The fine art of producing "Nemo"

By KAREN BUTLER, United Press International  |  June 6, 2003 at 1:30 PM
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One of the major challenges computer animators faced in creating Disney/Pixar's latest blockbuster was making the world of "Finding Nemo" look and feel like the action was really taking place under the sea, says the film's producer.

"Each film we do has its own unique creative challenges that is just inherent in the subject matter we choose to do," Graham Walters told United

Press International in a recent phone interview.

"'Toy Story,' obviously just doing it at all," he explained, referring to Pixar's first major feature film. "'A Bug's Life,' the organic world that we had to create. 'Monsters, Incorporated,' there was the fur and Boo and all of her clothing was a whole new realm we had to get into.

The big task in Nemo was "just going under water, so you had all the challenges of the organic world that we had to face in 'A Bug's Life,' but then you had to set it under water and the ocean just has a wider variety of flora and fauna."

Without getting too technical for a poor English major, Walters noted that shiny, reflective objects and subjects with clean, sharp edges are much easier for computers to animate than soft, living creatures that move or have lots of nooks and crannies. In addition to bringing to life the various denizens of the deep, the film's creative team also found ways to recreate the surge and swell of the tide, as well as how to

give the film a realistic "swimming pool effect" with shafts of light appearing to come through the water.

"These are all things we went through to convince the audience that there is something between the camera and the subject matter instead of just air," Walters added.

"Finding Nemo" is the tale of a Clownfish named Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks), an overprotective father searching for Nemo, his young son (voiced by nine-year-old Alexander Gould), after he is captured and placed in a fish tank by a well-meaning tropical-fish enthusiast. Along the way to rescue his son, Marlin meets various sea creatures who offer help or unintentionally slow him down. The touching animated adventure also features the voice talents of Ellen DeGeneres, Brad Garrett, Willem Dafoe and others.

"I have a real soft spot for this film because I know it was a deeply personal one for the director," Walters said, admitting he feels quite

flattered when people compare "Nemo" to other Disney or Pixar classics. "And it was a very difficult one to tell because it isn't a classic 'good vs. evil' story. There's no villain... It made it a subtle, more difficult story to tell, to make that inner journey interesting and entertaining.

" I think the story's fantastic... That's one thing I hope we can break through because we get a lot of attention for being a computer-animation studio and the sort of cutting-edge aspect of that, and my hope is that people will just compare us to movies in general, whether they are cell-animated films or live-action films."

"Finding Nemo" earned nearly $71 million in its first three days in theaters, bumping Jim Carrey's comedy, "Bruce Almighty," out of the No. 1 spot last weekend and making Walters' first effort as producer a great success.

Asked how it felt to go from the drawing board to the board room, so to speak, Walters seemed a bit conflicted.

"I wouldn't trade the experience for anything," he laughed, "whether I enjoyed it every single day..."

Walters went on to say that producing seemed like the next natural step for him after having "just about every job in the building," including technical director of "Toy Story," production manager of "Toy Story 2" and supervising technical director of "A Bug's Life."

"It's a real treat to produce a Pixar movie," he said, pointing out that most producers spend their time securing financing and getting people to believe in a project, chores he didn't really have to do. "The nice thing about it here is the whole business is based on investing in our artists and trusting where they want to go. It's the only thing we do and, as a result, the pressure that gets put on me by (Executive Producer) John Lasseter and others is just to fullfill the creative aspirations of the director, and that's what any producer loves to do."

The key to Pixar and Disney's monstrous success, said Walters, was the fact that the core creative team has remained the same for the five films in a row.

"They all take turns directing, in a way," he said. "Think of it like taking different shifts driving cross-country, and they're just getting so much better at their craft. I love all of the films I've been involved in. All of them. I just think we're getting a little more sophisticated, a little more polished with each film."

Questioned about whether he had mapped out his career or just followed it as it developed, Walters admitted: "It was never planned. It's not like I sat down and said, 'That's what I want to do' and crafted a plan for getting there. Like a lot of people at Pixar, I fell in love with the medium about 20 years ago and it's just been great seeing it grow and mature."

"Finding Nemo" is in theaters now.

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