Study Guide

Finding Nemo Behind the Scenes

  • Director

    Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich

    Okay, Andrew Stanton's not just the writer on this movie—he's also the director, too. Finding Nemo marked Stanton's directorial debut, but he had some help from fellow Pixar co-director, Lee Unkrich. Both Stanton and Unkrich had been with Pixar since the early days, so it made sense to have them team up for this undersea adventure. The pairing paid off when Finding Nemo won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

    Not too shabby.

    Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich would both go on to have pretty impressive careers at Pixar. Stanton directed WALL-E and Finding Dory, while Unkrich got to sit in the director's chair again for Toy Story 3 and the Día de los Muertos -inspired movie Coco.

  • Screenwriter

    Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, and David Reynolds

    Like many Pixar bigwigs, Andrew Stanton got his degree in character animation from the California Institute of the Arts before coming to work for this new company built on computer animation. He was part of the screenwriting team for all of Pixar's previous hits, so it made sense that he would get to helm his own ship with Finding Nemo.

    Stanton says he first got hooked on thinking about the secret lives of fish when he was a child and noticed that his dentist's office had a big, mesmerizing fish tank. Later, when he became a dad, Stanton realized how overprotective he was of his own son.

    Yup: Stanton was an unholy (and wholly talented) combo of Darla and Marlin.

    When Stanton pitched the idea for Finding Nemo to his boss, John Lasseter, he spent about an hour going through the story. At the end, Lasseter told him, "You had me at fish."

    (So much less cheesy than "You had me at hello.")

    Bob Peterson was also an animator at Pixar who had worked on art for Toy Story and contributed to screenplays for A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2 before tackling Finding Nemo (and providing the voice for Mr. Ray). Later, Peterson would go on to write and direct Up…and make a whole lot of people cry their eyes out.

    David Reynolds is the only screenwriter on this project who didn't work directly for Pixar at the time. He started out as a writer for Late Night with Conan O'Brien and then provided some additional story help on A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2 before diving head first into Finding Nemo.

    In 2004, all three awesome writers were nominated for an Academy Award for their work on Finding Nemo. While the movie scored an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, no one added any gold to his mantel for the writing.

    Hey, you can't win them all.

  • Production Studio

    Pixar

    Back in 1995, Pixar revolutionized the film industry by coming up with Toy Story—the first full-length computer animated movie in the history of ever. They followed that creative feat up with a string of hits—A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc., and Toy Story 2.

    These guys were on the top of their game and they weren't about to stop (giving you all the feels and making you weep over animation).

    Finding Nemo was the fifth film in Pixar's quest towards animated world domination. Unsurprisingly (it's Pixar, after all), it's awesome.

    But it might come as a surprise that this film went through some changes during production on its way to cartoon greatness. Coral's death at the beginning of the movie was originally scattered throughout the film in a series of flashbacks. Gill was also a villain in the first draft. And the pelicans, Nigel and Gerald, had a whole lot more screen time.

    But, with changes, the film got better and better and Pixar cemented its image as a production company run by filmmakers (i.e. creative folks) rather than executives (those guys in fancy suits).

    One person who wasn't a fan of Nemo and his adventures? The then-current CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner. This guy saw some early cuts of the film and thought it was pretty so-so. He believed that Finding Nemo would be a "reality check" for the brain trust at Pixar and a bit of a fishy flop.

    This wasn't necessarily a bad thing though. See, the time was coming for Disney to renegotiate its distribution contract with Pixar, and a failed ocean adventure could be just the thing Disney needed to prove that Pixar wasn't all that plus a bag of chips (and by "chips" we mean "Australian for French fries").

    Oh, man, but they were wrong. So very wrong.

    Finding Nemo premiered to rave reviews (99% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes—not too shabby) and became Pixar's highest grossing movie ever…until it was passed by Toy Story 3 in 2010).

    It was nominated for four Academy Awards and actually won one for Best Animated Feature . Oh, and the DVD version? It's only the top selling DVD of all time.

    So, yeah: Nemo did okay for itself.

    Naturally, when it came time for Pixar to renegotiate their deal with Disney, they made a whole lot of demands for more money and more control. Like a boss.

    Negotiations between Steve Jobs (the head of Pixar) and Michael Eisner fell apart and it wasn't until Eisner finally stepped down as Disney CEO that Pixar was able to come to a new agreement to keep making lots and lots of movies together. The lesson: never bet against a fish tale.

  • Production Design

    Computer-Generated Animation

    In 1995, Pixar kicked off the computer-generated animation boom with Toy Story, the first ever full-length cartoon film made entirely on a computer. Before that, the vast majority of animation was drawn by hand, which meant huge teams of artists working tirelessly to draw individual cells of animation.

    It was hard work…but it did give us classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Bambi, and Dumbo.

    All that first changed in the late 1980's, when computers finally became awesome enough to create the same high quality product as those hard-working artists. Plus, the new technology could add dimension—literally. Traditional animation could only be done in 2-D, so it always looked flat up there on the screen.

    But with computer-generated animation, you could create an animated world with as much depth as a real one. And that's important in a movie that takes place not only in the real world on land, but also deep beneath its blue oceans. Added depth requires, well, added depth.

    By the time Finding Nemo came out in 2003, loads of other movies—Antz, Shrek, Ice Age —had already taken the computer-animation baton and run with it. Each successful computer-created cartoon only added to the demand. But, even in that company, Finding Nemo is pretty elite. To this day, it's still one of the highest grossing animated movies of all time.

  • Music (Score)

    Pixar's first four movies all featured award-winning music written by Randy Newman. But for Finding Nemo, the creators decided to move in a different direction. For starters, they didn't want to feature songs with lyrics like in Toy Story's "You've Got a Friend in Me." Nope. Randy Newman was not needed.

    So they got his cousin instead.

    Okay, to be fair, Randy's cousin Thomas Newman was a successful Oscar-nominated composer in his own right. Plus, Andrew Stanton liked him—in fact, Stanton said he actually wrote the story for Finding Nemo while listening to some of Thomas Newman's past work.

    At the time he was hired to score this fish tale, Newman had received Academy Award nods for movies like The Shawshank Redemption, Road to Perdition, and American Beauty. He wound up with another nomination for Finding Nemo as well…because that's just how awesome he is.

    Thomas Newman admitted that he was a little nervous stepping in Randy Newman's place, but it turns out his style was the perfect fit for this film. The score is a whole lot more dark and dramatic than previous Pixar films.

    But it really works. After all, this is a movie filled with loss, sadness, and danger. A little musical melancholy is just what the doctor ordered.

  • Fandoms

    Unless you've been living in a secure underground bunker with no access to the outside world (and, in which case, how are you reading this?), you've definitely heard of Pixar.

    These guys have made some of the top grossing, most critically acclaimed movies of the last twenty years. Finding Nemo was their fifth film and it continued the streak of greatness that lasts to this day. Just check out their Rotten Tomatoes stats. These guys don't mess around.

    So, it's no surprise that a massive Pixar fandom is alive and well. You'll find fans hunting down Easter eggs, and even coming up with a theory for how the entire Pixar universe actually exists on one timeline.

    There are also websites like Pixar Planet and Pixar Times hopelessly devoted to all things animated and Pixar-tastic.

    It's pretty impressive.

    Finding Nemo has its own set of superfans, too. Kids loved the movie so much that they asked for clownfish in their tanks. Or tried to free their existing fish with very tragic results. You can watch Darren Criss sing to Ellen DeGeneres about getting a Dory-centric story years before the next chapter in our ocean adventure was announced.

    And, if you're in doubt about your Nemo love, just take this quiz and find out exactly how deep your passion for this little clownfish runs.