Interview by: Graeme Kay
FINDING Nemo, the latest offering from Pixar Studios, is a pet
project that writer/director Andrew Stanton has been nurturing
Graeme Kay met up with the director and his co-director Lee Unkrich
to find out more about the way the film was shot and cast.
Q. The film starts with a pretty dark moment Marlons
wife Coral being eaten by a Barracuda. Why did you go with that
as the opening shot?
AS: Originally, I was going to bring all that stuff in as
a series of flashbacks, by way of explanation as to why Marlon
was the way he was. But the more I worked on it, the more irritating
Marlons fussiness and over-protective nature became. It
really started to become a problem.
Then someone said why dont you move all that up to the front?
Initially, I resisted but when I finally tried it, it worked very
well. Once wed established Marlons history we could
get on with the main message of the film, yknow, that its
a tough world out there and you have to be careful.
Q. What was the biggest challenge with this film?
AS: By far the biggest challenge was getting the water right.
Water has always been a Holy Grail for CG animators because its
not a fixed medium, its constantly shifting and changing.
For this film we had to learn how to portray the way that water
breaks on the surface of the ocean, and how water would look inside
a whales mouth. Those were the real money shots.
To get that right we researched a lot of ocean-set films and documentaries
and then we broke the ocean down into its, like, constituent parts.
But there were only a few of those shots.
But, for the most part we were shooting down in the deeps, in
the void, where water works in different ways. And, again, we
had to learn new techniques.
For instance, to give the impression of the constant movement
of currents, we let the characters drift slightly off the frame,
so that they were constantly having to swim back into the centre
of the screen. You dont really notice that because youre
concentrating on the action. Then we added the constantly changing
colours, the way that fish lose their definition and colour as
they draw away from you, and the eternal drift of food and other
particles that are suspended in the water to give depth and perspective.
NS: Aside from that, most of what we did was based on
techniques from a century ago. Using simple layering techniques
to build up the illusion.
Q. How easy was it to cast the film?
AS: Not that long
I mean we had our wish list, yknow,
but this was the fifth Pixar film, and I think for pretty much
the first time everyone we called rang us right back. So it was
pretty much first choice all round.
I had always had Ellen DeGeneres in mind for the role of Dory,
ever since I saw her on TV doing one of her cant make
up my mind routines, and she changed her mind five times
within a sentence.
That was a vital element for Dory, because so much of her character
relies upon that fact that fish only have a 30-second memory span.
In fact, I actually wrote the part exclusively for Ellen, before
Id made any approach to her at all. And I was lucky that
Q. How do you draw up your casting short-lists?
NS: We have our own version of the casting process, were
always auditioning actors without them knowing it.
The way it usually happens is that we pick who we think would
be right and then we take a selection of their work and well
pick extracts that we put against the character we have in mind
And then if that works and were sure weve got the
right person, well often do an animation of the screen test
we did that for Tom Hanks in Toy Story, we did an animation
of Turner & Hooch and once you do that and present
it to the actor, well its a pretty seductive technique.
Q. Do the actors tend to work straight from the script?
AS: Well, different actors have different approaches. Like
Ellen read it pretty much straight, whereas Albert Brooks, who
voices Marlon, does a lot of improvisation. You just put him in
there and leave him to it.
But usually the routine is that we ask them to do one reading
straight from script, and then we do another where theyre
left to their own devices. And you always get something good from
that. So its a mixture of the two really.
Q. What makes a good voice actor?
AS: Its a funny thing
.what you have to remember
is that from live action standpoint is that actors have a relationship
with the camera, and they use their face and body to flesh out
But we have a certain sixth sense for a voice actor. Theres
something about a voice that when its separated from the
physical, theres something extra there. And thats
what attracts us.
NS: Youd be surprised, we have listened to some
major A-list actors over the years, but once you take away the
visuals, theres nothing there. Conversely, weve worked
with people who are not big stars, but they have that special
quality about their voice.
Q. The film has taken over $330m in the States alone. Were
you surprised by how well it did?
AS: Surprised is an understatement. We never set out to do
that, money is not the first thing on our minds when we start
a film. We were just hoping that we could make a movie that would
keep our heads above water and be worthy of the other movies that
NS: When Nemo came out we were up against Matrix
Reloaded. Then two weeks after we premiered, The
Hulk came out. So we were like this little fish swimming between
AS: It was really heartening for me, because from the
day I wrote the film, and were talking years back, I thought
it would have a much smaller audience, because I wanted to go
for something a little more emotional, with less comedy and more
drama. I wanted a darker feel to it.
I was constantly looking out for the schmaltz-factor; and if I
felt that something was getting a little too slushy, I would try
and turn it on its ear. I can be a little cynical, but it seems
to work for me
NS (interrupting): Its ironic because almost from
day one, Andrew was apologising to me, he actually kept saying
I feel bad because Im going be the first director
of a Pixar film that wasnt a big hit
Q. Did you feel under pressure to top Monsters
AS: Not so much under pressure to top it, because theres
not that much of a competitive edge at the studio. We work very
much as a team, we all want everything we do to succeed.
In fact, to be honest with you, none of our movies have been made
under that kind of pressure. I mean with Toy Story, the very fact
that we were making it was an achievement in itself. The biggest
question then was: Wll anyone want to sit through a full-length
NS: But that question has never come up since.