'Finding Nemo': A different kind of 3-D experience?

By Jeffrey Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 12 2012 4:03 p.m. MDT

"Finding Nemo"

Pixar

Enlarge photo»

Following on the heels of “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast,” Pixar’s 2003 undersea classic “Finding Nemo” is the most recent Disney feature to get the 3-D treatment.

If the buzz is accurate, this could be one 3-D experience that justifies spending a little extra for the chance to see it in theaters.

So, what’s so special about “Finding Nemo 3-D”? Well, particulate matter, for one.

As “Finding Nemo” co-director Lee Unkrich explains in this Disney-produced featurette. “When we were making ‘Finding Nemo,’ we worked really, really hard to dial in the ingredients visually of the water to give a sense of depth.”

This included details like bits of oceanic detritus on the screen, drawing the audience into the watery environment.

"The floating particulate matter, which we put in the original movie to give it a sense of murkiness, like the real ocean, plays so amazingly well on 3-D," said stereo supervisor Bob Whitehill who, together with his team, spent the last year and a half converting “Nemo” to 3-D — a process that included manually tweaking each bit of particulate matter.

“Finding Nemo” was chosen as Disney’s next 3-D feature largely because of how uniquely suited the film is to the 3-D experience.

As Whitehill told MTV News, “Having characters that float and hover makes it, on a shot-by-shot basis, great in 3-D."

It isn’t just the creative minds at Pixar that have been excited about the prospect of seeing the vibrant underwater environments with an extra dimension. Filmmaker James Cameron, whose 2010 sci-fi epic “Avatar” launched the 3-D craze, expressed his excitement, telling USA Today that “No film in history ever cried out more for 3-D.”

Of course, the trend of converting 2-D movies into 3-D has its share of critics, many of whom see it as, at best, an expensive gimmick — if not a major distraction that can ruin a movie.

Pixar’s philosophy for 3-D filmmaking, however, emphasizes audiences' emotional responses over cheap gimmicks. “When we approach 3-D, we often think of what we call the three Cs,” Whitehill said. “First off, we want to make it comfortable, so it’s easy to watch. Secondly, we want to make it consistent with the original vision of the film — so if Nemo is meant to feel trapped in a small space in the tank in the dentist’s office, we need to make it feel small in 3D, too. Thirdly, we want to make it captivating. We want to bring a new world to the audience. If they’ve gone out of their way to see ‘Finding Nemo’ in 3-D, we want to make it more immersive than ever and pull them into this world in a new and different way.”

In other words, don’t expect to see swordfish noses popping out of the screen at the audience.

So far, the critical reception has been overwhelmingly positive. A New Zealand entertainment site said the film’s thoughtful 3-D conversion “turns the screen into an aquarium, emphasizing Pixar’s beautiful sense of depth, framing and cinematography.”

Likewise, Film School Rejects’ Neil Miller writes, “Pixar did something spectacular with their 3-D conversion: they used restraint.”

Still, Nemo's digital upgrade is not without its detractors. Nick Schager of the Houston Press calls it “a re-release whose cash-grab intentions are as transparent as the crystal-clear Sydney ocean,” adding that it exists only to relieve parents of money for a movie they undoubtedly already own.”

For a lot of audiences, though, the snazzy 3-D retrofit may just be an excuse to experience Marlin and Dory’s underwater adventure on the big screen.

Co-director Andrew Stanton said, “To me, the biggest thrill of ‘Nemo’ going 3-D is it’s an opportunity to get a whole new generation of kids to see it like it was originally seen.”

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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