A 3D underwater adventure to di(v)e for

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An interview with...

ANDREW STANTON

Writer-director/voice of Crush

Andrew Stanton joined Pixar Animation Studios in 1990, as the second animator and ninth employee to join the company’s group of computer animation pioneers. As vice-president, creative, he oversees all feature and shorts development.

One of the four screenwriters to receive an Oscar nomination in 1996 for his contribution to Toy Story, Stanton went on to contribute as a screenwriter on many subsequent Pixar films, including A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc and Finding Nemo – his directorial debut.

Finding Nemo garnered Stanton two Academy Award nominations for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Screenplay.

The film went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

Stanton wrote and directed the Academy Award-winning feature film WALL•E, for which he also received a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination.

He served as co-director on A Bug’s Life, and was the executive producer of Monsters, Inc and the Academy Award-winning films Ratatouille and Up.

His most recent executive producer credit is for Disney Pixar’s feature film Brave.

In addition to his multi-award-winning animation work, Stanton made his live-action writing and directorial debut with Disney’s John Carter, released in March.

A native of Rockport, Massachussets, Stanton earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Character Animation from the California Institute of the Arts.

What were your first impressions of Finding Nemo in 3D?

Watching the first few scenes from Finding Nemo in 3D was like I had never seen a 3D movie before.

It took my breath away.

It felt like I was more under water. It makes the scary moments scarier and the beautiful moments more beautiful.

It really drops you deeper into the story. It just amplifies everything.

The whole point of this movie is the idea of this predatory world – how do you let your chidlren cross the street alone when you know there are crea-tures all around that you can’t see? How do you deal with that fear?

This film in 3D provides us with yet another way to push the audience that much deeper into the story. I can’t think of a better application for the technology.

Why is Finding Nemo such a great fit for 3D?

I can’t imagine a movie better suited for 3D. First, there’s some-thing hyper-dimensional about computer animation that’s inte-resting even when it’s on a 2D plane.

Second, this movie is set in an environment that has a very definitive three-dimensional quality to it – being under water is like being in a big cube, there’s space on all sides. We had to introduce all these elements – light shafts, particulate matter, changes in the current – to remind the audience of that space.

It turns out that those tricks were a huge aide in incorporating the 3D effect. It’s as if we planned for it.

Describe the 3D glasses created for Finding Nemo.

There are little 3D diving masks for the kids. I love it when all these details can extend beyond the film to amplify the whole theme of the movie. Anybody who decides to look left or right during the movie will still feel like we’re all under water, which I think is fantastic.

What are some of your favourite scenes in the film?

I think the scene that was probably the biggest breath-taker was the jellyfish scene. Even before it was in 3D, it was all about depth. It was filled with endless layers of jellyfish. It was a maze – a formidable obstacle: “How are we going to get out of this forest when there’s no end in sight?”

There’s a little moment that’s very simple when Dory and Marlin are travelling – from our perspective, they’re just these little dots slowly moving across the screen. She’s repeating, “P Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney,” and you get this strong sense of how minute they are in this vast ocean with all the sea life and these massive shapes and rock forms, all of which drives home this daunting task that they have ahead of them.

What prompted the idea for Finding Nemo?

When my son was five, I remember taking him to the park. I had been working long hours and felt guilty about not spending enough time with him.

As we were walking, I was experiencing all this pent-up emotion and thinking, “I-miss-you, I-miss-you,” but I spent the whole walk going, “Don’t touch that. Don’t do that. You’re gonna fall in there.”

And there was this third-party voice in my head saying, “You’re completely wasting the entire moment that you have with your son right now.”

I became obsessed with this premise that fear can deny a good father from being one.

With that revelation, all the pieces fell into place and we ended up with our story.

Telling a story where the protagonist is the father got me excited.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an animated film from that perspective.

It made me interested in wanting to write it because I knew I could tell that story.

I also thought that the ocean was a great metaphor for life. It’s the scariest, most intriguing place in the world because anything can be out there. And that can be a bad thing or a good thing.

I loved playing with that issue and having a father whose own fears of life impede his parenting abilities.

He has to overcome that issue just to become a better father.

And having him in the middle of the ocean where he has to confront everything he never wanted to face in life seemed like a great opportunity for fun and still allowed us to delve into some slightly deeper issues.

I’m considered the most cynical of the group here at Pixar.

I’m the first one to say when something is getting too corny or too sappy.

Yet, I’d say I’m probably the biggest sucker romantic in the group, if the emotion is truthful.

I just loved the idea of doing a father-son love story. They’re in eternal conflict.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about raising your family?

My dad gave me some good advice about parenting.

He said, “The tough choice you have is you can either be their parent or their friend. Pick one.”

It’s a lifelong dilemma and I love indulging in that truth with this film.

What were some of the references you used to achieve the look of Finding Nemo?

We kept coming back to Bambi because of the way the film-makers adhered to the real nature of how these animals moved and what their motor skills were.

They used that as the basis for getting as much expression, activity and appeal.

We wanted our characters to work in that same way. We thought of it as Bambi under water.

Our starting point was to watch a lot of films with under-water scenes and analyse what made them seem like they were under water.

What made them not seem like they were in air? It was a bit like getting a great cake and trying to figure out how somebody baked it by breaking it down.

We came up with a shopping list of five key components that suggest an underwater environment – lighting, particulate matter, surge and swell, murk and reflections and refractions.

How did you come to provide the voice of Crush the sea turtle?

It was kind of unique at the time, but it’s become kind of commonplace now.

For Crush, we auditioned a lot of actors, but nobody seemed to match the stupidity and “dudeness” that I had done on the scratch.

I was the first one trying to replace it, but we ran out of time and had to animate to it for a test screening with a live audience. And at that particular screening, the character got the highest scores of all the characters in the movie, so that kind of cemented it.

The ocean is quite a daunting setting. How did you capture it?

There’s a lot of activity when you’re moving through the coral reef and it’s very much like an avenue in a city – you not only have the elements that are at different depths, plus the crowd of fish and they’re all moving at different speeds and different directions – and it’s not all on the sidewalk level.

There’s a lot of stimulation to the eye – it’s chaos, but a gorgeous fluid chaos and I think that’s really what the ocean is.

We really had to break it down to that: How do you organise the chaos in a way that can be stylised without sacrificing the actual identity of the coral reef?

Do you look at the ocean differently now that you’ve made this film?

My favourite memory of making this film is the fact that Finding Nemo forced me to form a new relationship with the ocean.

I’d always respected the ocean – and feared it at the same time.

But to make this film, I learnt to dive. I went to amazing locations.

I made an amazing group of friends – all centred around this amazing real environment.

It was a privilege getting to know the ocean better.

Are you excited to show this film to a new generation?

I have to admit – beyond the elevated sensory experience – one of the biggest thrills of this movie coming out in 3D is that is gives us a great excuse to present it on the big screen again to a whole new generation of kids. There’s something about that invisible connection – that electricity you share with all the other audience members – all focused on this one story. – Disney/Pixar

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