), caustic light (dancing light on the sea floor), bounce light (light coming off the sand), bluish fill light, and murky/fog lights.
Stanton mentions that he wanted someone to voice Marlin who had a neurotic tone, but also someone that the viewers would connect with throughout the film. Stanton mentioned quite emphatically that Albert Brooks saved the film.
Tad, the yellow fish (one of Nemo’s schoolmates) is voiced by Jordy Ranft, son of the great Joe Ranft (who voiced Lenny, Weezy, Heimlich, Red, and Jacques – and of course was an incredible story artist).
Lee Unkrich noted that Pixar animator Bret Parker did a wonderful job animating the cute school kids on Mr. Ray’s back – there are approximately 20 characters – one of the cutest ones being the tiny green crab that has worried eyes. Speaking of Mr. Ray, the great storyteller Bob Peterson voiced this underwater explorer.
Stanton wrote a lot of Marlin’s neurotic behavior was based on a walk he took with his then five-year-old son to a nearby park. Rather than just living in the moment, he was correcting his son constantly, by saying “don’t touch that”, and “watch out for that branch”. He summed it up by saying, “Fear can deny a father from being a good father”. That was the defining moment that brought the story together for Finding Nemo.
The infamous A-113 made an appearance on the underwater camera.
The scene when Marlin is chasing the boat after Nemo was scooped up by the diver was always part of the original concept. In fact, when Stanton had to pitch Finding Nemo to 900 licensees and marketers without any visual aids, it was this storyline and Stanton’s great storytelling ability that sold the idea in January 2002 at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood, CA.
Did you know Dory was originally set to be a male character? That all changed one night when Stanton’s wife was watching the Ellen Show on television. He heard Ellen change subjects five times in one sentence and he thought that was a perfect way to portray her short-term memory – and thus Dory became a girl.
Stanton talked about how fish have transparency to them in the water and that the animators needed to re-create the same effect somehow (or they would look fleshy and flat). The look the technical team needed to achieve was best described as holding a gummy bear to the light and noticing how you can see slightly into the gummy bear. Now, the effect of adding transparency is affectionately referred to as the “gummy effect”. Director of Photography, Sharon Calahan, discussed how the fish have 80% gummy substance in them to make them look like real fish with the right level of luminosity.
Stanton, Peterson, and Unkrich all agreed that the sharks were the coolest to model, create, design, voice, and animate. One of the original stories had the sharks playing volleyball with the underwater mines rather than the chase scene in the submarine. Stanton mentioned that it was just a bit long and unnecessary so it was cut.
Did you know that Dory’s nosebleed was the first time that blood was shed in a Pixar film? Blood was visible in A Bug’s Life when the mosquito ordered some to drink in the restaurant bar.
The line, “Here’s Brucie!” is a nod to one of Unkrich’s favorite films, The Shining.
Technical Director, Oren Jacob, detailed the extreme difficulty and detail needed for the underwater explosion (after the shark’s touch a mine). It took weeks (maybe months) to get all the shots “just right” for a sequence that only lasted a matter of seconds. The team did mention that they tried to stay as high brow as possible with the humor but the one fart joke that Stanton said was unavoidable was with the birds after this explosion sequence…”nice”, exclaims one bird to the other as a bubble from the explosion under the water rises to the surface.
Have you ever wondered what the diplomas on the wall in the dentist’s office say? Check out the photos above – my personal favorite is the Pixar University School of Dentistry – I might enjoy going to the dentist if Pixar was involved somehow. The signatures on the documents don’t appear to be Philip Sherman (the dentist character’s name), however, I haven’t been able to detect the names of the signatures but I’m trying to.
Next, we’re going to list a few hidden items from other Pixar films.
You can spot Buzz Lightyear tossed on the floor in the toy corner of the dentist’s office. The one thing that I would like to know is if the toy chest is the same model as in Toy Story with just a few minor adjustments. If you look closely towards the end of the film you will notice a young child reading a comic with The Incredibles on it.
The fish tank in the dentist’s office was designed after Stanton’s childhood dentist office. He recalls being a kid and actually looking forward to going to the dentist to see the fish. Stanton also mentioned (from the fish’s perspective) how weird it must have been to see people for the first time by watching dental procedures.
The Pixar team wanted the cast of characters in the fish tank to be a bit looney as they are trapped in the four-walled tank, Unkrich mentioned that they watched films such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and King of Hearts as inspiration for the character’s behaviors.
Unkrich took credit for the patient who is blurred in the foreground writhing in pain from a procedure while the tank gang looked on. Lee noted that he was thrilled that the shot made it into the film and apologized to all dentists for the scene, including his cousin who is a dentist.
Bob Peterson was constantly on the phone with his dentist, Roni Douglas DDS, in order to get the steps of the root canal just right so the characters would have the correct technical dental verbiage when the tank gang is discussing the procedure. An amazing detail that I’m sure did not go unnoticed by dentists everywhere.
Andrew Stanton had narrowed Gil’s voice down to three voices, when John Lasseter heard that he was considering Willem Dafoe, it was a done deal.
In the scene where Marlin and Dory are taking a nap in the scuba mask, you can hear Dory mumble “The sea monkey has my money,” if you remember any of the old Disney Kurt Russell films such as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes you’ll remember there’s always a monkey reference. When Bob showed this to Stanton he laughed and it made it into the film.
Bob also had quite a few other lines that didn’t make it into the scene – here are my favorites: “Claus, Claus the pinata’s drooping” and “No E=MC squared and you know it as well as I do.” After hearing the lines that Bob wrote for Dory, we have to assume that he was the one behind the hilarious Monsters University trailer where Mike says (in a deep sleep), “My pony made the Dean’s List.
During a test screening/focus group, a mother suggested that the angler fish scene should be toned down. Then a brainy child in the group raised his hand and stated that if you toned down the angler fish it would be like you’re toning down nature altogether – how was the Pixar team going to argue with that. The scene made it in the movie unchanged.
Did you know that the three tiki heads that are in the fish tank are caricatures of three Pixarians? They are Peter Sohn, Nelson Bohol, and Ricky Nierva – all of whom have such amazing talent.
Did you notice the mermaid on the front of the sunken ship inside the fish tank? It’s actually the mermaid from the Pixar short Knick Knack. The initiation scene where Nemo is given the nickname “Shark Bait” was thought up on a road trip from Emeryville, CA down to Los Angeles, CA. Occasionally the team would make the six-to-seven hour-long drive to discuss the story with Disney executives. During these drives, they turned off their cell phones and solved many of the story’s problems. The scene was thought of to make the audience feel that Nemo was officially accepted into the tank gang – this would add to the believability that Nemo would want to help escape the tank.
Honk, honk! Here’s the Pizza Planet Truck. During the scene where Gil explains the escape plan to Nemo, you will get a quick glimpse of the famed truck. Did you know that the Pixar team actually took apart a fish tank filter to see if it would be possible for a little pebble to stop to fan blades and muck up the tank? Just another mile that Pixar went to make the story great.
John Ratzenberger voiced the school of moonfish. My favorite grouping of fish was when they formed the pirate ship, complete with shooting cannons and plank walkers — I love the small details. Pixarian Justin Ritter explained how when the animators created the fish groups into charade formations (pictured above), some would be a tad bit unruly (because of the animation program) and hard to control – he noted that a lot of CG fish died during the making of this film.
Stanton mentioned that Thomas Newman was an essential ingredient to the storyline and I couldn’t agree more. My favorite Pixar scores are Wall-E, Finding Nemo, and Brave – Thomas Newman composed two of the three and I think he is just a brilliant composer. (video posted via YouTube.)
In the trench scene right before we are introduced to the jellyfish, Lee discusses his love for the film, The Shining again and mentions how the music for this particular scene mirrors some of the suspense from The Shining (in particular the strings being played Col legno where the strings of the instrument are tapped with the wood instead of the hair of the bow).
The trio also described how difficult it was to complete the jellyfish scene. Stanton said that it was wonderful and beyond anything that he thought Pixar could do when they finalized this scene. Pixarian Danielle Feinberg (who worked on the lighting for this scene) said it best when she described one of her most memorable moments when 50 people piled into the screening room to view her scene – suddenly Director Andrew Stanton started clapping, then everyone was clapping. She noted this moment as one of her highest compliments (interview from Marie Claire – UPDATED: link removed as it is no longer active). Shortly thereafter Andrew Stanton asked her to be the Lead Lighting on Wall-E, an offer she couldn’t refuse.
A detail that may have gone unnoticed to some but the reflections and refractions in this film are exquisite. It’s another example of Pixar “sanding the underside of the drawers”(a reference John Lasseter made in reference to Monsters Inc when George Sanderson is getting shaved – reference our post and look for the photo of George getting shaved in the post for full details).
The employees at Pixar often record scratch voice sessions, which is a temporary voice track before the actor’s voices are recorded. Occasionally some of the Pixarian scratch voices make it to the final film – this was the case for Andrew Stanton voicing Crush.
As a fun side note – a storyline that was never discussed in the movie was that the turtles were riding the East Australian Current (EAC) to go surfing in Hawaii.
The team designed the kid’s turtle shells with a Hawaiian shirt feel, a little more whimsy and definitely more colorful. Above is a screenshot of what shells were boy shells and which were girl shells.
Did you know that Squirt is voiced by Pixarian Brad Bird’s son, Nick? Nick, who was 4 or 5 at the time, voiced the little Aussie turtle – the team mentioned what a little professional he was. Another fun fact was that Andrew Stanton’s son voiced the young turtle that was telling a passing fish of Marlin’s journey to Nemo.
Being from Massachusetts, Director Andrew Stanton placed a few personal items throughout the film – here’s a small list of some of those items.
The lighthouse lamp is based on two real lighthouses on Thacher Island called the twin lights – you can see these two lamps located in the dentist’s office on both sides of the lobby.
Rockport’s Motif 1 building draws a lot of artists to paint and sketch the building – Stanton included his version of the iconic building on the wall of the dentist lobby.
One of the boats in the Sydney Harbor pays homage to Stanton’s Father’s sailboat, though it came down to the eleventh hour before he realized that he didn’t include his dad’s boat – so they changed an existing boat to AEOLUS III (I love the name and the greek mythology wind connection – very clever).
If you were wondering about the lobsters who have a New England accent in the heart of the Sydney Harbor, that’s another homage to Rockport, MA.
Did you happen to catch the names of some of the other boats in the Sydney Harbor? Jerome’s Raft (which was most likely named for Pixar sculptor Jerome Ranft), Sea Monkey, Major Plot Point, Bow Movement, iBoat, Knottie Buoy, For the Birds, Pier Pressure, Skiff-a-dee-doo-dah, and The Surly Mermaid.
“Mine, Mine, Mine!” Did you know that Andrew Stanton voiced the pesky seagulls?
Dory was originally going to mimic real whale sounds, but then it was decided to have Ellen enunciate the whale sounds in English so the audience would understand. Ellen was pure genius at her whale impersonation, she said it was because she had a neighbor that played whale sounds to relax – that’s hilarious.
In the first Finding Nemo trailer, you will notice that the whale approaches Marlin and Dory from the front – it was decided to have the whale approach them from behind as it was more successful in the audience test shots (adding suspense to the scene).
When Dory comes to calm Marlin while stuck in the whale’s mouth – did you notice that she says the exact same line to Marlin when they first met in the beginning of the film?
Did you spot the Greetings to Emeryville postcard in the dentist’s office? If you look closely you can see it multiple times – here’s a screenshot of where it’s located (see circle).
During the commentary, the team showed some work by the incredible Ralph Eggleston, above is one of my favorite pieces. Ralph is one of T.J.’s favorite artists at Pixar and has inspired him to create some fan art based on his work.
When Ellen was recording the ‘Goodbye’ scene (where Dory and Marlin swim separate ways), there were only about 10 minutes left of the day. Stanton assumed that this more emotional scene would be difficult, being that Ellen is a comedian. However, Ellen nailed it after three quick takes – she had herself and the crew in tears. What was really interesting is that this moving moment in the film had been removed then later re-added – thank goodness!
In the scene where the large group of fish is caught in the fisherman’s net, Stanton noted that this scene was modeled after an incident that happened to a boat in Norway where a group of cod swam down, capsizing the fishing vessel (we haven’t been able to verify this story though, but we would love to read that article). Roy Disney asked Stanton to not capsize the boat as it’s bad luck for sailors, so the team had the fish break the pulley off instead.
Another one of our favorite animators, Doug Sweetland, had the task of creating the emotion in the scene when Nemo is tossed on the ocean floor after the fisherman’s net broke free. A scene that took weeks to do ended up being the final shot of the film. On one Saturday morning, Stanton walked into Pixar Studios to get some work done when he found Doug Sweetland looking groggy in the atrium – he had just finished the shot. Stanton went to his office and gave his final approval on the shot. Approving the final shot of a film is a moment that is usually topped with spraying champagne and throwing confetti with dozens of people cheering the years of work and accomplishments – this time it was just celebrated by Sweetland and Stanton hugging and congratulating each other.
At the end of the film, Lee notes that the epilogue didn’t originally include Squirt, Bruce, Chum, and Anchor, but based on their popularity with the test audiences they worked them into the scene.
Hmmm…this car looks a lot like Luigi from Cars, doesn’t it?
This poster that is hung in the dentist’s office shows a large brown rat on a spoon or fork reminding kids to brush their teeth every day – though Ratatouille was released years later, I can’t help but be reminded of Emile. What do you think?
At the end of the commentary was a very touching tribute to Glenn McQueen, who John Lasseter credits as being the “heart and soul of the animation department”. During the tribute video, McQueen says “Probably the most valuable thing that I’ve gotten from working at Pixar…is making all kinds of friends”. Sadly, Glenn passed away in 2002 – Lighting McQueen was named after Glenn – another touching tribute for an incredible animator.