I’m a huge fan of Andrew Stanton. And it’s not just because he directed WALL-E, Finding Nemo and John Carter (which is so much better than people say). I’m a fan because for the past two decades Stanton has been an integral part of why Pixar makes such incredible films. If you look at his amazing resume, you’ll see someone who not only produced, acted, and helped write some of my favorite films, but someone who is a part of movies that will be remembered for generations because of the quality of their storytelling. The ratio of amazing films released by Pixar is astounding and it’s because of the collaborative effort put into bringing these stories to life. Every time I speak to anyone at Pixar, it always seems like everyone leaves their ego at the door and does whatever is needed to make the best possible film. Looking at Stanton’s resume, it’s clear he believes in the same mantra.
With Stanton’s highly anticipated sequel to Finding Nemo, Finding Dory, arriving in theaters June 17th, Disney invited us – along with a number of other reporters – to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Northern California to get an early look at the film and talk with the people responsible for bringing Pixar’s latest creation to life. And after watching about fifteen minutes of the film, I’m extremely confident Stanton and his team have created a worthy follow-up to one of Pixar’s best films.
If you’ve yet to see the trailer, the sequel finds Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) setting out on an adventure to discover answers about her past. Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (newcomer Hayden Rolence) are back along with Bob Peterson as Mr. Ray and Stanton himself as Crush the super-chill sea turtle. New additions include Dory’s fish parents, Charlie and Jenny (voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton); a beluga whale named Bailey (Ty Burrell); a whale shark called Destiny (Kaitlin Olson); and the curmudgeonly octopus, Hank (Ed O’Neill).
During a wide-ranging group interview conducted after seeing the footage with Andrew Stanton and producer Lindsey Collins, the duo revealed how sequels get made at Pixar, trying to keep surprises out of trailers, the film’s breakout character, new tech, and much more. It’s a fascinating and in-depth conversation that I’m extremely confident you’ll enjoy. Check out what they had to say below.
Question: We were just talking to the people that created Hank, super awesome, but I said at the end, “You guys are working on this character before the story’s even broken.” So, they said you basically just put an octopus on a wall. So where did that idea come from? You talked a bit yesterday about going for the Dory movie, but how do you sort of populate out from that?
ANDREW STANTON: Is the question how did we come up with Hank or?
Like, because you said, how did you know you want an octopus in this movie?
STANTON: You know, it’s really not sexy but when I started on Nemo, I, a little bit of a tangent, but I didn’t know where to start, the ocean’s a big, big place. So I just started making a list, what are things I’d like to see? Jellyfish forest sounds fun, submarine underwater wreck, anglerfish, and it just became this kind of list of cool stuff, pure spectacle. And then as I went through the storyline trying to figure out stuff, you kind of have this little limited toolbox to pull from. It was sort of the same thing here, it wasn’t that clean, but there’s a lot of species that’s left on the table that we either tried or didn’t get to try on the first movie that now you get to expand upon and kind of explore. That’s where the Toy Story sequels came from, it was just all this stuff that was left on the cutting room floor. By the time we got to Toy Story 2, between the two movies we’d done at least five features’ worth of ideas. And that’s a lot of material, so to feel like you’re sitting there trying to compare yourself to the first movie, you’re just going, “Oh, can I start working with this fertile stuff from just the desire to be in this world?” And it’s the same thing with Nemo.
LINDSEY COLLINS: And the minute you knew –
STANTON: You couldn’t even say the word octopus on Nemo.
COLLINS: Oh my god, technically, we would have been booed out of – ”Boo, no!”
STANTON: Hank technically, I brought on a writer very early on this one, Victoria Strouse, and she kind of came up with it mainly because she thought it would be fun to have a curmudgeon to be a foil against Dory because she needed somebody to bounce off of to be the Dory we know. And to also have somebody who had memory to be able to help track things. But also what was coming up, was she came to Monterey at the same time as we did in 2012 to first do initial things is we learned about the octopus, as like an escape artist and stuff and we said, “Oh my gosh this is a perfect physical vehicle to take a fish through places that fish just can’t get around.” The most ambulatory creature that there is from the ocean, and again it’s an escape artist. So the two married so well together, and fortunately that came early because we needed all of the calendar time we could with that. But there were other characters that – it’s very visceral, you just like looking at them. We did a research trip up to Vancouver, to their aquarium, and beluga whales were not on my radar until I saw them and I couldn’t stop watching them. It’s the same thing with Nemo – I didn’t know what a blue tang was, I didn’t know what a clownfish was, but in my first fish book, there were these two fish poking out of an anemone and I thought, “That’s adorable,” and I found out they were called clownfish and I was like, “Well, done.” And then I go, “I need a complimentary fish, I can pick any fish in the ocean.”
I went down to the Long Beach aquarium and they have, right where you enter through the front doors they have this large tank of nothing but blue tangs and I couldn’t stop looking at them. So it’s like finding Lana Turner in a diner, like you just sit there and go, “Oh my gosh, the audience will watch that.” Little did I even think, it’s the perfect complimentary colors to orange and white is the blue and yellow. It’s very visceral sometimes and sometimes it’s the experience that I’ve had since then, because I’ve gone into the ocean and I’ve dove, I’ve been invited to a lot of things and suddenly discovered what whale sharks are. Very aware of the marine life around here growing up, I’ve been here for the last 25 years. Sea lions and sea otters, just fascinating. There’s just tons of – you could go on and on. There’s several pictures worth of ideas in the ocean, probably double digits, but you just kinda start there and just see what stays and goes. And that’s no different than exploring an original idea, you kind of overload the ingredients in the kitchen and you see what stays and goes. That’s a long answer.
COLLINS: But the four or five main characters, I guess five main characters of the newer ones, for the most part, 90% of those were in the film early on enough that we were like, “Oh, we really like them.” They made changes, the characters changed and adjusted and stuff, we kind of had in the first year and a half or so the beluga and whale shark and otters and sea lions, so we had kind of a group of characters we knew we liked. And the character team needs that and an octopus. Because they’re like, “You need to nail down at least how many,” because it’s not like we’re doing everything that has a same species, this is probably the most diverse cast the character department’s had to deal with in terms of species who move differently, swim differently. So they had to build all those different rigs. It was nontrivial in terms of what we were asking them to do, they were like, “Great! Fish… And an octopus… And some birds,” and they were like, “Fine.”
Can you talk about the decision to make this, this scene seems more like a spinoff than a traditional sequel. This isn’t Marlin and Nemo having another adventure with Dory, this seems like Dory going off and doing her own thing, can you talk about the decision to sort of spin off as opposed to include those characters?
STANTON: I don’t think of it that way, I just thought of what’s the last thing that’s unresolved emotionally that’s open ended in the first movie? To me, it’s like a ripple that goes out from the center. I just followed that lead. And I just let it be true to that and however that gets reflected in the end product be what it is. I knew it could be honest and authentic. So however it’s being perceived, it wasn’t planned that way. It was found that way, if that makes sense.
COLLINS: And something that you didn’t see is that Marlin and Nemo are still very much in the film, they’re there, they’re just not with her. And that was intentional because we wanted her to do this on her own to some degree without them with her, so we kind of had to take them away.
STANTON: Well that’s the story is that she’s no longer a passenger she’s a driver. She has to learn how to do that.
COLLINS: They’re there, she’s just on her own in terms of kind of kept back, similar to the first one.
STANTON: Everybody found their proper place for how to tell her story on this one. But it didn’t happen right away. Jesus.
COLLINS: [laughs] No, we kind of found this about a month ago.
Can I ask about the memory loss and how you dealt with the rules of that in a world and also I think Angus said that how Dory feels about her disability is part of the story, which I just thought was so unique.
STANTON: Yeah, it’s funny, I never think of it as a disability even though that’s a perfect word for it, I just saw it as it’s just her uniqueness. She sees it as a flaw, as something she has to compensate for. Something that she doesn’t trust, that she thinks is going to cause problems for herself. It’s probably why she became superhuman or superfish [laughs] at being friendly and helpful and humorous and insightful, it’s all these things that will make somebody not ditch her because she doesn’t trust that her short term memory loss will betray her. Either she’ll drop, she’ll lose somebody, or they’ll be sick of her. And I knew that was how she was made up from the day I came up with her, and I knew that’s why she was tragic. Her skill set, her armor is so arresting and caretaking, everybody loves her. Of course she’s going to be great at that so you don’t ditch her, she won’t be alone again. And I didn’t want her to feel like that on the inside, I wanted her to recognize what everybody else loves about her, what everybody thinks about her even after ten years. But I knew deep down she didn’t believe that, deep, deep, deep, deep down. And I feel like most people have something about themselves that they see as a big flaw that they’ve never been able to change about themselves and I think the key is not that you get rid of it, but more of how do you conquer it, how do you get rid of it, how do you turn that into an asset? And I think that’s a very universal thing, and it works for disabilities, it works for handicaps, but it also works for just how you see yourself as imperfect and that I liked. And that naturally came from just trying to deal with Dory and make her a main character. She wasn’t built to be a main character, she was built to support someone else and there’s a very different role. And so they worked hand in hand for each other.
Picking up on that, there’s stuff that you’d prefer we don’t talk about from the beginning of the movie, but when you made her a main character, you added a touch of sadness to her that wasn’t necessarily there before.
STANTON: Well I didn’t – It was hidden, it was never added, but to me it was under the hood the whole time. And I realized that the audience must have sensed it or else they wouldn’t have been accepting of this character 2/3s of the way into Nemo suddenly crying and saying, “Don’t leave me,” when we did nothing to set that up. Everybody accepts it, because unconsciously, you go, “There’s no way somebody with short term memory loss could be wandering the ocean and be happy.” And I don’t care if everybody didn’t have that thought, you felt it. Just like you sense it when you meet a stranger and you don’t know anything about them. Yet you sense something. So I knew that like, “Oh, that’s there,” and I knew everybody senses it’s there, but I made the mistake of assuming that everybody really consciously thought about that. So it took me til a year or two in when things weren’t working and getting angry and suddenly realizing, “Oh my gosh,” you said it best with me, go ahead…
COLLINS: No, I just said that, you said, “Well, it’s because she’s been wandering for years by herself before she meets Marlin!” And the whole story team and I were like, “What?” [laughs] “Years she was by herself! Marlin was the first time anybody was ever –” And we were like, “Really?” And he was like, “Did I not say that out loud?” And he was like, “I probably should take some time to write out what her backstory is.” You had it in your mind the whole time, but you had never voiced it because it was never required really.
STANTON: We realized we gotta put that in the beginning of the movie so everybody was up to speed. But we also had a byproduct which was it reminded you that the first movie’s dark and very dramatic and emotional, it doesn’t indulge in comedy. And it set the tone correctly for everybody because no one remembers that when you leave the film. But when you enter the film, that’s what it is. So it kind of set it on the rails correctly.
What were the challenges of directing it in a way so that it’s not mean spirited, because we see the kids in Mr. Ray’s school are super excited to have her there, but not in a like make fun of her way.
COLLINS: I was saying that it’s been a really tricky line to walk for us. Not for lack of trying or respect, it’s more about, when you haven’t seen somebody for a long time, someone you know really well, you write them and then you watch them and you think, “That doesn’t sound like her.” We’re playing her too dumb or we’re playing her kind of mean, or it’s annoying. And none of those feelings were anything people had of her from the first film. We knew how we felt about her and man did we write it wrong, a lot. But then it was, everybody unanimously would be like, “Nope, that doesn’t feel like her, that’s not what she would say, that’s not how she would react. She feels like a victim, that’s never the way she felt in the first film.” So we really struggled.
STANTON: Some of the learning curve was not until we recorded with Ellen.
COLLINS: Her voice.
STANTON: And we forgot how much we never didn’t record with Ellen. Like I wrote it for her, so we basically always had Ellen. There was an X factor to it, there’s an underlying sophistication and intelligence, which are not two things that you immediately think of with Dory, that is just kind of there, base. Sort of street smart savvy that isn’t obvious, but it’s felt. And you get it just from Ellen speaking. And we kind of wrote without it for a short while, then once we started recording we were like, “Oh that’s right.”
COLLINS: That’s who she is, yeah.
STANTON: There’s no way she’d be in the ocean for 20 years and not know how to survive. She would know how to deal with any scenario no matter how much your instinct is lost with short term memory loss. And Ellen has that.
COLLINS: The other thing that’s interesting to me with this film is that you kind of realize when you’re done versus when you’re making it, is obviously there’s a lot of other characters that are around her on this film that have in theory disabilities, Hank’s a septapus and Destiny is severely nearsighted and can’t see well, and Bailey, his echolocation doesn’t work, Nemo’s got this little fin. And you never hear Dory ask about any of it. She acknowledges it and usually kind of gives a compliment or goes right by and she spends a lot of time apologizing for herself and her own short term memory loss, but she never apologizes or asks anybody to apologize for their other seemingly equal disabilities. And I think the gift was how do we get her to treat herself the same way? And the only way to do that is to prove to herself that she can do it in her own way. She’s not going to change, she has to figure out how do something.
STANTON: Support and guidance.
COLLINS: And she gets an amazing amount of support and guidance, she draws the world to her, that’s her superpower is everybody is drawn to Dory because of all those things that she’s kind of able to make it on her own. But it’s just one of those things again, all I could say is what didn’t feel right. We wrote a lot that didn’t feel right and when it did feel right, everybody was like “Yup, that’s how she would act, let’s move on to the next scene.”
I’m curious if you could talk about, Nemo and Dory are beloved characters, and Hollywood really does love franchises and sequels. How much is the studio system is begging you for a sequel, how much is organic, and how much did you work on it before you even said to anyone, “I think we’re going to do this?”
STANTON: The truth is, it’s very knee jerk, and the proper assumption to think that, “Alright, large studio, business, money making, let’s do a sequel. And let’s buy Pixar.” But the deal was very, very clear that we will only do sequels if we think the story’s right. And they honored that. They’ve never come to us with an agenda, they just wait for us to come to them and say, “Now we’d like to do this.” And we happen to have three originals in a row, or one sequel and another sequel. We’ve been very separated from any pressures that may be happening in the marketplace with people watching the patterns, they may all be true, but for us, we’re just doing the same thing we’ve always done which is, “Alright, we’re doing a bunch of stuff, and we like this and we like that and now we like this.” The sequels part of it, we’ve been very respectful of the original artists, so it was waiting until we thought it was a worthy, Monsters University story and me suddenly eight years later finally coming up with a spark of an idea. And same with Brad, there’s been no, nobody plans to make a sequel ten years later, it was just one of those things where we were waiting for the right story.
If I could just do a follow-up, when they announced a release date, how long had you been working on it, do you know what I mean?
COLLINS: Andrew was very – When he had this idea, when he was ready to say this idea, he was very careful. Because the minute I say this out loud, it’s going to be very hard to put the train back in the station.
STANTON: Oh, I did say that. I mean, I already had the idea for like a year but I thought, “I cannot let anyone hear this because the minute I say these two words out loud, everybody’s going to want it.”
COLLINS: Right, so we kept it quiet for a while just for that reason. So that we could be sure we were confident in the timing, we were confident in the actors could make it work, so we kept it quiet for a while in that way. Not too long, because I think it was just to make sure –
STANTON: I wanted to make sure that there was a there there. Because –
COLLINS: You didn’t want to treat it lightly.
STANTON: You can’t put it back in the box once it’s said.
Speaking to the sequel aspect too, for Toy Story the sequels sort of came at a reasonable clip, this is 13 years after –
STANTON: So was Toy Story 3.
COLLINS: Toy Story 2 was –
When was 2?
COLLINS: Toy Story 2 was three years later?
This is thirteen years later, you’re going to have kids coming to see this movie who literally never knew a world without these characters.
COLLINS: Generation Nemo, we like to call it. [laughs]
What are the pressures of that?
STANTON: In a weird way, it’s a cool benefit to being true, waiting until the right time. We saw it happen with Toy Story 3, there’s no way you could have planned, “We’re guaranteed this movie is going to have such resonance that ten years from now we’re going to pull it out –” But, fortunately, because we did come up with a movie that much later and they still know about it, you can totally enjoy that benefit. I remember my son was born right at the beginning of Toy Story and he was four when it came out, and when I showed him the trailer, I don’t tell my kids what I’m doing, and he was like “Oh, my god.” Because he’s exactly the age of Andy, he was going to college and he was like, “This is my movie, this is my movie!” And that was the first time I was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s right.” Everybody your age is saying this right now and I kind of didn’t think about that with Nemo because maybe I wasn’t tracking my own kid because my kids weren’t in line with it, and it took for me to be kind of told, it took for it to be announced for me to be like, “What?” I had no idea that like, when it’s the most popular DVD of all time and it’s in so many households it’s been watched that many times, it’s like “Oh, I didn’t even think about that.” That many people know that movie so well. Because I kind of already thought Toy Story had taken that place. So it’s weird, it’s a really nice benefit to know people are going to come. [laughs] I don’t take that for granted, you know? I really don’t.
COLLINS: Now we’re just like, “Oh God, how do we not disappoint them?” Being the worriers that we are, we’re like, “How do we not disappoint them?” It’s, I think it’s going to be an interesting makeup of audiences because we were just saying what you’re hearing about our trailers is, especially because it’s Ellen’s stage, when she launches a trailer on her site, it’s like huge, which has been great. But I think a lot of the people who watch it and then therefore the people who grew up with Nemo are this kind of older group. Not old, but they’re certainly older, late teens, twenties, thirties. And so much of what they’re excited about is the nostalgic feeling they’ve got for this film. So, you know, we’re very aware of that. I think we’re trying to be true to that, how do we provide the nostalgia that you want when you’re going back to characters you haven’t seen in awhile. But also make it not feel like a retread, like, “Okay, now it just feels like it was the same movie and I’m comparing it to it,” you want it to feel like this movie had to have been made, this must have been the plan all along.
STANTON: Well I think the key is to like not be afraid of that and not think other people own them. That’s why I like going back to material that’s been explored during the origin of the first one, is it’s very pure, fertile ground. And you can kind of come to new conclusions or new aspects of the characters honestly. It’s kind of, the stuff’s been grown from the same part of the ground. I said this in another table round, but it’s so true, it’s why a really good series can keep going another season and you’re watching characters and they’re in the same home, if you’re true to them, you realize that all it takes is one element to shift and one element to change and that suddenly the dynamics are different and that character doesn’t know how to deal with it. You’re the same way in real life. You don’t realize sometimes until a variable changes that suddenly, “Oh, just because I can’t drive the same route to work, it’s made me a little different today.” That’s the thing that makes it interesting, if you’re being true to the character growth. And it’s self discovery for you too, it’s not so much that you come in with a plan, you’re coming in with it sort of like a novelist and enjoying the discovery of it. Believe me, we took just as many wrong turns on this one as we did on Nemo to find what those characters are in the first place and I said this, and it’s true, with original characters it’s kind of like putting a kid for the first time into the school system and just discovering who they are. In the school system it’s like putting those characters into a college, is this the right characters, did we pick the right major, but with the new characters, it’s all under the tent of discovery. It’s part of the drug of why you do it.
Going back into the archives and looking at the stuff that you did for Finding Nemo, did that directly inspire a character that you discovered?
STANTON: We wanted to go to the kelp forest underwater so badly because it’s so unique. And I couldn’t ever justify it in the first movie because it’s just so specific to this coastline. And so it was one of those nice things where we could make things take place anywhere at the beginning, so we kind of just placed a pin here to see if it held. So that’s one example.
One of the things I loved from the outside looking at this movie, like you said, Ellen sort of being part of it, kind of ribbing you guys for years that there had never been a sequel, what was it like when you first told her and how much earlier did she know?
STANTON: She’s always been very respectful of what we do. She didn’t really know what she was getting into when we took her on in ‘99. That’s how early I brought her on, or 2000, when I brought her on for Nemo. And she was just as respectful this round, you guys do what you do, but also it’s very collaborative, it’s very workshoppy. Because we can come back with the same scenes again and again over the course of two years, but she’ll throw in her two cents if she thinks there’s a way to play something, but she doesn’t produce or anything, she’s busy as it is. She really, when I called her to tell her, “Uncle, we’re finally going to make one,” she goes, “I was just kidding.” Just to yank my chain. But the world changed so much. When I worked with her, she was between projects, she was kind of under the radar, and she was planning on doing this talk show, and the two coincided perfectly for her. So she has a lot of personal affection for Dory, it’s very special to her for many, many reasons. And then she became Oprah, she just became queen of the world. And I did wonder, is she going to be different, you know? And our first session together, she came into the same stage with the same people, everyone we had last time when we worked in 2003, she came by herself, drove herself, we were both just a little bit older, but that was it. And we just, it was like we picked up where we left off, it was the same thing with Albert [Brooks]. It was great.
Was she surprised at Dory’s backstory, or did she know that?
STANTON: Um, I don’t think so although we didn’t talk a lot about it. She went through so many permutations on the first one for me, just different scenes and figuring it out, that I think it was the same on this one. We didn’t really talk about it. We had about three or four, maybe three different ways to start the movie that went to her and she got it.
COLLINS: She went with it.
STANTON: She kinda got it, she recorded a lot! That never made the screen on the first movie.
COLLINS: She was cool with it, it took big evolutionary steps, this movie had a lot of twists and turns to it and she was cool with most of them, all of them actually.
If Dory was the breakout side character from Nemo, who’s the breakout side character in Finding Dory?
STANTON: It’s hard to say because I like a lot of them, there are some you haven’t seen yet, but as far as depth of character, it’s going to be Hank. He spends a lot of quality time with her and they form quite a relationship, I think. But I would not be surprised if there were some other names.
Was it a prerequisite that you had to be on Modern Family to get in this movie?
STANTON: Isn’t that funny? You can go back and you can see a lot of cast members, you can tell what was on TV at the time by the casting of A Bug’s Life and Toy Story. We’re very much products of the shows we’re watching at the time. You can’t ignore – for me, there’s this term that the camera loves somebody, but I think the microphone loves certain people’s voices, there are certain people’s voices that you listen to and they just carry all the range and all this interesting stuff into it. And that you can see as the common denominator whether they came from the same show or not.
COLLINS: But what was also the easiest thing on this – Usually we have to cut together this person’s voice from other shows to try to fake a conversation here and be like, “How would they sound together?” And Ellen has interviewed everybody, so being like, “What would Ellen sound like Ty Burrell?” Like, “Whoop, there goes the interview, let’s just interview them.” Easiest casting session, in a way. That’s like watching her with Diane Keaton –
COLLINS: It has to be Diane Keaton, if you’ve ever watched those interviews with them, they’re so funny. And with Eugene, this weird kind of easy casting session for that reason. We had the movie cast really early, actually. Really fast.
You mentioned at the beginning you’re trying to keep the beginning a surprise, but that also seems like one of those things that if you put that in a trailer, people would flip out.
STANTON: Well, but it’s Finding Dory. People are already coming. Why would I blow my wad?
How much control do you have over that kind of thing?
STANTON: We’re very respectful because I’ve seen so many things where people were adamant that things work this way and they didn’t listen and you were right, I’ve just seen every permutation. I’ve learned that everybody is just trying to do the smartest move they can. And it’s also a moving target, if you put something out there, it’s going to the world. So you can’t target one country and think it’s not going somewhere else. So it’s a very difficult thing to navigate. And the only thing that I feel very strongly about but everybody else does too is that we’ve got a recognizable title that allows us not to have to give out too much. And I think that’s part of the thing that I loved about the advantage Star Wars had is you could go and be surprised again. And so many people talked about that. So many people talked about “I had forgotten what it was like to go to a movie and not know anything. Be completely surprised.” And I get that that’s a difficult thing to do these days because there’s so many choices and how do you get people to go? But when you do have the advantage, it’s a nice gift to give to the audience. Is how little can you not know so you can just enjoy as much as you possibly can? I mean, I would love that.
COLLINS: That said, we might very well lose.
COLLINS: But we’re trying now to try to treat each trailer as its own discussion, like can we not show that in this one and they’re like, “What about the next one?” And we’re like, “Let’s talk about the next one –”
STANTON: It was really sad last night because in all our screenings, that garbage disposal moment gets the biggest laugh, and you guys didn’t laugh. Because you guys already knew it.
COLLINS: Because it’s in the trailer.
You may have already said this, who was Dory based on when you created her?
STANTON: You know, she actually wasn’t based on anyone specifically, she kind of came through steps. I know that I wanted a guide to bring the father through the ocean. And I, in my typical dumb male fashion, I’m a guy, so I had him named Gil and it was this guy Gil who ended up being the guy in the tank at the dentist’s office. And then I read about short term memory loss, it’s three seconds in all goldfish, and I thought that was hilarious. And then I thought what if I gave that to that character because then they’d be caught in the moment all the time. And the only thing that ever existed at that time, and we’re talking 1999 was short term memory guy skit on SNL with Tom Hanks. And it was a skit, there’s a certain way to play it where you keep repeating a moment over and over again, and that was not working. And it was annoying after a couple sequences. And then, Ellen had a sitcom at the time, it wasn’t a talk show it was the Ellen Show, and I had it on in the side of the room while I was trying to tackle this, and I heard her change the subject five times in a sentence and I was like, “That’s the way to play it.” And then I thought, “Why not female? Why can’t it be a platonic relationship? And why can’t it be that manner?” And for the first time in like three or four months, I was out of writer’s block. And I thought, “Don’t write for her, don’t write for her because what if she says ‘No’? What if she’s not what anybody wants?” But I couldn’t ignore it, and it was kind of through these steps that it came into being. So.
How did the process change, we heard about how mesmerizing Hank is to look at, was it hard to – was it a constant process to make sure the focus stayed on Dory?
COLLINS: Yeah. It was really hard.
STANTON: She’s so good at supporting that she basically compliments – You know how to do that role, like it came out instinctively and then she can say this and it’ll make Hank really funny, and then she can do this and will make Destiny and Bailey really funny. She’s so wired up to tee up everybody and put the spotlight on them. And we kept falling into that trap. Yeah, it was really hard.
COLLINS: And sometimes it was just a line. Like, if she just said this right now instead of giving that line, just give it to Dory. And if she says that line, she’s leading the –
STANTON: We were so wired up to have somebody else say the serious line and just give a little mark. And that’s not the role.
Besides that block, sort of difficulty, were there any other major story beats that were changed or was it kind of small, little things?
STANTON: No, we had a long circuitous route to figure out what to do with Marlin and Nemo to get them back. Because for Dory to learn to drive on her own, basically, they had to be separated. Well, what do we do with them and where did they go, and we had a long – I hope that it comes in the DVD, because I think that would be really fun. We had a long circuitous route, that’s all I’m going to say about them, that ended up not helping her story at all that we finally just had to say, “You’re right.” And we got so much better stuff that worked and made the movie much better, but as a side idea it was fantastic. And hopefully we’ll show that on the DVD.
How far did that get along?
STANTON: A long time. Yeah, a long time. It was that seductive, put it that way. We didn’t see the forest of the trees for a long time.
How long of a sequence was that?
COLLINS: It was sequences, yeah.
Short film, there you go.
We learned about the technology this morning, the new render man and updating all the software. For the two of you, what really impressed you about this new technology that was brought to the forefront?
STANTON: Well that you could ask for stuff that at least for me, that was so impossible to get on the first one. There was one shot in Nemo where the camera goes along the bend of glass of the fish tank in the dentist’s office and you kind of see refraction happening on Nemo, we get that for free, every shot now with the sophisticated software we have. To the point where we had to like get rid of sometimes what reaction really does it mirrors, it does weird stuff. And going from the surface, to cut through the water and then go below, we did that once on Nemo, that was so hard to do and when the fishing net happens, we did it whenever we wanted to on this film.
COLLINS: Willy nilly, just for fun! Put the camera above.
STANTON: There’s just a lot of beautiful, we can just embrace the underwater 100%.
COLLINS: We have a lot of nesting dielectrics in the film, which is cool.
STANTON: What the heck did you just say?
COLLINS: I learned a lot of terminology on the film and then I just throw it out there. It’s scientific, and it’s reflection/refraction. You know. You can quote me saying dielectrics.
That’s the headline.
COLLINS: The producer talked about dielectrics.
I’m curious about how the improving tech impacts storytelling. One of the things I’m always fascinated by is that challenge creates creativity. Not being able to cut through the water means that you do it the one time where it really has the impact. How do you make sure that you’re not getting into the prog rock version where it’s a little too much?
STANTON: That’s a good way to put it. I tend to weigh too much on the other side, to a fault I keep myself very dumb. And I just go, “I would love to see this and here’s why and here’s the deep, deep story reasons why it has to happen,” so I can force the technology into a corner and people have to do it. The movie will not work without this, so I tend to be pushing that way and that’s how you get your Hank technology and just water technology advancing and certain things, so that’s really where I come from.
COLLINS: Right. Producing’s gotten harder, for that reason. Literally because there used to be very clear limitations about what we could do and how fast we could go, the “We literally cannot render that shot so we have to find a way to take out some of the backgrounds or shorten the scene or not have as many shots in the film that have that.
STANTON: That’s really been the tough thing on this film is the rendering, right?
COLLINS: Yeah, the rendering is very cool, it takes a long time because it’s not optimized. We’ve had 25 years to optimize our previous renderer and this one is fresh out of the box, so we’re discovering a lot on this film that I think subsequent films will benefit from, but it’s made producing harder because it makes it have to be more about how do we want to set up those limitations, where do we wanna push and it fundamentally always comes back to how do you want to spend your money. Nobody’s trying to save money, at all. No question, we’re going to spend every dime we’ve got, so here’s how much it’s going to cost and that’s a lot of the transparency that often ends up helping. Because then the director goes, “Oh wait, it’s going to cost six people weeks to do that one thing? Forget it.” Because everything is doable, it’s just to what scale are you willing to kind of – because if you spend those six weeks here, it kind of means that’s six other shots that you’re going to want to fix or do. Pixar’s very good about being transparent with the directors, which I found to be really good and it’s kind of the only way, in my mind, that we get the highest percentage of our budget up on screen because it’s all about making sure that you’re aware of what we’re spending.
STANTON: You don’t want to be an accidental roadblock to getting the film made.
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