Finding Dory - Let's Talk About Hank

Remember that time I went to Monterey, California and spent some time with the brilliant Disney/Pixar filmmakers for "Finding Dory?" (Wait. Let's just stop and appreciate that sentence. Okay. Carry on.) I know. It was a few months back, but I still haven't told you everything. You can read about other portions of my trip here, here, and here

The trip was sponsored by Disney/Pixar as a promotion for their upcoming animated feature, "Finding Dory," and although I was not compensated directly, my travel expenses were paid for. All the opinions about the fabulous and crazy things I'm going to be writing about remain my own.

My Big Fat Cuban Family - Disney/Pixar "Finding Dory
Disney•Pixar's “Finding Dory” welcomes back to the big screen everyone’s favorite forgetful blue tang Dory (voice of Ellen DeGeneres), who’s living happily in the reef with Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks) and Nemo (voice of Hayden Rolence).
When Dory suddenly remembers that she has a family out there who may be looking for her, the trio takes off on a life-changing adventure across the ocean to California’s prestigious Marine Life Institute, a rehabilitation center and aquarium. In an effort to find her mom (voice of Diane Keaton) and dad (voice of Eugene Levy), Dory enlists the help of three of the MLI’s most intriguing residents: Hank (voice of Ed O’Neill), a cantankerous octopus who frequently gives employees the slip; Bailey (voice of Ty Burrell), a beluga whale who is convinced his biological sonar skills are on the fritz; and Destiny (voice of Kaitlin Olson), a nearsighted whale shark.
Deftly navigating the complex inner workings of the MLI, Dory and her friends discover the magic within their flaws, friendships and family.

Today, I want to talk to you about the octopus, Hank in the film. We got to spend time with Supervising Technical Director John Halstead, Character Art Director Jason Deamer, Supervising Animator Michael Stocker, and Characters Supervisor Jeremie Talbot. I don't know which was more fun: actually spending time with these guys or realizing that these are REAL jobs that people get to do. (I know. Shut up.)

Hank Design (Concept Art) by Character Designer Jason Deamer. ©2016 Disney•Pixar

Hank Design (Concept Art) by Character Designer Jason Deamer. ©2016 Disney•Pixar

So how do you animate an octopus?  Apparently it's a very tricky process to make it look believable. We talked about octopuses in general (I had to look up the plural and yes, that's what it is in English) and their behaviors and how they move and where their mouths are (underneath) and how their tentacles are wired and how you would actually animate one. 

Photo taken at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. M. Darby

Photo taken at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. M. Darby

We talked a lot about Hank the Octopus, specifically, and what pains they took to animate him for "Finding Dory." These guys studied all kinds of octopuses (I swear, I looked it up) and spent time up close and personal with the Giant Pacific Octopus in the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which we also got to visit.  

Used by permission. ©Disney/Pixar 2016

Used by permission. ©Disney/Pixar 2016

Some of the things we learned were that these animals can change their skin color to blend in with the rocks around them, a key element that is very useful to Hank in the film, and even the Giant Pacific Octopus, the largest in the world, can squeeze itself into tiny, out-of-the-way spaces. 

This is excellent information to have if you're going to be spending time getting to know an octopus. They're masters of disguise and phenomenal escape artists. All of these characteristics went into the character creation of Hank. 

Hank the Octopus from Disney/Pixar's "Finding Dory" - used by permission. ©Disney/Pixar 2016

Hank the Octopus from Disney/Pixar's "Finding Dory" - used by permission. ©Disney/Pixar 2016

  • It took 2 years to create the character of Hank from start to finish.
  • The tentacles were modeled separately from the body, but when they tried to attach them, only seven would fit, so Hank only has 7 tentacled limbs.
  • The designers gave Hank 50 suckers per arm for a total of 350 suckers.
  • Hank is almost like a ninja in the way he can camouflage himself to fit his environment. The filmmakers used this with hilarious results.
  • Hank's mouth isn't seen, so all of his expressions come through his eyes and eyebrows. 
  • He's voiced by Ed O'Neill, which is a perfect fit for this cantankerous and slightly paranoid octopus. 
Used by permission. ©Disney/Pixar 2016

Used by permission. ©Disney/Pixar 2016

Now, I have to interject right here that a slimy sea creature with tentacles doesn't really personally appeal to my Cuban sensibilities.  But we learned that octopuses, although mostly loners, can be pretty friendly. 

Let's talk about "friendly." What exactly does that mean when referring to an octopus? I was very content to just take pictures of him in his habitat through the glass. Because that's how the world is supposed to work. 

Giant Pacific Octopus at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. photo: M.Darby

Giant Pacific Octopus at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. photo: M.Darby

In fact, I may or may not have blurted out in awe, "Look at all those giant suckers!" But that's not important right now.

So, let me ask this question: Just how friendly do you want to get with an animal that moves via tentacles and suction cups? See what I mean? There's nothing in this scenario that appeals to me. Also, the last time Disney/Pixar used tentacles in anything was in Monsters, Inc. That's right. MONSTERS. I rest my case.

But there was no stopping intrepid and curious bloggers. We were going to be fully immersed in the true Hank Experience. The Monterey Aquarium arranged for us to visit the Giant Pacific Octopus and we learned we would get a chance to go back behind the scenes and pet him. Hmm. 

Pet the octopus. I confess I hesitated. 

They took us up two by two to get an up close visit with this beautiful, and slimy escape artist. I decided very quickly that maybe I just might pet the octopus after all, but I would not hold it.

I was partnered with my very adventurous friend, Shelby of OC Mom Blog, who really, really, really wanted to pet the octopus.  "Sure, Shelby. I'd be happy to take your photo while YOU pet the octopus." 

So happy the Disney/Pixar press guy was there at this moment because a few things happened all at once. I thought, "Ok. Maybe I will just at least touch his skin to say I had done it."

That's me in the blue on the right, bravely taking photos of the Great Octopus Petting of 2016. Photo: Disney/Pixar

That's me in the blue on the right, bravely taking photos of the Great Octopus Petting of 2016. Photo: Disney/Pixar

Shelby: "Marta, take my picture!"  Me: "Of course, Shelby. Let me get into position." Shelby: "Now you pet him."

My plan was to pet him with my left hand, and take a photo of this moment holding my camera with my right hand. I reached out to pet this sweet, tame octopus (and document it). And then...

The octopus responded back in THE FRIENDLIEST WAY POSSIBLE by flipping his tentacles "FFWAPP!" (I swear that was the sound) directly over my hand and tightening his grip on my outstretched arm. Just then, every horror movie that involved tentacles and screaming came to mind. 

I tried to keep my wits and take a quick photo. This is the result...

Photo of Marta petting the octopus: M. Darby

Photo of Marta petting the octopus: M. Darby

That's me trying to untangle myself from the Tentacles of Doom. *insert high pitched girly screaming here* while attempting to Document the Magic. 

Did I get the photo? No, of course not, because it was A GIANT OCTOPUS. And it had LONG TENTACLES. And it was SLIMY. I knew we were done when I was, not very calmly, looking for the exits and my head may or may not have been twitching from the horror of it all.

Okay, so I'm not the Octopus Whisperer. Sue me.

Octopus Wrangler at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. photo: M.Darby

Octopus Wrangler at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. photo: M.Darby

Lucky for you, you won't need to handle a live octopus when you make plans to see "Finding Dory" on Friday, June 17, 2016. And I promise you'll be delightfully entertained by the octopus on the screen, whose name is Hank.

You know I wouldn't be telling you this if it wasn't true. After all, I survived the Great Octopus Petting of 2016. (Shut up.)