“Finding Dory’s” Hank, the shape-shifting, curmudgeonly, camouflaging octopus (voiced by Ed O’Neill), represents Pixar’s latest character achievement. He’s an essential sidekick for Ellen DeGeneres’ elevated Blue Tang, lovingly (and wisely) referred to as “anarchy in motion.”
“Hank was one of the most challenging characters ever built at the studio,” Supervising Technical Director John Halstead told IndieWire. “An octopus’ extreme flexibility and the absence of a skeleton meant that we had to rethink our traditional approach to character construction and animation. We poured everything we had into him, and it was almost three years from the start of initial character design until we completed our first shots with Hank.”
There were issues of ground contact with more than 350 suckers and Hank’s mantle (the bulbous sack that hangs down behind his head). His arm had to push up to the mantle and the mantle had to hold something over the top of him.
“There are so many parts that we had to break him apart,” Character Supervisor Jeremie Talbot told IndieWire. “How do the [more than 350] suckers work? Simulation took on that task. What about the webbing between the legs and how that interacts with the face? The character department tackled that. And the art department figured out the overall aesthetic of Hank and how that fit in with the limitations of technology.”
He added, “Characters are like action figures that get handed over to animation and you never know what they’re going to do with them.”
When Jason Deamer, the character art director, first pitched the idea of Hank as a shape-shifting character that could change colors, his department “pretty much passed out. They knew right away how hard it would be,” he told IndieWire.
Hank was a research project right from the beginning. Pixar started the modeling and rigging process before the design or story were completed.
“But what’s nice about that is his design evolved a lot during that modeling and rigging process,” Deamer said. “One thing that happened was we gave a crude rig to animation so they could learn how to control it. What they immediately discovered is that it was very busy trying to move eight tentacles around. I think we cut the length of his tentacles almost in half, just from seeing that first animation test.
“The biggest challenge was figuring out how to control it… and the back and forth was about how to make controls that were easy to handle and repeatable from tentacle to tentacle,” added Deamer. “Each tentacle rig had five rotation controls and up near the hand there were more pivot controls for hand gestures. And then you had the skirt controls.”
“We never could’ve done an octopus in the first movie but, fortunately, the technology barely allowed us to get away with doing it on this one,” director Andrew Stanton told IndieWire.