Thirteen years after the release of Finding Nemo, the sequel looks like it will be another Blockbuster for Pixar. Ian Megibben has been at the studio since Ratatouille and as Director of Photography for Lighting he is responsible for the final look of the films he works on.
We spoke with Megibben just before the European Premiere of Finding Dory at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and began by asking why the time was right for a sequel to one of Pixar’s most successful films.
“As filmmakers you become very close to the films you make. You don’t have the ability to objectively watch it like everyone else, so you need time to see it properly. Andrew [Stanton] went back and watched it ten years after he made it, and he got to the end of the movie and found himself wondering about and worrying about Dory. I think at that point he had a story to tell whereas before he didn’t.”
“I hope the title is a clue! That transition from one character to another was one of the big challenges faced by us. Dory was a sidekick before, sort of comic relief, and we had to find a story that focused the attention on her but also found an emotional core. I think we achieved it with the film.”
It looks like the film will be a huge hit, and even break records on its opening weekend, but does the pressure of following such a big hit in the first place still exist.
“This sounds a little self-serving, but we make films we want to see. That pressure of letting down audiences didn’t exist until late in the day. We were excited to make it, and Dory was my favourite character so it wasn’t until the second trailer and poster that we realised it was a big deal. I think that we make the films we make because they are what we want to see. We, of course, want to make films that the audiences want to see as well. We approach it from all those angles.”
Watching the film, I can only imagine how hard it must have been to animate Hank the camouflaging octopus…
“I think he was the hardest character to animate. His tentacles are complex they were each like a character themselves. He looks amazing when he moves, but it required a lot more time. Animators are also focused on the emotional side of each character but there was also a lot of technicalities with him. It is very easy to allow that to get in the way of a compelling performance. I witnessed it in the last couple of years when we can get bogged down with little things. I might have done it with the lighting of certain things”
On the lighting, was it difficult to do so much at the aquariums and on land or is it similar to the scenes underwater?
“They are different challenges. For a lot of the ocean stuff we actually tried to replicate a lot of the techniques we remembered, or more the feeling. The technology has moved on, so we couldn’t replicate it directly, but we made it feel familiar. That was its own artistic challenge and we had to reverse engineer procedures from the first movie.
“The complexity of animating glass and water and rendering that cannot be underestimated. If we have a dinner scene in any of our movies for example, with people sitting round drinking from glasses, we have long conversations about whether it has to be glass or if we can use plastic tumblers instead. We prefer not to do glass. I couldn’t really afford to have that conversation with this film!”
I guess glass and water were pretty unavoidable here…
“Exactly! We had to tackle it head on.”
So going back to your first films at Pixar, how has the technology changed from then?
“Back on Ratatouille, I think our lights were less accurate. More in terms of how light shadows are more physically right… but that’s not always the answer you want. On Inside Out in the mind world we didn’t want the lights to necessary be ‘real’. The same was true on Finding Dory with the reef scenes. We wanted to evoke the feeling from the first film. We are now allowed to do things like glass, but it is also more stringent. We have to cheat it and break it in some ways.”
How about the look and feel of the short film that proceeds Finding Dory? That looked like one of the most photo-realistic things we’ve seen.
“It looks great. What was great with working on Piper is that it is the same technology that we used on Finding Dory, but the flexibility is so that we can make one film reminiscent of something from 13 years ago to something more photo real. It has a style and quality to it. I can say it is one of the best shorts we’ve had for a while. It’s quite unique or at least very rare that the short matches up to the feature so closely in terms of the themes.”
So is there room for another story in the franchise?
“The story tells us what is needed next, so technology might play a part in that… at least in terms of the look of future films. It’s far too early to see about another film though. With sequels we only tell the story if we have a compelling reason to do it and going back to you first question, it did take us 13 years to do it this one.”
Finding Dory is released in the UK on 29 July. Read our glowing review here.