Interview: Co-Director Angus MacLane on “Finding Dory”

Interview: Co-Director Angus MacLane on “Finding Dory”

Posted on November 14, 2016 at 8:00 am

Angus MacLane is co-director of the adorable “Finding Dory,” the sequel to “Finding Nemo.” In an interview, he spoke about the changes in technology and the decision to shift the focus to the memory-impaired fish voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. The DVD/Blu-Ray is available November 15, 2016.

How has the technology changed since finding Nemo and how did that affect your story, the setting and the characters?

That’s a good question. I think that thirteen years from release to release is such a huge time technologically. And so there was a brand-new animation system, there were brand-new articulation tools for the characters, there were brand-new lighting tools that were entirely different. So basically the system from the ground up was different. I think that one of the things that was a challenge in the first film was that water was so difficult to do and very complex, so it was difficult. It is still difficult but the effects we could get were so much more satisfying technologically that what we wanted to do was not the challenge that it was in the first film.

And so it just afforded us the chance to not worry about how these characters could break the surface of the water, which would have been a challenge in the first film, or where we were going to really spend our dollars doing splashes or big effects. They weren’t insignificant but it wasn’t a major hurdle in the same way where we would have to carefully plan for each of those effects that would potentially affect our story thirteen years ago. The technology improves and the renders in the computer speed improve and we’re always asking the computers and everyone to do things that are infinitely harder to keep pace with the speed and the technology. So it wasn’t any faster necessarily but we did have a lot of new technologies and a very capable crew to implement them and try out a bunch of new and interesting things.

Most sequels continue the story of the main character but this one makes Nemo and Marlin secondary to Dory. What went into that decision?

Well I think that the reason to do this film for Andrew Stanton really rested in seeing “Finding Nemo” in 3D several years ago, long after its release. He was worried about Dory. And so the question about where she had come from and if she was going to be okay became the reason for him to make the movie, the question that he most wanted to answer. So the idea was after this film the audience members would not be concerned for Dory and feel confident that if she got lost she could find your way back again.

This film has at least five characters with disabilities including Nemo, Dory and Hank. What was most important to you portraying the way that these characters adapt to and think about these disabilities?

I think the thing that was most important to us was that we showed them as four dimensional characters. Everyone in the film is at kind of a different stage than Dory is about their disability. Dory over the course of the film — not to spoil it for those people that haven’t seen it — but she learns to fully accept and embrace her disability and work it in a way that she did not at the beginning of the film. Hank has already moved past that. He is already on to other things. He isn’t worried about it that much. I think that people with disabilities, they have everyday struggles but I think more than anything, the ones that we are familiar with are certainly very, very capable and it was about portraying the truth in that.

What exactly does a co-director do?

Copyright 2016 Disney
Copyright 2016 Disney

The co-director position is different for every movie. I had worked with Andrew most closely on “Wall-E” as a story artist and he was a Directing Animator and then he was the Executive Producer on “Burn-E,” the short film, and then on “Toy Story Of Terror.” So we had a wonderful creative partnership that continued on this film.

When I started working on the film, Andrew asked that I just try to do what wasn’t getting done and try to fill in the gaps. I was in pretty much all the meetings Andrew was in and there were some things that he delegated to me to manage. I would have input on pretty much everything with the understanding that it is ultimately Andrew’s decision. But he is a generous creative partner and an intelligent creative partner in the sense that he has surrounded himself with people who are not afraid to disagree with him if they have different opinions. And so a lot of the job is suggesting different ideas or trying to take a different point of view, and trying to drill down to get to the best idea. So it’s kind of a second opinion.

Do you remember your first Disney animated film you ever saw and what made the most significant impression?

It was either “Sleeping Beauty” or “The Rescuers.” For Sleeping Beauty it would have been that in the end Prince Philip has a battle with a dragon. And if it was “The Rescuers” I think it had this kind of really muted and dark and dirty colour palette that was kind of similar to or echoed a lot of the unease and uncomfortability of the 70’s animation. Most notable was the concept of a giant diamond inside this skull. It was kind of terrifying to me as a kid, so that kind of freaked me out.

And what was the best advice you ever got about directing, from Andrew Stanton or any of your other role models?

The most helpful stuff is just doing the job or being next to somebody that’s doing the job day in and day out and seeing the minutia that they deal with. But there’s something that John Lasseter said once about if you’re giving someone direction and they are not getting you what you want it’s not their fault, it’s your fault for not explaining it well. To me that’s just fantastic advice because in addition to being the person that explains what your vision is, it’s also your job to get other people excited about your vision. It should be a collaborative effort that involves all parties and it starts with the director and continues with the crew.

There are so many comedic moments throughout “Finding Dory.” Where do you guys fine inspiration to make it so funny from start to finish?

Angus: Most of it is trying to make each other laugh — to try to do something that’s weird, something that we think is funny. If you come with a gag that is in story, we try to make sure that that gag continues or is able to read as it goes through the production pipeline because jokes can be funny for different reasons and often jokes can be ruined if the elements that make it funny aren’t adhered to or understood as it goes through production. I’m glad you think it’s funny because I think we just are trying to make each other laugh, that’s kind of our rule.

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Behind the Scenes Interview
Interview: “Finding Dory” Character Art Director Jason Deamer

Interview: “Finding Dory” Character Art Director Jason Deamer

Posted on November 13, 2016 at 3:14 pm

Finding Dory, one of the most purely delightful films of the year, is out on DVD/Blu-Ray this week, and I got a chance to interview character art director Jason Deamer about making the movie.

What is a character art director? How do you work with the character designers, the writers and the directors?

Character Designer Jason Deamer is photographed on February 3, 2016 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)
Character Designer Jason Deamer is photographed on February 3, 2016 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

A character art director is still a character designer. Basically there is a small team of artists. And what we do is, we work with the directors and writers and we pre-visualize what the characters are going to look like. It’s a small team of maybe five of us. We’re looking at the script and getting pictures from the directors and we are drawing hundreds and hundreds of the versions of what the character could potentially look like and then showing them to the director and he is saying, “No no no no no, maybe this one a little bit.” And we go literally back to the drawing board and we do it all again. The art director’s job is to just make sure that is moving along and checking with all those artists. Ultimately, once we define stuff on paper that looks like what the director is after, those artists move on to other things and the art directors stay on the movie and work with the modeling team, the rigging team, the shading team and the animation leads as the characters’ becoming realized on the computer. And so the art directors’ gig is sort of about ushering the whole process long from beginning to end.

What technological changes since “Finding Nemo” made a difference in making this film?

One of the biggest, most noticeable, things about this film is that our lighting software and shading software has gotten so much more advanced. We’ve got something called ray tracing that bounces off the light in a way that’s much more close to reality and I think it’s noticeable. The tangible qualities of the film are much more significant than the first one although the first one is really beautiful. It’s gotten so much more advanced that it was really an exercise in trying to limit ourselves a little bit to make sure that it was done in a way that felt like the first movie.

I’ll just give you an example. The first time that we used the software there was a glass of water in the table in the background and the way light bends through water, this software is so mesmerizing that instead of looking at the characters we are all looking at the glass of water in the background. This is a problem, right? You need audience to be looking at the characters. So we had to go in and figure of ways to tamp that down a little bit, made the water a little blurrier or put more particulate matter in there to be a fireworks display of lights bending through water that was not that distracting.

Would the Hank character have been possible in 2003?

Absolutely not. We barely pulled it off this time. Let me take that back, it would have been possible if we had 10 years because one of the things that we are we better at is rigging which is the controls with which the animators use to animate characters, the digital puppets. We probably could have done it 13 years ago except for the rigging control would have been so complex, someone would have have to be going in hand by hand of been like 1000 controls per each tentacle so it could have been done with just sheer effort and muscle and taken forever but it would not look as good even with all that effort. So the short answer is no.

Copyright 2016 Disney
Copyright 2016 Disney

What special concerns arise from creating characters who live and move under water?

There is no water in the computer so the concerns are trying to figure out how to send signals to the audience that makes it look like water. The animators spend a lot of time learning how fish locomote through water and having the little paddling and the drift done in such a way that it looks like they’re suspended in the medium. Then we work on shading and lighting things. We’re trying to send enough visual cues to the audience to make it feel like water. Another example would be particulate matter which is the dust that is suspended in water, so we put a bunch of that into the film, just enough so that when the fish are swimming around we’re also simulating that particulate matter so when the fish moves its tail you see those little bits of sand that are catching the light that kind of get disturbed by the movement of the fin. It is a collection of a bunch of little signals like that that tells you that the fish is in water.

Do you have a favorite animated classic Disney character?

I do, it’s Maleficent. I love the design of Maleficent. I just think it’s really beautiful, on the character design level.

What characters did you like to draw when you were growing up?

It was an ever-changing, ever-evolving thing. When I was really, really little for some reason I was obsessed with drawing ninjas like in kindergarten. And then comic books and it just went on and on and on. I’m still constantly change my mind about what I like to draw.

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Behind the Scenes

Finding Dory

Posted on June 16, 2016 at 5:42 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild thematic elements
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Peril, separation from parents
Diversity Issues: Sensitive treatment of disabilites
Date Released to Theaters: June 24, 2016
Date Released to DVD: November 14, 2016 ASIN: B01FJ4UGF0

Pixar’s first feature film was “Toy Story” because their then-groundbreaking computer animation technology could only create characters who were stiff and smooth. Plastic toys were ideal characters. Each film since has shown exponential technological progress — the furry creatures of “Monsters Inc,” the balloons in “Up,” Merida’s curly red hair in “Brave.” With “Finding Dory,” Pixar has created its most ambitious character yet, a seven-appendaged, camouflaging octopus named Hank, voiced by Ed O’Neill. Hank moves like jello in water in a plastic bag, each appendage separate, and his skin and shape adapt to take on whatever colors and textures are in the background. Hank is an astonishing marvel of a character, always surprising, completely believable, wonderfully expressive, and endlessly fascinating.

Hank is one of the characters encountered by Dory, the short-term memory-impaired, whale-language-speaking blue tang who helped Marlin (Albert Brooks) find his lost son in “Finding Nemo.” At the end of that film, she tells Marlin that “I look at you, and I… and I’m home.”

Following a flashback to Dory’s early years with her devoted and understanding parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy), we see that she is living with Marlin and Nemo when she has a flicker of recollection. Her parents are in California, the other side of the ocean. She knows she needs help to get there. Marlin, still fearful about anything he cannot control, does not want her to go and he really does not want to go with her. But having almost lost his own son he knows how much Dory needs to be with her family, and he knows he could never have found Nemo without her help. And so they hitch a ride across the ocean with Crush the sea turtle (director Andrew Stanton), but then they get separated at a marine life sanctuary, which is where Dory meets Hank.

Dory has been tagged for transport to an aquarium in Cleveland. Hank wants that tag; he does not want to be returned to the ocean. He wants to be safe and he wants to be left alone. He agrees to help Dory find her parents if she will give him the tag. Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) try to catch up with Dory, with some help from a pair of alpha exemplars of the territorial imperative, British-accented sea lions (Dominic West and Idris Elba) and a scrawny, wild-eyed loon named Becky. Meanwhile, Dory runs into an old friend, a visually-impaired whale shark named Destiny (Kaitlin Olson). And there’s another sort of friend, played in an adorable cameo by Sigourney Weaver as sort of herself.

With most of the action in the marine sanctuary, this film misses the grandeur and beauty of “Nemo’s” underwater setting, spending much of its time on a series of expertly executed action sequences with comic moments and delightful characters.  Once again, the film centers on the essential joy/anxiety conundrum of being a parent or a child.  Dory’s parents are endlessly patient and encouraging, though she hears them privately worrying about how they can teach her to stay safe and be independent despite her cognitive impairment.  Destiny and her neighbor,  a Beluga whale named Bailey (O’Neill’s fellow “Modern Family” star Ty Burrell), both have to overcome their disabilities as well.  Bailey has a sort of PTSD following an injury and has to learn to use his echolocation to “see” what is happening to Dory.  The treatment of disabilities is exceptionally nuanced and tender-hearted, not the usual pity or saintlike treatment.  Everyone has strengths as well as weaknesses.  When Marlin realizes that instead of over-analyzing everything he has to learn to think more like Dory, he, Nemo, Dory herself, and those of us who are leaning just a little closer toward the screen, learn to trust her heart and ours as well.

The DVD/Blu-Ray release has a fabulous assortment of extras, including interviews with resident of the real Marine Life, the adorable “Piper” animated short film, “Animation & Acting.” a look at the art of creating a deep and profound connection between an audience and a fish, and my favorite, “The Octopus That Nearly Broke Pixar,” the story of Hank, the challenges and rewards of bringing to life Pixar’s crankiest, most technically challenging character ever. The cast talks about their favorite underwater creatures and there is some background on the story development. There’s even an all-emoji version of the story!

NOTE: Be sure to get to the movie in time to see the utterly winning short film, “Piper,” and be sure to stay all the way through the credits for some extra scenes, including the appearance of some favorite characters from the first film.

Parents should know that this movie has extended peril and some violence, some mild language and brief potty humor. Even more than the first film, it is a frank but sympathetic portrayal of characters with disabilities.

Family discussion: What is a good way to help someone who has memory impairment? Why did Hank change his mind? What is the difference between the way Dory and Marlin think about how to solve problems, and should you be able to do both?

If you like this, try: “Finding Nemo” and your local aquarium or marine life sanctuary and learn more about the sea creatures in the film.

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3D Animation DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Scene After the Credits Talking animals

Movies This Month: June 2016

Posted on June 1, 2016 at 8:00 am

Happy June! Lots to celebrate — Father’s Day, graduations, the end of the school year, and summer movies! Here’s some of what we have to look forward to this month:

June 3

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” The heroes on a half shell take on Shredder and Tyler Perry as a mad scientist.

“Me Before You” The best-selling book by JoJo Moyes is about a cheerful young woman who gets a job as a caretaker for a man who was paralyzed in an accident.

“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” Andy Samberg, whose musical spoofs with Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone were a highlight of his time at SNL, joins forces with them again along with SNL alums Maya Rudolph and Tim Meadows in this story of a rapper in a slump.

June 10

“Now You See Me 2” Daniel Radcliffe and Lizzy Caplan join the cast in this sequel to the hit heist film about the magicians. More twists this time, including a dual role for Woody Harrelson.

June 17

“Central Intelligence” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart star in this action comedy about a CIA agent to gets help from a high school friend.

“Finding Dory” Nemo and his dad have to help their memory-impaired friend find her family.

June 24

“Independence Day: Resurgance” It’s been 20 years since Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum uploaded that virus to the aliens. Now the aliens are back and so are many from the original cast including Goldblum, Vivica A. Fox, and Bill Pullman.

“Free State of Jones” Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Keri Russell star in this fact-based historical drama about a pre-Civil War integrated community that rebelled against the Confederacy.

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