Feb 262017

Here are a few more visual development sketches done while working in Ralph Eggleston‘s art department on FINDING NEMO, way back in 2000.

Some of my drawings of turtles and pelicans seen here (as well as designs for a moorish idol and sharks posted earlier) actually made it into the ART OF FINDING NEMO book. None of the VisDev I drew for subsequent Pixar movies ever appeared in such books ever again.

Page space in those ART OF books is very limited, and there are literally thousands of drawings generated by the art department over several years to choose from, so it was an utter surprise and delight to be included my very first time working on a project for Pixar.

In the early days working on FINDING NEMO, I was allowed to draw anything at all in the script that interested me, and I played for a day or two drawing kids who might be waiting to see the dentist (who has Nemo in a fish tank in his dental surgery). Personally, I absolutely loathed visiting the dentist as a child (as I still do) so the scaredy cat kid you see below would be me.

In terms of appearance though, as a kid I probably looked most like the solitary little bloke in his scruffy school uniform (middle of the pic on the right, above).

I not only tried my hand at designing NIGEL the pelican, I also got to be his temp voice on the STORY REEL. When making these movies it’s common for the crew to record temporary dialogue used in early edits of the film, before the final actors are even cast.

Pixar had a few Australian employees at the time, and it was perhaps the first and last time that Australian voices would ever be in demand for a Hollywood cartoon, so I was in the right place at the right time. I was called to do several voices; pelicans, dentists, sharks, random fish, you name it. It was a great deal of fun.

One by one all my voices were replaced with the proper actors, but one of my performances actually remained in the movie, more or less as an oversight. I was on holiday back in Australia when the studio realised that there were a few lines of my dialogue left in the final cut of the film (for a cranky Aussie crab).

It took them a while to track me down in Australia and send me some documents to sign at the very last minute of some deadline or other, to make the whole thing official with the Screen Actors Guild. The upshot is that FINDING NEMO is the only movie I’ve ever worked for which I actually get residuals.

Sep 172011

Here are some visual development designs I drew for FINDING NEMO back in 2000, when I was freelancing for the Pixar art department and RALPH EGGLESTON.


This was around the time that I began doing artwork in the computer, and in fact this first colour image was one of the first I’d ever finished in Photoshop. The character was drawn on paper, scanned in coloured in Photoshop (but the background is a bit of a cheat because it’s a composite of a couple of photographs I found in magazines).


While working on the visual development phase of the movie, I tried my hand at rough designs for dozens of characters, but these sharks were particularly fun. In late 2001, Pixar called me back in to work in the story department, and I storyboarded on the the sharks sequence (following the incredible work done by the amazing Jim Capobianco).


The fact that I’d already spend time researching and drawing sharks helped me when storyboarding that sequence, and I was very pleased with how it worked out. One of my contributions was the ending, where an underwater exploding submarine results in one tiny bubble breaking the surface of the sea, misinterpreted as a fart by a prudish pelican. An internet discussion about FINDING NEMO referred to this as the “thinking man’s fart gag”.


I followed all the internet chit-chat about FINDING NEMO with keen interest, both before and after the movie was released, when it finally broke a several-year streak where nothing that I worked on actually got made.

May 102011

The organising, scanning and collating of old artwork continues… Here’s some FINDING NEMO concept sketches (in gouache and pencil) from early 2000.

fish tank

FINDING NEMO was the first time I’d ever worked for Pixar, as a freelance visual development artist, working mostly at home under RALPH EGGLESTON’s capable supervision. I must have jammed on visdev for about 6 months or so, until they assembled a proper art crew.


At that time, Pixar was struggling to increase its bandwidth to do more than one movie at a time, and as amazing as it is to believe now, in the year 2000 Pixar had trouble filling positions, because the focus of the animation boom back then was 2D animation in Los Angeles. MONSTERS INC was in the heat of production, and most Pixar staff artists were focused on that, so the NEMO team had to use free freelance artists like myself.


I drew fish, sharks, turtles, birds.. you name it. It was a really fun time. What you see here are some of the designs I did for the fish tank crew. I played with the idea that Jaques, who eventually became a French shrimp, was instead a kind of sea slug (called a nudibranch). That idea didn’t go too far though, because the studio had discovered on MONSTERS INC that CG tentacles were incredibly difficult to do. A pity, because I quite liked this version;


The next year, 2001, Pixar called me in to do storyboards on the same project, on a story team lead by RONNIE DEL CARMEN. By then the studio had moved from their original facility in Point Richmond, to the swanky campus they occupy now. The project was so much further along by then, and it was fun to see the progression.


I was excited to work on this film, and when it was finally released in 2003, it finally broke a curse I had been under where it seemed everything I worked on, especially if it was a cool project, got cancelled. Thanks, Nemo!


Jan 242008

Randall Sly has put up a small ONLINE TRIBUTE to the late, great DAN LEE at the always interesting Character Design Blog. Many people here in the Bay Area animation community knew and loved Dan, but for those of you who may not have heard of him, he was one of the main character designers at Pixar, doing some GREAT work on FINDING NEMO and most recently RATATOUILLE. Dan died of cancer in 2005, at the age of 35.

Jan 172005

After a long battle with cancer that got into his lungs, Dan Lee died this last weekend. He was only 35 years old. I worked with him recently at Pixar where he was one of the main character designers, but we first met at Colossal Pictures back in the mid 1990’s.

I believe that Colossal was the first place he worked at in the USA after leaving Canada. While there, amongst other things, he animated on the Koala Lumpur game that I was working on, and that’s when I got to know him. I remember that he was belting out great animation daily, and seemed highly skeptical of the fact that I loved everything he did and didn’t change anything… Anyone who worked with him back in those days probably remembers his little cubicle drapped in equal proportions with beautiful sketches, lots of pictures of Audrey Hepburn and Dan’s sweaty bike shorts.

Dan was amazingly talented, but not at all difficult about it. I remember that he was the first artist on Finding Nemo to manage a “cute fish” design. I had been wrestling with the challenge of drawing a cute fish for weeks, (it’s harder than you may think!) and Dan managed it immediately. (DOH!) If any of you have the “art of Nemo” book you will be able to see some of his very appealing little sketches of Nemo in there.

Apart from often being inspired by his easy way with a pencil, brush or stylus, I admired the fact that despite his illness Dan continued to work at his job. I suppose it continued to make him happy despite all that he was going through.

I saw Dan as Recently as late October when I was in at Pixar storyboarding on another project he was doing wonderful designs on. (the rest of you will have to wait a year or two to see his work on that film). At that time he was physically frail but was nevertheless cheerful, certainly more so than I would imagine myself being in the same circumstances…

Thanks to Amber Maclean for this recent photo of Dan, taken in December 2004.

An obituary article about Dan was published by the CBC. you can read it online here.

There is also a piece by the TORONTO SUN

UPDATE August 2005: read here about the Dan Lee Commemorative book.