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The team's research extended beyond the college scene, especially when it came to Dean Hardscrabble's design. Artists studied owls and moths, among other things, but it took a visit with a particularly creepy creature to trigger her ultimate design.

Owen Maercks of East Bay Vivarium was invited to Pixar Animation Studios to introduce the production team to an Amazonian giant centipede -- Scolopendra Gigantea -- which can reach 12 inches in length. "This creature was so creepy," says Nierva. "Mr. Maercks told us that he deals with super-venomous snakes, lizards and spiders, yet he said that he would not mess around with this centipede. He had long leather gloves and metal tongs and he kept talking about how dangerous this centipede was. The more he talked about it, the more we thought, 'What the heck are we doing with this thing in our offices?' It's scary, because it's voracious. He said, 'If it bites you, you won't die, but you'll wish you would.'

"But it had such beautiful, inspiring motion," Nierva concedes. "The animators got really excited and inspired. We have a lot of footage from that day -- taken from a safe distance."

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