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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 January, 2004, 09:40 GMT
Nemo animator's fishy tale

By Caroline Briggs
BBC News Online

Mark Walsh has worked on a number of Pixar blockbusters
Mark Walsh - the directing animator on Finding Nemo - is unusual in his choice of where best to display an Oscar.

"I'd keep it in the refrigerator," he laughs. "To keep it preserved".

He may be making space among the milk and cheese in his fridge pretty soon after Finding Nemo was nominated for four Academy Awards earlier this week.

Pixar's charming animated movie about a clown fish's search for his missing son is up for Best Animated Feature Film among others.

Just days after the announcement, Mr Walsh flew in from Pixar's studios in California to give a lecture about the making of the film at Teesside University's annual animation festival Animex.

And, as he explained, they went to extraordinary depths to capture the magic of being underwater.

I would go and eat sushi, wondering what kind of fish I was eating and I'd start to feel really guilty about it
Mark Walsh
From scuba diving off Australia to calling in the expertise of a professor of ecology, Mr Walsh said Finding Nemo was a painstaking process.

"Making fish believable is not just about waggling their tail back and forth, we wanted to be true to the swell and surge of the sea," he said.

"We went to lots of aquariums, we even called in a fish expert who had spent his life studying the movement of fish on a kind of 'fish treadmill'.

"I went [diving] off the coast of California to study the fish, but the guys who were designing the environment went to the Great Barrier Reef to get a close look at the coral.

"Just being there in the water you get a better feel for the environment and see the fish, not only how they move, but how they move with the currents, the murkiness of the water.

"The environment in Nemo is as important to the experience as the story and the characters themselves."

Finding Nemo
Finding Nemo grossed more than $500m at the box office

And it is the storyline and loveable characters that makes Finding Nemo so special.

In the film, the main character Nemo gets taken from his home in the Great Barrier Reef and ends up in an office fish tank.

Nemo's father Marlin and his amnesiac sidekick Dory search the seas for the missing fish.

The animators were limited to conveying emotions through the fish's facial expressions and the odd flick of a fin, a challenge that Mr Walsh said proved inspirational.

He added it was often the voiceover actors who provided the spark.

He said: "We always set up a video camera to record the actors and Ellen [DeGeneres], as Dory, was just fantastic, she was so expressive and I used her a lot.

"She had all these mannerisms - which we called 'Ellenisms' - that I loved.

"I was so excited to meet her that when I eventually did I think I must have given her the willies I was staring so much."

But Mr Walsh said much of his inspiration for characters comes from real life.

Ellen DeGeneres
Ellen DeGeneres provided the voice of Dory

"To be a great animator, you are not only an actor and an artist you have to be an observer of the world," he said.

"I was at the airport just the other day and saw this guy whose body was shaped just like the letter 'S' and I just thought 'wow, that's great'.

"When I got to my hotel room, I got my drawing pad out and sketched him. Who knows, he might pop up in a film someday."

Sitting in a stark, utilitarian boardroom at Teesside University, Mr Walsh is a million miles from his Polynesian Paradise-themed office back at Pixar, but his creativity and enthusiasm for his chosen career shines through.

Disney deal

He admits it can be difficult to leave work behind at the end of the day.

"I found myself thinking about fish a lot while on Nemo," he laughed.

"I would go and eat sushi, wondering what kind of fish I was eating and I'd start to feel really guilty about it.

"I also had a fish tank and I'd just sit and stare at it for hours trying to get ideas.

"It is hard to switch off when your hobby is also your work."

Monsters Inc.
Mark also worked on Monsters Inc.

On Friday Pixar announced it was ending its distribution deal with Walt Disney after nine years and five movies that have generated $2.5bn at the box office.

Pixar has said it will honour its commitment to two further films with Disney which are already in production.

Mr Walsh said: "Pixar has grown from the experience and it is all thanks to Disney.

"The relationship has proved very successful but perhaps Pixar now deserves greater independence."

The final two films with Disney are The Incredibles, due out at the end of the year, and Cars, scheduled for release in 2005.

Mr Walsh said The Incredibles - a tale about a lapsed superhero family living in the suburbs - lives up to its name.

"I have never seen the crew so excited and energised about a film. It is looking - literally - incredible."

Students' work

Mr Walsh is in Middlesbrough this week to speak at Teesside University's fifth annual animation festival alongside other big names from the world of animation such as Oscar-winning Ray Harryhausen.

He added: "Animex is fantastic, it is bringing animators from all over the globe together.

"I met the bloke who designed Bob the Builder yesterday and I was like 'wow' - I love that programme.

"It is also fantastic to get the chance to see what the students here are doing."

What about the prospects of that Oscar?

"Nemo is definitely my favourite of the films I've worked on," he said.

"If it wins, I don't know if we'd get our own Oscars, but I'd definitely get to keep it for a couple of days which would be wonderful."

Disney loses top cartoon deal
30 Jan 04  |  Business
Nemo breaks half-billion barrier
27 Jan 04  |  Entertainment
Animated Oscars list is revealed
20 Nov 03  |  Entertainment
Nemo smashes DVD record
06 Nov 03  |  Entertainment

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