CATEGORIES Movies


Hard to believe it's been a full 10 years since Disney and Pixar released "Finding Nemo" (on May 30, 2003). That means that you and your kids (or you and your parents) have watched it on DVD approximately, oh, seven bazillion times. Even among Pixar's stellar slate of movies, the underwater adventure has been a standout, an instant classic, and one of the most popular animated features ever made.

Still, there may be a lot you don't know about "Nemo," like where the idea for the film came from, or how some of the stranger underwater sound effects were generated, or who some of the surprising cast members are (and aren't). Read on for these and other revelations from the deep.


1. Writer/director Andrew Stanton's inspirations for "Finding Nemo" were a childhood memory of a fish tank in a dentist's office and a visit to the Six Flags Marine World park with his five-year-old son. As the "Toy Story" and "Monsters, Inc." creator recalled in an interview at the time of "Nemo"'s release:


"When my son was five, I remember taking him to the park. I had been working long hours and felt guilty about not spending enough time with him. As we were walking, I was experiencing all this pent up emotion and thinking 'I-miss-you, I-miss-you,' but I spent the whole walk going, 'Don't touch that. Don't do that. You're gonna fall in there.' And there was this third-party voice in my head saying 'You're completely wasting the entire moment that you've got with your son right now.' I became obsessed with this premise that fear can deny a good father from being one. With that revelation, all the pieces fell into place and we ended up with our story."

2. Once he had outlined the story, Stanton gave an hour-long pitch to Pixar chief (and recreational scuba diver) John Lasseter. Lasseter's reply: "You had me at 'fish.'"

3. Of course, the fish were a challenge to animate and anthropomorphize, since they don't have arms or legs, don't move like land creatures, and don't have front-looking faces. Also, they're not necessarily pretty. "Fish are slimy, scaly things and we wanted the audience to love our characters," recalled production designer Ralph Eggleston. "We ultimately came up with three kinds of fish: gummy, velvety and metallic. The gummy variety, which includes Marlin and Nemo, has a density and warmth to it. We used backlighting and rim lights to add to their appeal and take the focus off their scaly surface quality. The velvety category, which includes Dory, has a soft texture to it. The metallic group was more of the typical scaly fish. We used this for the schools of fish."

4. To help the animators figure out everything from how the fish flit about to where their eyebrows would be if they had eyebrows, Pixar brought aboard Adam Summers, an ichthyologist from the University of California at Irvine. "I ended up teaching an essentially graduate-level ichthyology course to the Pixar staff," Summers recalled." There were at least twelve lectures."

5. To learn how to create a realistic world underwater, the Pixar team went scuba-diving in Hawaii, saw every underwater documentary it could find, and watched fiction films like "Jaws," "The Abyss," and "The Perfect Storm" to see how other feature filmmakers had addressed the challenge.

6. For the movie's plot, about an animal child separated from his family and forced to make friends and fend for himself, Stanton turned to a classic Disney cartoon. "'Bambi' was a touchstone," he said. "We thought of it as 'Bambi' underwater."

7. A typical frame of a Pixar film representing 1/24 second of screen time can take six hours to render -- that is, six hours for Pixar's farm of 1000 rendering microprocessors to crunch data regarding character movements, scenery, and lighting in order to compose a complete image down to the last pixel. But the underwater environment was so complex that some frames of "Nemo" took as long as four days to render.

8. Sound designer Gary Rydstrom recorded sloshing water in a variety of environments, including a fish tank, a Jacuzzi, the open ocean, and a coastal cave (for the inside of the whale). For the sound of Marlin and Dory bouncing off jellyfish, he recorded his finger flicking a hot water bottle.

9. For the sound of the dentist's drill, a sound design assistant recorded her own visit to her dentist to get her tooth filled.

10. Playing Marlin, Albert Brooks reportedly didn't much enjoy the voice recording process, since it didn't allow him to interact with his co-stars, but that didn't stop him from improvising a wealth of material. "Even when his character wasn't asked to be funny in a scene, he knew exactly how to play it for entertainment," Stanton said. "At the recording sessions, he would bring his own sensibilities to the material and just kind of run with it. We learned to just start the tape rolling and give it a tail slate at the end. We didn't want to interrupt his creative flow. He would just get these ideas and go again and again. He's such a hard worker and very eager to please."

11. Stanton wrote the role of forgetful fish Dory for Ellen DeGeneres, knowing from her dithery comic performance on her sitcom "Ellen" that she could play someone who might change her mind several times in one sentence.

12. DeGeneres joked that she took a Method approach to preparing her role. "To make sure that I played Dory as a believable character, I wanted to remain faithful to the realism of aquatic life," she said. "Since I found it difficult to breathe underwater, it was a tough research challenge. But after living with a school of fish for a few months, I discovered that they apparently learned nothing at all in school and had nothing intelligent to say. So we had a lot in common."

13. Fittingly, Alexander Gould, who played Nemo, later played Bambi in 2006's straight-to-video "Bambi II." As a live-action actor, he became known for his role as budding sociopath Shane Botwin on eight seasons of Showtime's "Weeds." Throughout Season 4, his grandfather was played by his underwater dad, Albert Brooks.

14. You might not have recognized the voices of some well-known character actors playing the three sharks. Bruce, the Great White, is played by Barry Humphries, the Australian comic best known for his drag performances as Dame Edna. Anchor, the Hammerhead, is played by Eric Bana, who was an Australian comic long before he became known for intense dramatic roles in Hollywood ("Hulk," "Troy," "Munich," "The Time-Traveler's Husband"). And Chum, the Mako, is Bruce Spence, the New Zealand-born comic-relief player from the "Mad Max" series.

15. Pixar animators traditionally record "scratch" voices (that is, the voices of Pixar staffers who are not professional actors) reading the dialogue so that the animators have something to work off of. Later, real actors are cast and re-record the dialogue. But in the cases of Crush the Sea Turtle and Jacques the Pacific cleaner shrimp, the studio decided to keep the scratch performances recorded by Stanton (as Crush) and story supervisor Joe Ranft (Jacques). Stanton had also voiced Emperor Zurg in "Toy Story 2," while Ranft had previously voiced Wheezy, the squeaky-toy penguin in "Toy Story 2" and Heimlich, the fat, German-accented caterpillar in "A Bug's Life." Stanton recorded all his dialogue while lying on a sofa in fellow Pixar director Lee Unkrich's office.

16. Nicholas Bird, son of Pixar director Brad Bird, recorded the voice of Crush's son Squirt. He landed the job when his father was playing a recording of his son's voice at the Pixar office. Stanton called the young Bird's performance "this generation's Thumper."

17. Megan Mullally claimed she'd been hired to voice a character, only to disappoint the animators by revealing that the high-pitched "Karen Walker" voice she used on "Will & Grace" wasn't her natural voice. She said she was fired because she didn't want to use the squeaky Karen voice for the movie.

18. "Nemo" was Pixar's first summer release. Having cost $94 million to make, it grossed $339.7 million in North America and a total of $867.9 million worldwide, surpassing Disney's 1994 classic "The Lion King" as the top-grossing cartoon of all time, though "Shrek 2" broke its record a year later. "Nemo" remained the highest-grossing G-rated film of all time until Pixar's "Toy Story 3" surpassed it.

19. Spinoffs so far have included a soundtrack album (featuring Robbie Williams channeling Bobby Darin with a recording of "Beyond the Sea"), three video games, and a live musical stage production at Disney World.

20. "Nemo" is reportedly the best-selling DVD of all time, having moved at least 40 million copies.

21. "Nemo" won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature and was nominated for three other Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay.

22. Even though the movie made clear that clownfish don't make good pets, "Nemo" still launched a wave of clownfish purchases for household aquariums. The film also made Australia a popular destination for scuba-diving tourists who wanted to see the undersea creatures depicted in the movie.

23. Pixar faced a copyright-infringment suit from Franck Le Calvez, author of a 2002 children's book called "Pierrot the Clownfish." Seeking an injunction that would have kept "Nemo" merchandise off retailers' shelves, the French author cited a number of plot similarities, but the judge ruled that his clownfish was too different in appearance from Marlin and Nemo to create confusion and ruled against him.

24. At a cost of $5 million, "Nemo" was retrofitted into 3D and re-released in theaters in 2012. Again, critics were rapturous about the film's underwater visuals and its now-classic narrative.

25. Last month, Disney announced plans for the long-awaited sequel, to be called "Finding Dory." Brooks and DeGeneres will reprise their roles in the film, which is due in November 2015.