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THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU

The Undersea World of Steve Zissou
Though THE LIFE AQUATIC with Steve Zissou is an underwater adventure, the underwater world it creates is unlike any others that audiences have seen before. That's because the aquatic realm visited by Team Zissou sprang not so much from real oceanography and biology as from the imaginations of Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach and animator Henry Selick. Teeming with glowing, multicolored creatures out of a dream—from candy-colored Sugar Crabs to the star-encrusted Constellation Ray and from the two-inch Crayon Pony Fish to the 80-foot spotted behemoth known as the Jaguar Shark—the oceanic home of Steve Zissou is amply filled with the magic and awe he finds has gone missing from the rest of his life.

As soon as Anderson and Baumbach began writing about imaginary sea creatures in their screenplay, Anderson's thoughts turned to how he was going to bring these storybook animals to life. That's when he decided to contact Henry Selick, the modern-day master of the "oldschool” animation style known as "stop-motion,” which Selick brought to the fore in his acclaimed debut feature film, "The Nightmare Before Christmas.” One of the most ancient forms of film animation, stop-motion, to this day, has a visceral, textured quality that sets it apart from digital creations. Looking for that kind of more vibrant effect for the LIFE AQUATIC with Steve Zissou menagerie, Anderson called Selick long in advance of the start of production to see if he would be interested in applying his art to a seriocomic adventure film.

"Wes said he was looking for somebody who could create the kind of sea creatures that would make for a fable-like atmosphere,” recalls Selick. "Right away, he had very simple, clear, and endlessly creative, ideas about design and color, which I found very refreshing. As I became more involved, I began to realize that the animation in the film, unusual as it might be, is just one of the many spices in Wes's stew. It's a subtle but important part of telling the incredible story of Steve Zissou.”

Selick soon found that for each of the world's individual creatures—which also include Day-Glo lizards, paisley octopi and iridescent mini-frogs—Anderson had very specific portraits in mind. "For example, for the Sugar Crabs, he literally wanted confectionary colors,” explains Selick, "so I brought him lots of entire catalogs of candies, and he chose the colors and patterns he liked from that collection for us to replicate.”

Selick continues: "Some of the creatures are total fabrications while others are subtle yet fun shifts on real sea animals. The Golden Barracuda, for example, we took from actual barracuda images and created a new interpretation of that familiar fish. But the Rat Tail Envelope Fish, which turns itself inside out, is totally imaginary. We created about 40 or 50 completely different designs for Wes to look at, and he was having so much fun with each of them that he wouldn't let us stop! Finally, he picked the one he thought was the wildest vision.”

Later, Selick joined cast and crew in Italy to oversee the sculpting of the miniature models and puppets that form the heart of stop-motion animation, which only intensified the creative process. "Every time I showed Wes an idea, he saw it as an opportunity to improve on it,” he recalls. "It was quite an intense period.”

Indeed, of all the underwater fish, reptiles and mammals featured in THE LIFE AQUATIC, the only real animals seen that actually exist are Zissou's whale (inserted using old-fashioned rear-projection); and the research dolphins—the bane of Zissou's existence—which were created by using animatronic, remote-controlled robots.

Finally, it came time to create the film's pie`ce de résistance and the ultimate object of Steve Zissou's vengeance: the legendary jaguar shark. "The jaguar shark is sort of the great white whale of ‘M

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