"Finding Nemo" Dives Deeper with Stunning 3D

The underwater setting of Disney/Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” required a great deal of research and experimentation to achieve the spectacular look filmmakers wanted to capture in the original 2D film. But, it turns out, the pieces put into place so many years ago actually set the stage for a rather brilliant 3D realization.

“I can’t imagine a movie better suited for 3D,” says director Andrew Stanton of “Finding Nemo.” “Firstly, there’s something hyper dimensional about computer animation that’s interesting even when it’s on a 2D plane. Secondly, this movie is set in an environment that has a very definitive three-dimensional quality to it—being underwater is like being in a big cube, there’s space on all sides. We had to introduce all these elements—light shafts, particulate matter, changes in the current—to remind the audience of that space. It turns out that those tricks were a huge aide in incorporating the 3D effect. It’s as if we planned for it.”

Joshua Hollander, who directed the 3D production of “Finding Nemo,” says that like lighting, camera angles, color or texture, 3D is a tool they use to support the story. “Our goal always is to honor the original film. We seek to create a captivating and rewarding 3D experience that takes the audience even deeper into the emotional aspects of the film.”

According to stereoscopic supervisor Bob Whitehill, Pixar Animation Studios has a clear philosophy when it comes to 3D. “When we approach 3D, we often think of what we call the three Cs,” says Whitehill. “First off, we want to make it comfortable, so it’s easy to watch. Secondly, we want to make it consistent with the original vision of the film—so if Nemo is meant to feel trapped in a small space in the tank in the dentist’s office, we need to make it feel small in 3D, too. Thirdly, we want to make it captivating. We want to bring a new world to the audience. If they’ve gone out of their way to see ‘Finding Nemo’ in 3D, we want to make it more immersive than ever and pull them into this world in a new and different way.”

The 3D team begins the effort by pulling the original assets, which according to Hollander, must be converted to today’s technology and copied to preserve the original film. Then they do what’s called triage, in which each shot is evaluated and made to look like the original. Like opening an old word processing document with new software, today’s technology—while superior—can’t translate every aspect of the original. “Many problems can occur as a result of changes in software or systems infrastructure, location of files or missing files, and that sort of thing. Not everything matches the original or even renders correctly. A big part of our job is to sweep through the film and fix these sorts of issues,” says Hollander.

That’s when the shots are rendered, assembling the components of the animation. “We’ve re-rendered the entire film at a higher resolution,” says Whitehill. “And because in 3D, you see a slightly different view for your left eye than your right eye, you get a brand new, bigger and clearer image to each eye.”

Whitehill, who evaluates every shot and determines where each object and character should exist in 3D space, says that while the process might be arduous—it took about nine months to complete—there is a distinct advantage in creating a 3D version of “Finding Nemo” versus a live-action film. “Imagine if you were recreating a movie ten years after it was filmed—getting all the actors back, putting them in the exact same position in an identical set and having them deliver their lines exactly as they did before with the cameras positioned just so—it’d be impossible. But we can do that here because our films are computer generated. It’s really not a conversion—we initially filmed ‘Finding Nemo’ in 2D. This time, we filmed the exact same movie in 3D.”

The result? Spectacular—though filmmakers are hard-pressed to pick just one scene that best illustrates the power of 3D. Says Whitehill, “During a sequence we call ‘First Day of School’ when Marlin brings Nemo out to the reef, you travel along with Mr. Ray and it almost feels like you’re scuba diving—you feel like you can reach out and touch the fish swimming by. Seeing it in 3D just heightens that connection to the environment and makes it more powerful.”

Adds Hollander, “Many of the characters are really cool in 3D—Nigel the pelican is fun when his beak plays with the 3D space, and the anglerfish with its little lure. A scene that really surprised me when I first saw it in 3D was the one with the whale’s approach. It’s a very long, slow shot—Dory is speaking whale and Marlin is doing what Marlin does. The whale approaches camera slowly, the krill swim past and the whale swallows Dory and Marlin. The 3D effect is really cool. I wasn’t expecting it.”

But it’s the jellyfish sequence that left Whitehill in shock. “I was struck by how swept into the story I got,” he says. “My job is to evaluate the shots technically and make sure we’re doing everything right, but I found myself fighting for our characters. In the jellyfish sequence, Marlin has Dory in his fins and he’s looking around for a way out and the camera spins around them. The jellyfish are so bright and beautiful and the 3D is really pumped up at that point. It’s a really powerful shot and I think it captures the whole emotion of that scene.”

And that’s the idea. “The whole point of this movie,” says Stanton, “is the idea of this predatory world—how do you let your kids cross the street alone when you know there are creatures all around that you can’t see? How do you deal with that fear? This film in 3D provides us with yet another way to push the audience that much deeper into the story. I can’t think of a better application for the technology.”

Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Internationl, “Finding Nemo” will be released across the Philippines in Digital 3D™ for a limited theatrical engagement starting December 5.
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