Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich

Finding Nemo

Interviewed by Nev Pierce

“I spent the whole production of the movie wondering if we were going to have sushi at the wrap party. ”

Writer/director Andrew Stanton is one of the main brains behind Pixar's snowballing success. He first made his mark with the animated classic Toy Story, and later teamed up with Lee Unkrich for A Bug's Life, and Monsters, Inc.. They recently combined their talents again, for what is arguably Pixar's best film yet - the hilarious aquatic animation Finding Nemo.

When did you first get the idea for Finding Nemo?

AS: Way back during the first beginnings of Toy Story, believe it or not. I was at an aquarium, and I was new to computer graphics, and I remember just looking at the underwater environment and thinking we could mimic this exactly in computer graphics.

So that was on the back burner of my brain all through Toy Story and A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2. I kept thinking about what story I'd want to tell in an underwater setting, and I remembered this dentist's office that I went to as a kid. It had a tank in the lobby, and I used to think about whether those fish wanted to go home, and what it must be like to be in this tacky little tank with a treasure chest, and a scuba diver. All those kind of things.

And then at the end of A Bug's Life I was very, very busy, and I wasn't seeing my family much. I felt like I needed to spend some special time with my son, who was five at the time, and just take a walk to the park. During that walk to the park I spent the whole time going, Don't touch that! Watch out for cars! You're going to poke your eye out! You don't know where that's been! I just sort of stopped myself and realised that I was so afraid of something bad happening that I was eclipsing any chance to connect with him in the moment.

I was struck by that and I came up the premise that fear can deny a good parent from being one. And then I thought about how vast and unpredictable the ocean is, and how just to enter it is a risk, and that was really when things gelled together. So it was a long gestation period, practically ten years.

And how did you become involved, Lee?

LU: When I finished (co-directing) Monsters, Inc, Andrew asked me if I'd come over and help on Finding Nemo. I jumped at the chance because from the moment he gave me the script, a couple of years earlier, I thought it was going to be a great film. I thought it was a very different story from what we had told before, and he had something really special on his hands. I was really excited to be a part of that.

What's the difference between being a director, and being co-director?

LU: Well, ultimately Andrew has final say on everything, although we never really had any conflicts on this movie - only one really minor one.

AS: One shot we disagreed on. It was just the angle of the camera.

LU: And I actually won on that one. I've always seen my job, first and foremost, to wrap my head around Andrew's vision for the film, and be a chameleon in a way, and be able to help him achieve his vision. At the same time I don't want to feel like I'm just an Andrew clone. I know there are things that I bring to the table that I'm strong at, and that's the reason Andrew wants me to be a part of the film.

AS: We all worked together very tightly on Toy Story. After that, suddenly there was this need to be making films at a faster pace, so we had to split up. It's like suddenly you've created The Beatles and then you all have to go make separate albums. So there's this real desire to get back together in any form - whether it's just a few of us or all of us. We just recognise that we make a better product together than apart.

LU: You can be stuck for two weeks on a problem and then you get the right couple of people in a room and in five minutes you get a great answer.

There was a rumour that originally Finding Nemo was going to be much darker, and that you had someone other than Albert Brooks cast to play Marlin. Is that true?

There's something about [acting in] animation that even when your character isn't the one that's saying the funny line, they're still a caricature, to some degree, of whatever character they're playing. And it requires someone with a little bit of a comedic background, even if they're not doing the comedy directly.

And the movie was a little darker, not a lot darker. It was structured differently. We sort of doled out the tragedy throughout the movie, and that gave it a sense of foreboding all the time.

LU: It was minor adjustments that had massive effects to the movie.

Bruce the Shark is a member of Fish Eaters Anonymous - does this mean there are a lot of vegetarians at Pixar?

AS: [laughs] No, we just did it for the logic of the characters - the species. We figured that if we all think sharks are violent eating machines then probably all the fish do, and wouldn't you have a complex?

LU: I spent the whole production of the movie wondering if we were going to have sushi at the wrap party.

AS: We did.

Finding Nemo opens in London's West End, and Manchester Filmworks, on Friday 3rd October 2003. It goes nationwide on Friday 10th October 2003.