Design Team

lighting designers: Beverly Emmons and Jason Kantrowitz
projection designer: Jan Hartley
set designer: GW “Skip” Mercier
puppet designer: Michael Curry
technical director for Walt Disney Entertainment: Larry Sonn
programmer: Jason Badger
scenic fabrication and automation controls: Hudson Scenic Studios
flying: Flying By Foy

The popular 2003 Disney-Pixar animated film Finding Nemo was recreated for the live stage in a 30-minute musical production, which had its world premiere in Orlando at the 1,500-seat Theater In the Wild, at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom in January 2007. The creative team included set designer GW “Skip” Mercier, lighting designers Beverly Emmons and Jason Kantrowitz, and projection designer Jan Hartley.

The underwater characters are portrayed by actor/puppeteers—a few fly, thanks to Flying By Foy—and an array of colorful puppets by Michael Curry. The stage deck is over 6,000sq-ft., and the scenery is larger than life due to the size of the stage and the size of the audience. Scenic elements were fabricated, painted, and automated by Hudson Scenic Studios.

The musical follows the plot of the film and features Marlin, an overprotective father fish who has to venture through the dangers of the deep in order to rescue his curious son, Nemo, who is held captive in a fish tank in a dentist’s office. Nemo’s dad is not the only one looking for him. In the half-hour seating period before the show starts, projected versions of Nemo dart though the Lexan bubbles on the set to the delight of the kids in the audience, who start screaming, “There he is,” every time Nemo flashes by. There are six Sanyo PLC-XF41 XGA 7,000-lumen and two Sanyo PLC-XF45 XGA 10,000-lumen projectors placed upstage and used for rear projection, including the various images seen in the bubbles, which are coated on the interior with Screen Goo to help capture light. The images in the bubbles help the people who are seated further back get a bigger cinematographic picture.

Hartley had worked with the set designer on prior projects where they successfully created video environments, which was their goal here as well. To create the video look for Nemo’s underwater habitat, Hartley went to Portland, OR to “meet” the puppets created by Michael Curry. She took along Alice Brooks, a DP based in Los Angeles, and they shot green screen sequences with the puppets to create the images around them, although the green was sometimes too close to the paint on the puppets, in which case she shot them against black. The 20’x20’ screens she was using were actually too small for some of the puppets, such as the largest jellyfish, which puts the size of the puppets in perspective.

Hartley also went to Hawaii for a one-week underwater shoot, where she found great dappling of light under the water, and used some of the footage for effects. The images were created using Sony Vegas non-linear editing software on a PC, creating loops of the Hawaii and green screen footage, as well as clips of waves and underwater environments. Hartley even went to see the Nemo attraction at EPCOT and shot and matted in some of the vibrant red, green, and blue scenic elements, making them look as if they were moving—via Dataton’s Watchout—and shot a sea anemone in a closed position and made still frames from the video to make it look like it was moving behind the puppeteers. Then in January, right before the official opening, she went back to Orlando to add additional effects as well. There is video throughout the entire show. The idea was to create an immersive video environment to frame the puppets but not imitate the look of the original Nemo movie. To project this video environment, in addition to the rear projection, there are also eight Sanyo PLC-XF45 XGA 10,000-lumen projectors placed FOH (over the central cross aisle). They are cross-projecting to fill in the portals and edges of the stage. Hartley strove to create a sense of motion and never be in a static environment, since the ocean is never still.

Selected Gear

Dataton Watchout
Sanyo PLC-XF45 XGA projectors
Sanyo PLC-XF41 XGA projectors
Sanyo LNS-W01Z short-throw fixed lens
Sanyo LNS-W02Z short-throw zoom lens
Flying Pig Systems Wholehog 2 Console
Sony Vegas editing software