Finding Dory: All Things Hank!
*I was invited to Monterey courtesy of Disney • Pixar for a media event. All opinions are my own*
We are now just days away from the release of Finding Dory! Are you excited yet? You may remember that earlier this year I was up in Monterey for a very special Finding Dory media event. During this time, we had the pleasure of meeting one of Dory’s new friends, Hank. Hank is the cantankerous yet lovable octopus in Finding Dory voiced by Ed O’Neill. Created from initial character design to being animated to his final look in the film by a very talented team that included Supervising Technical Director John Halstead, Character Art Director Jason Deamer, Supervising Animator Mike Stocker, Character Supervisor Jeremie Talbot. We had the chance to sit down with some of the designers to learn about some of the new characters that you will see in this lovable new film. Here, I will share with you about all things Hank!
One of the first things we learned was that Hank the Septopus was one of the most challenging and rewarding characters that they have ever worked with. Ever wonder how a new character is developed? They shared with us how they develop a new character from scratch and what developing and animating a new character that is an animal that they have never animated before looks like.
Here are some fun things we learned about this special guy, Hank!
*All Things Hank*
*Dory’s New Friend– Hank is an octopus, or rather a “septopus” as he lost a tentacle—along with his sense of humor—somewhere along the way. But Hank is just as competent as his eightarmed peers. An accomplished escape artist with camouflaging capabilities, Hank is the first to greet Dory when she finds herself in the Marine Life Institute.
*Lucky Number 7 – When designers were working on Hank, the cantankerous octopus in “Finding Dory,” they created tapered tentacles for the cephalopod. The tentacles were modeled separately from the body, but when they tried to attach them, only seven would fit. Filmmakers later decided that it made sense that Hank would have an affliction, so they worked it into the script. Designers gave Hank 50 suckers per arm for a total of 350 suckers.
*Voiced by Ed O’Neill- “They need each other,” says Ed O’Neill, about Hank and Dory. “Hank never thought he could make friends, but he’s slowly drawn in by Dory’s charm. Through a lot of adventure, danger and fear, they bond. Stanton says O’Neill captured the character perfectly. “His voice carries that duality of curmudgeon and softie,” says the director. “We never thought of anybody else.” O’Neill said, “I Googled ‘mimic octopus’ and found this creature I didn’t even know existed. There are several different types of octopus, I learned. The one I’m playing is a shapeshifter. It’s crazy.”
*Lots of Research– First things first. Before they can animate an animal, they need to do their homework on the animal. They first learn about the species of animal by researching all of the useful and interesting things the animal does. Essentially the octopus was deconstructed before putting it back together in animation (like how he ended up with only 7 and not 8 tentacles because they would not fit on him!) They also wanted to mimic the texture and make sure that Hank had a matching pattern, color, brightness, texture and shape of a real octopus. Filmmakers studied real octopuses at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences, where several members of Pixar’s team were invited to interact with the animals. We also got to get a close look at these animals and were able to touch an octopus on our trip to Monterey!
*The mimic octopus—the inspiration for Hank—this octopus has the ability to transform itself, mimicking other creatures—a sea snake, flatfish or lionfish, for example—to ward off predators. Likewise, it can camouflage itself against its background, from jagged coral to a sandy sea bottom. It can streamline its body and fold onto itself. Its arms are covered in hundreds of suckers, which have the ability to attach to almost any surface, giving the animal unmatched mobility, as well as an uncanny ability to manipulate items like the lid of a jar. He can hide in glass bottles and in vending machines.
*Very Challenging Character to Create- Character Supervisor Jeremie Talbot shared with us that Hank would be the hardest character they had ever done from the get go. The “hood-like” webbing needed to be able to spread out flat onto any surface that Hank moves on to. They applied that hood-like webbing in the most organic way possible as it spread across the entire octopus. Character art director Jason Deamer also shared with us that “Hank was probably the hardest character I’ve ever worked on, but the coolest, too. I always thought of Hank as a reluctant superhero. I knew I was onto something when the character team basically passed out. Their attitude was, ‘It’s going to be impossible, but we can’t wait to do it.’ It’s Pixar’s character team at their finest.” Deamer’s designs showcased Hank from every angle. Of course, Hank has no intention of sticking to his original color anyway with his uncanny ability to camouflage.
*He’s got some major moves- Building limbs that move like octopus arms move was among the biggest challenges in the production. “Octopuses are incredibly flexible,” said John Halstead, supervising technical director. “They can squeeze through any hole that can accommodate their beak. We needed to find a balance between giving animators the tools to showcase that flexibility and not overwhelming them with too many controls.” Hank’s ultimate body shape called for a unique look to his flesh and how it moved. “If you move one point,” says Talbot, “the flesh reacts all along his body—more than any other character we’ve ever done. If you move his leg, the skin all the way to the base of his eyelid is moving. We had to make sure that all worked together so that the animators would have as much flexibility as possible.” It took about ONE YEAR for them to start to get the movement just right.
*Snakes– In addition to real-life octopuses, Pixar’s team found that snakes made wonderful inspiration. Disney’s 1967 classic “The Jungle Book” proved inspirational when animating Hank’s arms. Says Halstead, “There’s a great sequence where Kaa is mesmerizing Mowgli. The way his body moves as he slides along and through the tree was something the directors were really looking for in Hank’s performance.” Animators used Hank’s arms like a human’s hands—allowing him to flip switches and gesture in familiar and expressive ways. “We found that we could hide several arms,” says Stocker, “giving hints that they were there. Sometimes, we’d have a shot where all seven arms came out—and those shots took weeks, if not months, to complete.”
As a very special treat we even got to touch a real live “Hank” (but one with 8 arms) at the Monterey Bay Aquarium during our stay. Such an amazing experience to see them and how they loved to “hug” onto your arm. What amazing and gentle creatures they were. 🙂
She’s almost here and so is Hank! Finding Dory swims in on June 17th!
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