Finding Nemo fans have been patiently awaiting a sequel … for more than 13 years! Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory (in theaters June 17) gives Dory, the forgetful blue tang fish, her own adventure and backstory. A year after Finding Nemo ends, Dory suddenly has a memory — she remembers that has a family!
From the little blue fish who told us to Just Keep Swimming back in 2003, we join her as she swims off on her own odyssey. Her loyal friends, Marlin and Nemo are by her side but apparently from footage I’ve viewed, not for long. She meets an octopus who helps her out of a precarious situation. Hank the octopus is a new character in this undersea adventure, described as a “reluctant hero or escape artist” by the creative folks over at Pixar. Hank (voiced by Ed O’Neil of Modern Family, Married with Children) aids Dory in finding her family. I have an “ink”ling (ha!) that they’ll get into some trouble and I can’t wait to see what it is!!
Now, meeting an octopus up-close wasn’t on my bucket list but that’s what I did on the Finding Dory press day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’ve always been intrigued yet slightly creeped out by these mysterious sea creatures. I hesitatingly met and touched (eek) a Giant Pacific octopus at an animal encounter; he was quite slimy, muscular, cool and soft to the touch and I couldn’t help to think he was going to strangle me. This of course didn’t happen; instead I had a wonderful, unique experience with this alien-headed creature. Did you know that octopuses have great eye sight but are deaf? They are so soft, pliable and flexible which allows them to escape through many tight squeezes.
Also, during the press event we met with animators and designers who shared the difficulties creating Hank. They agreed that Hank was the most challenging as well as rewarding character they have worked on in their careers at Pixar.
The Pixar team spent time at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for their own up-close, behind-the-scenes experience. They were met by the octopuses, whom they fed, touched and inspected for reference. One of the octopuses was almost out of its tank; it purred as the team petted it and they hugged it back. This gave them a good opportunity to feel the tentacles, the muscles, and see how the creatures curled their arms and moved. This was the perfect starting point for their character design.
Videos of octopuses were also an important reference tool for the team. There were things about octopuses that are potentially disgusting that needed to be avoided or omitted from Hank’s design. Animators turned to nature to inspire their creation of him. We were shown clips of a Mimic Octopus that proved that these amazing animals are truly masters of disguise. The octopus can change the pigment of its skin as well as texture of its skin. The video showed the octopus imitating the texture of sand which was insane to watch.
Computer animation is a lot more like puppetry than drawing. Animators had to figure out how to make Hank move and create rolling movements with his tentacles which was not an easy task. The designers have done tentacle stuff before on Monsters University (the giant librarian) but they were simplified versions. Animators had to figure out how to make Hank squashy and stretchy as well as move his individual arms and suction cups. Designers redeveloped the way they had to move tentacles as well as curves for this project. Every tentacle wound up with its own interface and controls.
I was really excited to learn that Ed O’Neil signed on to voice Hank. Usually characters look like their voice actors but I’m not sure that I see any similarities in this case. But they both have beautiful blue eyes!
Even though Hank was a challenge for the team, hard means different and different is good. I’m sure their hard work paid off!!