In Finding Dory, which comes out in just a couple of weeks (eek!), there’s a slew of new characters. I had a chance to talk with some of the character designers during the media event I attended. When asking which ones they felt most connected to, they pointed out that the hardest characters to animate often become the most enjoyable since they spend the most time working with them. With this in mind, Hank the septopus was hands-down the staff favorite. This grumpy but caring critter, voiced by Ed O’Neill, plays a major role in Finding Dory but, boy was he a toughie to animate! Oh, before we go any further, I should mention that Hank is actually a “septopus” as he is missing one tentacle (thus the adjusted prefix).
Animating Hank the Septopus in Finding Dory
So what made Hank the septopus so difficult? It has to do with the nature of octopuses (yes, I typed that right as using octopi to pluralize is not as common). These slippery and malleable creatures can change the pigment, pattern, color, brightness, and texture of their skin. Add to that the flexible body and tentacles along with the individually controlled suckers and you’ve got an animation nightmare. The only easy part was deciding which color Hank would be. Since most of his scenes are with Dory, he had to be a color that complimented Dory’s bright blue and that ended up being red.
Animators basically had to visually deconstruct an octopus to figure out how it moved. To do that, they had to spend some time up-close and personal with an octopus or two. The Monterey Bay Aquarium just happens to have an octopus exhibit with several species, including the giant octopus. Usually, you can only see these animals from this angle.
Meeting a Giant Pacific Octopus
However, as a special treat, I was able to go behind the scenes to meet the giant octopus in person!
To prevent it from escaping (which you’ll see reports of from around the world), the tank was lined with Astroturf. That is the only surface they cannot stick to. The minute the cover was taken off, the giant octopus swam over to us. It was VERY social and to say it was touchy-feely would be an understatement. I actually had to gently peel the tentacles off as they made loud popping noises and left hickeys on my arms.
The experience was amazing, cool, and kind of gross at the same time. Also, they always have a few extra in the back since most octopuses have a naturally short lifespan. Some live for only one year while the giant octopus lives just 2-5 years.
Challenges of Animating Hank the Septopus
Now, the team at Pixar have animated tentacles before but not a whole body, especially one as complicated as that of an octopus. For example, the webbing on an octopus isn’t just at the base of the tentacle. No, that webbing goes throughout the body, even sliding over itself.
The tentacles required more detail in this movie as well. Tentacles hold a curl at the end, have no bones, and have a “squishy” look to them. The movement also changes depending on if the octopus in on land or in the water. And, as mentioned earlier, each sucker (more formally known as a siphon) is controlled separately. When the suckers make contact with the ground, they spread out as if extra weight is put on it. One scene took TWO years to animate with one full year used just to test the tentacles!
All of that hard work really paid off. The end result of Hank is astonishing. You can meet him and the other characters in Finding Dory when it is released in theaters nationwide this month!
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.