by MK Scott -
SGN Contributing Writer
I am always in awe of local people who have achieved success. The Pixar film, Finding Dory was a summer hit and it was co-directed by Northwest bred, Angus MacLane.
MacLane and I were raised in Beaverton, Oregon and we both attended Beaverton High School and owe our success to one man, our mentor and drama teacher, James N. Erickson. Other big names came from our theater program as well, including Broadway stars Brooks Ashmanskas and Shoshana Bean, NPR's Ari Shapiro, and Out Magazine writer and actor Jesse Archer.
I reached out to Angus for an interview last summer, and we finally connected just in time for Finding Dory's DVD/VOD release.
MK Scott: Angus, I wanted to chat with you because we both grew up in Beaverton, Oregon. Also, because you are the co-director of Pixar's Finding Dory that is now out on DVD and VOD. I was five years ahead of you at Beaverton High School. In fact, I saw your senior year performance.
Angus MacLane: Hello Dolly! I think the reviews were harsh but we sold out the remaining performances and that was a fun show.
MK: I know you were there at the same time as our pal, actor and writer Jesse Archer. In fact, you both starred in Wizard of Oz, you as The Scarecrow and Jesse as The Tin Man. You were quite artistic then, designing posters and set pieces. Our mentor, James Erickson (Mr. E), was a huge influence on my life in media; I am sure he was important to you too. How did he influence you?
Angus: I guess we did, we built those set pieces. Me and my dad, yeah. That is true. I forgot about that.
The idea - that was the - that drama was a place to both work on performance and art at the same time and - and ultimately animation was where I was able to combine all those talents - very similar to theatre, so yeah, definitely. Well, I think, pretty much from the get go, starting to work with Mr. Erickson, when I was a sophomore, he was a teacher and an adult that gave you as much responsibility as he thought - or as you were willing to give yourself - as much as you - you know, he gave you more than you thought you could handle. And I think he had seen so many kids at that point - at the school - he was there twenty years, at that point, maybe a little bit more - it was really an opportunity for learning, but also for responsibility, and I think the faith that he showed in the kids allowed them to kinda grow and become whoever they were gonna be, but he was only gonna help guide them by giving them confidence through responsibility. So - I don't know, I think it was interesting - he was a wonderful mentor, but I think he had - he was very positive, but also critical when necessary, and I think that more than anything he treated us as adults when we really shouldn't have been. And I think that that was - that was - it was a wonderful experience that I'm glad that I had and I treasure it.
MK: What did you like about growing up in the Northwest?
Angus: Well, having - having lived a few other places, there is a sense of community - this kind of like provincial small town community - that - is very - I don't know if it's still there 'cause I don't live there, but it's very - at the time it was - it just had this feeling - this warm feeling of being small and - of people looking out for one another - that - that was - I don't really - it - was really - may have been - youthful naiveté, but I - I just sort of always admired the sense of inclusion and community that the Northwest has. And there's a sense of it when I return home - where just the general people you meet are very kind. And - and I - and I miss that. We're in the Bay Area - and it's not unkind - I live in Berkeley, but - it's still - it's not quite the same thing. There's this - there's this sense of this shared - shared experience and - and shared community that - that it - it's - it's not, you know, something kind of - especially that time in Portland I look back on fondly.
MK: You started at Pixar close to the beginning, in the late '90s from being an animator from Toy Story 2 and 3, Bug's Life, and UP to character development of Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles.
Angus: That's correct. Yeah. It will be twenty years - my internship was twenty years ago in January - so it's been a while. But it's been a wonderful learning experience. And I've been fortunate.
MK: I read that it was your idea to give WALL-E a track around his side, which allowed him to position his arms differently and gave him a range of motion.
Angus: Well, that's very sweet. Thank you. Yeah, I guess so. I felt that it would not be advisable to have elbows on something that was small. It would just look too non-functional, so it was just an interesting way to kind of add some motion that was very similar to the way that - like a computer printer would move the inkjet around - just try - you're trying to find little moments of relatability or things that the audience can get visually and then not have to worry about and just sort of motion structures that are familiar or something that is subconsciously pleasing to the audience, so that's what I was going for.
MK: Also in WALL-E, there was a scene from Hello Dolly! Since I know you starred in a production of Dolly in high school was that your idea to incorporate that?
Angus: (laughs) It was actually not my idea, it was - the director Andrew [Stanton] had been in Hello Dolly! as well. Yeah. he had been Barnaby, and I played Horace Vandergelder, but we'd kinda bonded over our musical theater experiences, one of the things that we have in common. I remember Andrew saying that he ended up meeting with Michael Crawford over the course of the production of WALL-E and Michael Crawford had finally gotten to see WALL-E - 'cause he - I think - I don't know if he had to sign off on his uh - in his voice being used - but it was something really interesting - the way that the movie began - where it's - the very first part of the movie is - is this song um - 'Put On Your Sunday Clothes' and um - it starts with this out there - it is the first line and you see this, like, space. And apparently in the production of the film Hello Dolly uh - the director, Gene Kelly had - they were doing this scene in - and they were recording music because they, of course, had to record the music before they did the - the movie and uh - I think Gene Kelly wasn't quite getting what he wanted out of it so he told Michael Crawford to imagine the - just the universe - like not imagine the world, imagine like the - the solar system. And so the direct - and that had been the direction that would ultimately get the performance out of Michael Crawford that Gene Kelly was happy with. And so for Michael Crawford to see WALL-E and the very first image be this image of space was actually quite startling [to him] and - and an odd callback to something we didn't even know was - was an experience of his.
MK: In 2003, you worked on Finding Nemo. How did Finding Dory come about?
Angus: That's right. Well, Andrew and I - Andrew Stanton the director and I - had worked together for a number of years on WALL-E and Bug's Life - a lot of films - and he was looking for someone to just help make the movie with and it was an opportunity for him to be a bit of a mentor as he had been in the past and to potentially - like he's - he has a number of duties as vice president at the company - he wanted somebody that would understand what he wanted out of the film and be able to communicate that to the crew should he have to be in other meetings and so - we had worked together well in the past and he asked me if I would join him on the film and I, of course, said yes. So it's been a really wonderful partnership that we have. And, I think we're a wonderful complement to each other.
MK: How has the technology changed since you started at Pixar?
Angus: Well - as a filmmaker the technology will [allow us] to tell a variety of different stories or whatever stories we'll tell at the time we're able to make the movie, there were thirteen years that passed from the first film to the second film in Finding Dory and so that meant that the materials we could do - the ideas we could put on the screen were a lot less limited. In the first film, if you wanted a fish to break the surface of the water, it was gonna cost a lot of time and money and that wasn't as expensive in making the second film. So it just sort of opened the possibilities of what you could tell narratively, where the locations you could go. It doesn't necessarily make the movie any easier to make, but it was a roadblock that we didn't have on this film - there were plenty of other narrative challenges, but - for example, the water technology was something that was just much, much better this time around - and just had advanced so much in every department, every type of thing from the lighting - we took advantage of new lighting software that had first been introduced in Monsters University and the animation software was entirely different from the time that - like it was built from the ground up - since we did Finding Dory - so in every department, you're utilizing next generation tools. And that allows you a greater depth of artistic expression. That is, of all things, it's still ultimately the most challenging thing - is the storytelling and so this time the challenge was telling the story about Dory's backstory and telling a story about a character who doesn't remember a lot of stuff is a real challenge so that was just as much of a challenge as some of our technical issues or technical challenges such as Hank the Octopus, which was the most complex character that Pixar has ever attempted and I'm very proud with the result.
MK: I loved that you added lots of humor.
Angus: Well, I - I like funny things. I was gonna say one thing that we - when we're making movies we're always trying to make ourselves laugh - make things that we think are funny in the movie. So, when you - you know, if we can make ourselves laugh, having seen the movie over and over again, then we know that it's something that maybe audiences will enjoy and that's the way you kinda get through movies that take so long.
MK: The voice for little Dory was adorable!
Angus: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that was the producer's daughter, actually. And, you know, the productions take a while so she - by the time she was finished with the movie, she was a little bit too old, so she could kinda mimic the kid voice, but she was a very good actress so that - that really helped.
MK: Also, you added the message about the environment. Dory getting caught in a six-pack of plastic rings was horrifying!
Angus: Well, it seemed - kinda what I was saying before - about you want the audience to really get things easily and - the six-pack rings - you need like a very gettable, unfortunate world truth that the audience would understand what that was and it actually really helped us story-wise to separate her from Marlin and Nemo and then that was a good motivation for her to be rescued by the marine life institute staffers.
MK: Were you ever in the booth with Ellen or other stars during the recording sessions?
Angus: Usually it works where Andrew's doing most of the directing and I'm cataloguing or making sure that we have all the variety of takes, where we have what we need for the production. He'll be focusing on getting the performance and I'll throw out suggestions or ideas, but it's much more helpful to an actor to be focused on one director. Now, there were sessions where I did occasionally take some sessions by myself - but most of it was Andrew with me there trying to, you know, to react and make sure we got what we needed out of the performance. A lot of that is like maybe this would be said funnier or better - often when you're making a movie you want things to be said faster and more succinctly, and that requires sometimes some adjustment of the lines in the - in real time. But the cast that we had was fantastic and I really enjoyed working with each and every one of them.
MK: Even you added your voice to the sunfish and others.
Angus: Uh - yeah, we'll oftentimes put temporary voices in the film just because we're moving really quickly and we don't have time, you know, we're just trying things out - and because I'm in the screen actors guild, it's possible for me to keep my voice in the final film - but yeah, having internal voices is something we do occasionally and oftentimes it's - you get connected to the rhythms and the comedy of that and it's hard to replace that satisfyingly. That's kinda how that ended up there and it - there's a lot of little voices here and there - just quick lines that we recorded that we put in the film just because that's how quickly we're moving while we're making it.
MK: By the way, another Beaverton alum was a voice in a Disney film. John Ford was in Meet the Robertsons. He was the voice of Mr. Henderson, the science teacher.
Angus: Oh yeah? I didn't know that. Well, that is fascinating.
MK: What is next?
Angus: Well, I'm working on a top-secret project now that's being developed. And we'll see where that goes. Of course, I can't talk about it, but it will be coming out sometime in the future.
MK: As a director?
Angus: Well, I can't say, but I hope to.
MK: Burning question: What was the best advice you ever got from our mentor, Mr. E?
Angus: I think that it was about performance pacing. I was in a production of Little Shop of Horrors and I was cast as the dentist - because you die pretty early on, and then you could just hang out backstage, which is a real stress relief to not have a lot of lines but to have good scenes. I think that I was performing this song called 'Now (It's Just The Gas)' where the actor is doing a lot of pretending they're sucking on nitrous oxide and - I was performing and the first time I was performing it I was wearing a giant bubble helmet, in which, of course, I couldn't breathe, and I ended up cutting a lot of holes in that because I passed out, but that's another story. So when I was performing that - that particular song - it might have been the previous song that - 'You'll Be A Dentist' - anyway - regardless, the idea was that I was putting so much energy into the head of the performance and the song didn't have enough dynamic so Mr. E changed it so that - I was sort of kind of tapping out energy-wise by one or two minutes - into like a five minute song - and so it was where I kinda learned about trying to pace the comedy of it, pace the performance so that the audience are willing to listen to you and you can hold back a little bit up front and so just making sure that you pace yourself so when you go over the full performance that the audience is there the whole time with you and they don't feel like you're - you're running out by the end. And that kind of looking at the performance realistically through the whole running time of it was - that was something that I think it really was awesome.
Finding Dory is available now via Disney/Pixar, in the U.S. and Canada on DVD and worldwide on VOD: across all digital platforms from many major retailers.
Hear this interview and more at itsfab.podomatic.com
MK Scott is a Seattle-based blogger. Check out his site at outviewoline.com
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!