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FINDING NEMO

Technical Triumphs
Water has traditionally been one of the most difficult things to create effectively and economically in computer animation. Faced with a film that was set largely underwater, the technical team on "Finding Nemo” had to find new ways to meet the enormous demands of the production and solve some of the problems that had been encountered by others in the past. Supervising technical director Oren Jacobs led the effort to give Stanton and his team exactly what they wanted. 

"Our starting point was to watch a lot of films with underwater scenes and analyze what made them seem like they were underwater,” explains Stanton. "What made them not seem like they were in air? It was a bit like getting a great cake and trying to figure out how somebody baked it by breaking it down. We came up with a shopping list of five key components that suggest an underwater environment – lighting, particulate matter, surge and swell, murk, and reflections and refractions.” 

Jacob adds, "Even before we had a finished script, we knew we had a story about fish in a coral reef. That was enough for our global technology group to begin coming up with tools for making water move back and forth. Coral reefs are organic living things so it's not a static set like the door vault in ‘Monsters, Inc.' Early on, we took a diving trip to Hawaii with some of the film's key players. Then we looked at every Jacques Cousteau, National Geographic and ‘Blue Planet' video we could find. We also studied every underwater film from ‘Jaws' and ‘The Abyss' to ‘The Perfect Storm' to understand what the filmmakers chose to caricature. We came up with our own idea of what audiences expect to see with water and developed our own ratios and proportions.” 

Under Jacob's supervision were six technical teams specializing in different components and environments seen in the film. Lisa Forsell and Danielle Feinberg were the CG supervisors responsible for the Ocean Unit. David Eisenmann and his team handled the models, shading, lighting, simulation, etc. for the Reef Unit. Steve May headed up the Sharks/Sydney Unit, which tackled the submarine scene, shots inside the whale and most of the above-water scenes in the Harbor. Jesse Hollander oversaw the Tank Unit, which created all the elements for the fish tank. Michael Lorenzen was in charge of the Schooling/Flocking team, which created hundreds of thousands of fish plus key elements for the turtle drive sequence. Brian Green led the Character Unit, which created the look and complex controls for nearly 120 aquatic, bird and human characters. 

The Ocean Unit was responsible for such scenes as the school of moon fish, which form different objects (an arrow, a lobster, a boat, etc.), the angler fish chase, and the turtle drive in the East Australian Current. The unit's most challenging and impressive scene, however, was the jellyfish forest. This rich and colorful moment finds Marlin and Dory in an ever-expanding and increasingly dangerous sea of deadly pink jellyfish. 

Forsell explains, "This scene involved several thousand jellyfish. Our unit built the model for a single jellyfish and put a lot of work into the build-up of jellyfish density. This involved creating a simulation for the group that controlled the movement of the tendrils, how quickly they swam and in what direction. We had some great reference footage and were particularly fixated on one species from Palau that we found at the Monterey Aquarium. David Batte wrote a whole shading system we called ‘transblurrency.' Transparency is like a window and you can see right through it. Translucency is like a plastic curtain that lets light through but you can't see through it. Transblurrency is like a bathroom glass; you can see through it but it's all distorted and blurry.” 

For David Eisenmann and his team on the Reef Unit, the challenge was to create a caricatured version of the coral

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