When it comes to "Finding Dory" producer Lindsey Collins,
she takes "going-with-your-gut" to a whole new level.
To explain: This Occidental College graduate joined Walt
Disney Animation Studios straight out of school in 1994. And after working as a
PA on "Pocahontas" & "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," Lindsey had just been
made assistant production manager on "Hercules" when she began hearing people
talk about Pixar.
"I was working at Disney with Ron & John (Author's note:
That's Ron Clements & John Musker, the acclaimed animation directing team
behind not only "Hercules" but also "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin" and WDAS'
soon-to-be-released "Moana") and was really enjoying that experience. But just
before 'Toy Story' came out, there was a brief blurb in the company newsletter
about Pixar. And I was like 'Well, who are these guys?' And then I got to meet
John Lasseter and was just totally blown away by what he and his team were
doing," Collins recalled during a recent phone interview.
Lindsey Collins. Copyright Disney Pixar
"Anyway, Disney liked what I was doing at Feature Animation
and really wanted me to stay on there. So they offered me a contract. And I was
like 'I'm fine. I can stay here.' So I signed that contract. And then I went
home and threw up all night," Lindsey laughed.
"The very next day, I went back into Disney and said 'I'm sorry. I can't
do this. I really have to go.' Then I went up to the Bay area and basically
pounded on Pixar's door & said 'please, please, please hire me.' "
Luckily for Ms. Collins, Pixar Animation Studios was just in
the process of gearing up to do "A Bug's Life." More to the point, Sharon
Calahan - the director of photography on that production - saw lots of potential
in this recent Mouse House escapee.
"Sharon was hugely involved with Pixar's decision to hire
me. And part of that was because I had worked with background painters while I
was at Disney Feature Animation. So even though I had no clue how CG worked at
that time, I could talk with Sharon in the terms of painting. And she was like
'That's exactly how I want people around here to start thinking when it comes
to how we light our scenes,' " Collins continued.
Sharon Calahan. Copyright Disney Pixar
"Mind you, I was the one who kept telling Sharon 'I don't
know how helpful I can be to you guys. Because I really don't understand a lot
of what you're saying when it comes to CG.' But she wouldn't give up on me.
Sharon kept insisting that - because I had already worked with artists and knew
how to communicate a vision for a painting - I was also going to be able to
communicate with software engineers. It was just a matter of learning a new
language. Sharon was instrumental in convincing me that I had any right to be
at Pixar," Lindsey stated.
Which isn't to say that life was initially easy for Collins
at Pixar. First there was that steep learning curve which came with her new job
("When I first got here, I had no idea what a render farm was. I was like
'There's a farm? Like a petting zoo?' "). Then there was the fact that the Port
Richmond office park which housed this animation studio at that time was
downwind of a Chevron plant ("Sometimes - because there'd be explosions or gas
leaks at that plant -- we'd then be told to shelter in place or to not come
into work at all that day. We used to call those toxic snow days").
But even under these somewhat stressful & occasionally
toxic conditions, Lindsey thrived. Largely because she really loved her new
co-workers at Pixar ("They were people who could really make me laugh. In a way
I didn't know that real adults / professionals could make me laugh. And I feel
like I haven't stopped since I got here").
Copyright Disney Pixar
But it hasn't all been big laughs. Take - for example - what
happened when Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar Animation Studios, approached
Collins (who was producing "Finding Dory" at that time) about a change that he
wanted to make to that Andrew Stanton film.
"Pixar had this new renderer that it wanted to try out. And
Ed felt 'Dory' would be the perfect project to try this new technology on. The
only problem was that - when Ed approached me - we were already well into
production on this 'Finding Nemo' sequel. Which meant - if we were going to
take full advantage of what Ed was offering us - we'd then have go back and
redo a bunch of stuff we'd already done on this movie," Lindsey said.
"But the good news was - because "Dory" was a sequel to
"Nemo" - we weren't discovering a look for this movie. We were just trying to
improve on it," Collins continued. "And that was the handshake deal that Ed was
offering. That - if we agreed to use this new renderer plus some new lighting
& shading tools. Basically reinventing the entire back end of the Pixar
production line - we'd then end up with a far better looking film that was
still set in the same world as 'Nemo.' As long as the studio delivered on that
promise, Andrew was willing to go for it. Mind you, it would be another full
year before Andrew would then actually get to see any footage that this new
renderer produced. So it was a huge leap-of-faith on his part. But Andrew was
incredibly excited when the redone 'Dory' footage began coming in and it all
looked so great."
Another technology challenge that Lindsey had to deal with
while producing this "Finding Nemo" sequel was Hank the septopus. But in this
case, as soon as Collins saw this character described in an early draft of Stanton's 'Dory' script, she immediately got
Pixar's character department involved.
"When you're working as a producer, you get to see pages a
lot earlier than the rest of the crew. And as soon as I read that first scene
with Hank, I turned to Andrew and said 'Just how big a character are we talking
here?' And he said 'I think it's a pretty big role.' And I was like 'Okay.' And
I then went down to the character department and told them that Andrew wanted
to add an octopus to the cast. And they all went kind of pale," Lindsey said. "I
think what they knew right-off-the-bat that - if we were going to do an octopus
in the 'Nemo' / 'Dory' world with all of the realism & beauty that entails
and then have that character fit in - it was going to be incredibly difficult
if not kind of impossible to pull that off. Largely because the character of
Hank couldn't be super-cartoony."
"I mean, on 'Finding Nemo,' we had had Pearl, the little
octopus who was in Mr. Ray's class. But clearly the whole point of a character
like Hank was that he needed to be a jack-of-all-trades. That this character
was going to have to be able to get in & out of everything. So the character
department knew - right off the bat - that this was going to be something that
would kind of break the bank, if you will," Collins continued.
"Now what you have to understand about Pixar is that we play
'Chicken' a lot here. By that I mean, we see how long we can let something sit
on the page before we then have to finally move it into production. But when it
came to Hank, that just wasn't an option," Lindsey stated. "Based on this
character's needs, Hank was going to take every minute we had, all the time
between when he first appeared in Andrew's script and when we'd be in full
production on 'Dory' to build this. So we needed to commit very early on this
character. But the good news is that I think we bet right on Hank. He actually
wound up being a far bigger character in this film. And I think that was
partially because the technology which drove this character was so cool."
So how did it feel - after five years of hard work - to have
"Finding Dory" become this hugely popular motion picture? The fifth animated
film in all of Hollywood history to earn over a billion dollars at the
worldwide box office? Collins - the mother of three - put a somewhat maternal
spin on her reply.
"You have to understand that - when you work on projects
like 'Dory' or 'John Carter' for as long as Andrew and I did - these movies are
kind of like your kids. In that they then go off & have their own successes
& failures which are kind of beyond your control as a parent," Lindsey
said. "But as you're finishing up working on a film, emotions do sometimes well
up at the weirdest time."
Thomas Newman (L) and Andrew Stanton in the booth during the recording sessionsfor "Finding Dory" 's score. Copyright Disney Pixar
Take - for example - what happened while Collins &
Stanton were sitting in the recording booth as Thomas Newman rode herd on "Finding
Dory" 's scoring sessions.
"We'd had this huge orchestra for four days. And then - on
the last day - Tom cleared the stage and recorded the scene where Nemo, Marlin
& Dory reunite in the pipes under the Marine Life Center. Now you have to
understand that this is one of the only times in his score for 'Finding Dory'
that Tom reprises a cue from "Finding Nemo.' And he has this single clarinet -
or was it an oboe? - play that cue," Lindsey recalled. "And as this was
happening, Andrew got really quiet. He was just sitting there, watching."
"So I went up to him and said 'What's going on? How are you
feeling about all this?' Because we were finishing this film up at that time.
And Andrew looked at me and he was really emotional. And then he said "I
remember the first time I wrote Dory's name on a piece of paper. I can't
believe how far she's come.' And that's when I started getting emotional too, "
Andrew Stanton & Lindsey Collins. Copyright Disney Pixar
And speaking of " ... how far she's come," one might say the
same thing about Lindsey. Who - it should be noted here - when she was studying
at Occidental College 25 years ago, didn't major in business or film studies.
But - rather - diplomacy and world affairs.
"Those diplomacy skills do actually come in handy when
you're working on a movie. But you want to honestly know the very best thing
you can do at college if you eventually hope to become a producer? Work as an
RA," Collins concluded. "Katherine Sarafian - who's also a producer here at
Pixar -- also ran a dorm while she was in college. And the two of us agree that
that job was great training for becoming a producer. When you're constantly
dealing with people and have to get answers to ridiculous questions like 'Okay,
who pooped in the closet?' "
The Blu-ray & DVD version of Pixar's "Finding Dory" hits
store shelves today.
This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, November 15, 2016