Finding Nemo was the first time I’d ever worked for Pixar. As a freelance visual development artist, I worked mostly at home under production designer Ralph Eggleston’s capable supervision.
At that time, Pixar was struggling to increase its bandwidth to do more than one movie at a time. As amazing as it is to believe now, back in the year 2000 Pixar had trouble filling positions, because the main focus of the late 90s/early 00s animation boom was in Los Angeles, and it was hard to crew-up anywhere else.
Pixar was not yet a huge studio with multiple parallel production pipelines and most of their bandwidth was being used on Monsters, Inc., which was then in the heat of production, and most Pixar staff artists were focused on that, so the NEMO team had to use available freelance artists like myself.
I must have jammed on visual development for about 6 months or so, until they assembled a proper art crew. I drew fish, sharks, turtles, birds.. you name it. It was a really fun time.
What you see here are some of the designs I did for the fish tank crew. I played with the idea that Jacques, who eventually became a French shrimp, was instead a kind of sea slug (called a nudibranch).
That idea didn’t go too far though, because the studio was discovering on Monsters, Inc. that CG tentacles were incredibly difficult to do back then. A pity, because I quite liked this version.
This was around the time that I first began doing artwork in the computer, and in fact this next image of a SHARK was one of the first I’d ever finished in Photoshop. The character was drawn on paper, scanned in and coloured in Photoshop (but the background is a bit of a cheat because it’s a composite of a couple of photographs I found in magazines).
While working on the visual development phase of the movie, I tried my hand at rough designs for dozens of characters, but these sharks were particularly fun.
In late 2001, Pixar called me back in to work on Finding Nemo in the story department this time, on a story team lead by Ronnie Del Carmen. I storyboarded on the the sharks sequence (following incredible work done by the amazing Jim Capobianco). By then, the studio had moved from their original facility in Point Richmond, to the swanky campus they occupy now. The project was so much further along by then, and it was fun to see the progression.
The fact that I’d already spent time researching and drawing sharks helped me when storyboarding the shark sequence, and I was pleased with how it worked out. One of my contributions was the ending, where an underwater exploding submarine results in one tiny bubble breaking the surface of the sea, misinterpreted as a fart by a prudish pelican. An internet discussion about Finding Nemo referred to this as the “thinking man’s fart gag”.
I followed all the internet chit-chat about Finding Nemo with keen interest, both before and after the movie was released. Its release in 2003 finally broke a several-year streak where nothing that I worked on actually got made.
Some of my designs seen here actually made it into the Art of Finding Nemo book. None of the VisDev I drew for subsequent Pixar movies made such books ever again.
Page space in those Art Of books is very limited and there are literally thousands of drawings drawn by the art department over several years to choose from, so it was an utter surprise and delight to be included my very first time working on a project for Pixar.
In the early days working on Nemo, I was allowed to play around with anything at all in the script that interested me and for a day or two I drew kids who might be waiting to see the dentist (who has Nemo in a tank in his surgery). Personally, I absolutely loathed the dentist as a child, so the scaredy cat you see above is me (though I probably looked most like the scruffy brat in the middle in the next pic).
I also had a crack at designing Nigel the Aussie pelican, eventually voiced by Geoffrey Rush.
I also did his temp voice on the STORY REEL. When making these movies it’s common for the crew to record temporary dialogue used in early edits of the film, before the final actors are even cast.
Pixar had few Australian employees, and it was perhaps the first and last time that Australian voices would be in demand for a Hollywood cartoons so I was in the right place at the right time. I was called to do onto several voices; pelicans, dentists, sharks, and random fish. It was a great deal of fun.
One by one all my voices were replaced with the proper actors, but one of my performances actually remained in the final movie, more or less as an oversight. I was on holiday back in Australia when the studio realized that there were a few lines of my dialogue left in the final cut of the film (for a cranky Aussie crab).
It took them a while to track me down on holiday & some documents were sent to me at the last minute of some deadline or other, to make the whole thing legal with the union. The upshot of that is that Finding Nemo is the only movie I’ve ever worked for which I actually get residuals.
Finding Nemo finally broke a curse I had been under where everything I worked on (for about 7 years) got cancelled (especially if it was a cool project). I was very excited excited to work on this film, and very gratified when it was finally released in 2003.