My family and I have been going to Monterey Bay Aquarium for years. Some of our fondest memories were created at this somewhat local gem from the time Munchkin played in the Splash Zone as a toddler, to the time we bought her a stuffed sea otter and she christened it with hot chocolate, to busy Homeschool Days with friends. Each visit provided new and unique experiences. This time was no different as I returned last month for an event with Pixar for Finding Dory at Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Finding Dory takes place a short while after the events from Finding Nemo. This time the focus is on Dory and the distant search for her family. The story unfolds among four main environments — the reef, open water, kelp forest, and Marine Life Institute (MLI) aka Human World. All of these settings are found at Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is why so much inspiration for the movie was drawn from there.
Finding Dory at Monterey Bay Aquarium — The Reef
The Reef is home to multitudes of colorful and fascinating fish. The coral has soft and inviting shapes with warm colors that make you feel cozy and secure. At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, you can “find” Dory, Marlin, Nemo, and more in the Splash Zone. Did you know there are both orange Clownfish AND black Clownfish?
Finding Dory at Monterey Bay Aquarium — Open Water
A visit to the Open Sea gives you a glimpse into the vast expanse of the deep ocean.
The huge open space is overwhelming and even the tallest person is dwarfed among the schools of fish, sea turtles, massive tunas, and menacing sharks constantly moving about. Still, it’s so relaxing and was the perfect venue for the evening reception we had.
My favorite among them, the Sunfish, is no longer on exhibit. The last one died and new ones are too slow (both speed wise and mentally) to figure out how to eat in the tank.
Finding Dory at Monterey Bay Aquarium — Kelp Forest
This exhibit is three stories in height and “is the first and largest living kelp forest community created at any aquarium” according to the handout we received. Production Designer Steve Pilcher and Sets Art Director Don Shank carefully studied this area. Instead of creating a carbon copy, they paid attention to the tiniest of details to capture the same feeling and emotion. In the movie, look for scenes featuring a soft focus, floating particulates, illuminating backlight, defined sun rays, serrated edging of kelp, oxygen in the water, and a mirror-like surface above.
Guess who else lives among kelp — sea otters! I can watch these adorable little guys (or girls) for hours! On this trip, I was to see them from the other side of the glass (technically it was above).
Our group went behind-the-scenes and up on the roof of the viewing tanks with Aquarium animal care staff to learn about the sea otters. It was so fun to see how they interacted with the visitors, each other, and trainers. Will these be in Finding Dory? I sure hope so.
Two days before our visit, a wild sea otter gave birth in the safety of the Monterey Bay Aquarium tide pool area. We were all so ecstatic that she came back and we were able to get some quality photo and video time of her and her new pup!
Finding Dory at Monterey Bay Aquarium — MLI
Compared to the inviting landscape of the coral reef, the human world can be quite boring and bland. At least, that is the contrast made between Dory’s home and the Marine Life Institute (modeled after Monterey Bay Aquarium). Thousands of pictures were taken on research trips for the film to mimic the work areas of real aquariums, most of which are gray and angular.
However, makeshift garage fixes such as hooks being formed out of PVC pipes, stylizing of signs, weathering of concrete walls, crude-looking tanks for isolating and rehabilitating fish, etc. were also added. The more authentic and believable a location is, the less it looks like computer animation and the better it serves the story. Then there’s the scene in the touch pool. I won’t spoil it for your but, well, you’ll like it 🙂
Finding Dory will be in theaters June 17, 2016!
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I was invited on an all-expense paid media trip as a guest of Disney and PIXAR in honor of the Finding Dory movie. All opinions are my own.