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Behind the Scenes of Finding Dory with Supervising Animator Michael Stocker

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Michael Stocker, Supervising Animator for the upcoming Disney Pixar film finding Dory, loves a challenge.  Listening to him talk about the speed bumps on the road to creating Finding Dory was as interesting as hearing him gush about the successes.  

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I got to spend a little bit of time with Stocker yesterday afternoon as he began his press tour for Finding Dory, which will hit wide release on June 17th.  His enthusiasm for the art of animation and storytelling in general, and for this project in particular, made this one of the most fun interviews I’ve done in a long time. He really opened up about some of the fun, behind the scenes making of Finding Dory, and Disney and Pixar in general.

Stocker attended Spokane Falls Community College, where he obtained degree in Commercial Art and Graphic Design. He took one film course while there, but says he was hooked and knew he wanted to work in film. While working at Boeing as an illustrator, Stocker saw a television commercial for the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit and knew at that moment that animation was where he wanted to be. He enrolled at CalArts (a school founded by Walt Disney), and secured an internship at Disney Animation as an “Inbetweener” on The Lion King.  The inbetweener, he explained to us, does all of the animation in between key frames that are drawn by the animator, and makes clean, sharp lines. “I would help the animator sort of put those drawings in and then I would put in this nice, clean line”.   He transitioned over to digital when he worked on The Incredibles at Pixar, which he said is one of his favorites because he had the opportunity to work with director Brad Bird for the first time.

When asked if he preferred hand-drawn animation or digital he replied “A good animated movie – 3D or Hand Drawn is a beautiful thing”  The story is the guiding factor, he says, and a good story can be achieved with both mediums.  He cites the beginning of Up, where we see Carl and Ellie’s story unfold, as a pivotal moment in animation “That is an amazing bit of cinema because it’s no words, it’s just music, it’s just images, it’s just animation. Up to that point I don’t know if people really thought we could tell a story about a subject matter like this, and then that happened. It was just beautiful.”

His newest project, Finding Dory is the much-anticipated sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo. The long wait between films created interesting technical dilemmas. The technology has changed so much in the past decade, that none of the assets from the previous movie could be used. The animators had to create the characters from scratch, a daunting task given how familiar people are with them. The animators would frequently get very close to finishing a character model, but realize through tests that something was just “off” and have to start again. On top of that, animating fish and other aquatic life was hard in and of itself. According to Stocker, every animator brought onto the project had to spend hours observing a real Blue Tang and Clownfish. They then had to create a small animated piece to show they grasped how the fish moved. Finally, they had to start completely from scratch and animate a line or two from the movie using the movements they observed.

FINDING DORY - HANK (voice of Ed O’Neill) is an octopus. Actually, he’s a “septopus”: he lost a tentacle—along with his sense of humor—somewhere along the way. But Hank is just as competent as his eight-armed peers. An accomplished escape artist with camouflaging capabilities to boot, Hank is the first to greet Dory when she finds herself in the Marine Life Institute. But make no mistake: he’s not looking for a friend. Hank is after one thing—a ticket on a transport truck to a cozy Cleveland facility where he’ll be able to enjoy a peaceful life of solitude. ©2016 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

FINDING DORY – HANK (voice of Ed O’Neill) is an octopus. Actually, he’s a “septopus”: he lost a tentacle—along with his sense of humor—somewhere along the way. But Hank is just as competent as his eight-armed peers. An accomplished escape artist with camouflaging capabilities to boot, Hank is the first to greet Dory when she finds herself in the Marine Life Institute. But make no mistake: he’s not looking for a friend. Hank is after one thing—a ticket on a transport truck to a cozy Cleveland facility where he’ll be able to enjoy a peaceful life of solitude. ©2016 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

One of the biggest challenges the Finding Dory animation team faced was creating a new character, an octopus named Hank (voiced by Ed O’Neil). Starting right from the design stage, Hank was difficult. Real octopuses have their mouths underneath them, not a set up that would work well in an animated film. Stocker also found himself using a hybrid 3D/hand drawn combination since creating Hank’s tentacles in 3D for every test shot was too time consuming.  The effect, makes Hank’s tentacles mesmerizing to watch, was born from frustration.  “I”m proud of Hank. I know how hard it was for the animators to animate that character and then make it feel organic and believable. When he’s on screen you can’t help watching him.”

Stocker sums up his job like this: “What we try to do is find those real moments. If you can capture them, regardless of fish, toys, cars, that’s kind of where you’ve invested yourself in these characters so much and then you hit a nerve. And there it is, like boom!”

 

Finding Dory opens in theaters everywhere on June 17th.

Captain America: Civil War – A Parents’ Guide. Can I bring my 6 year old to Captain America Civil War?

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I’m not going to lie, this may not be the most objective review of this movie you’re going to read. I totally fan-girled at this one. I love Marvel movies – I even love most of the movies starring Marvel characters made by other studios (there are some exceptions here of course, The Fantastic Four movies, the newest two Spider-Man Movies, X-Men: First Class).  I also loved the Civil War comics that the idea for this movie is based on.  So, yeah, I loved this movie.

But what about the kids? The movie is rated PG-13 for “Extended scenes of violence, action, and mayhem”, which is pretty typical stuff for a super-hero flick.  The big difference here – and what will undoubtedly be most disturbing to younger viewers – is that a lot of the “violence, action, and mayhem” occurs when the Avengers and friends are fighting each other. These fight scenes, especially as the movie reaches it climax, got increasingly more violent. I actually gasped at one point when I thought one Avenger was going to bash another Avenger’s head in. An arm gets ripped off, an assassin brutally kills a couple of civilians. Bombs go off, buildings collapse, people die. None of the wounds are especially gory or gross, but there is blood. It can be pretty rough.  That being said, if your kid has seen a bunch of other superhero flicks, this one probably isn’t going to phase them much.

The plot may be confusing to the youngest viewers. Once the civilians in the Marvel Cinematic Universe realize that all of these super cool battles come with a high number of civilian casualties, they push the government for oversight. The UN creates the Sokoiva Accords, which require Superheroes to register with and be governed by the UN.  (Side note: This was the most ridiculous scene in the movie to me. Secretary of State dude hands a 600 page document to Black Widow who looks at the title and hands it to War Machine. War Machine also glances at the title. Bam! Everyone’s mind has been made up – no one even cracks the cover of the Sokovia Accords). After being confronted by the mother of a civilian casualty, Iron Man chooses the pro-registration side. Captain America falls firmly on the side of personal autonomy  and THE LINES ARE DRAWN. Because this is technically a Captain America film, the fight centers around Bucky, the main villain from 2014’s Captain America: Winter Soldier who is also Cap’s BFF.  No spoilers here, but be aware that the plot could get confusing for younger viewers. There are a lot of side-changing and false accusations.

There’s a little bit of swearing (a goddamn, a son of a bitch and a shit).

While this movie is a little bit more intense, if your child is comfortable with the other Avengers films, this one should be fine. Just be ready to talk about why Captain America and Iron Man are fighting, and to go over some of the more confusing plot points.

So, “Can I bring my six year old to Captain America: Civil War?” I’d be fine with Kitty (currently age 9) seeing it, though I do think the plot is going to be tricky for her.