The fabulous fish guy


When I saw Finding Nemo at the end of last year, I wrote about how impressed I was by its educational qualities. As it turned out, there was accurate biological detail that even I missed. In an article in Nature, they reveal that Pixar employed a fish biomechanicist called Adam Summers to give them lectures on fish locomotion, biology and marine ecology.

The Pixar people were entranced by his description of the reproductive biology of the anglerfish. In this weird deep-sea species, the males are relatively tiny and attach permanently to the females by biting through their flesh and becoming parasitic — or rather symbiotic, since they are donating sperm if nothing else — on the female and stay with her for their whole life. The animators loved it so much (and who wouldn't?) that — if you look closely — you can see that the anglerfish featured in the film has a parasitic male attached to her side. I didn't see that the first time, so I'll certainly have to watch it again.

They also asked Summers and a colleague what factual error would distress them most if featured in the film. Summers' colleague said that he would be really irritated if they featured kelp (a cold water species) in a tropical coral reef. There was a bit of an uncomfortable silence as the animators realised that they had done just that. To their everlasting credit, they painstakingly took all the kelp out and re-rendered, which must have taken them ages. In my experience, very few science or nature documentaries take that kind of meticulous care with the facts, which makes Pixar's attention to detail even more laudable.

Adam Summers got a credit at the end of the film as 'The Fabulous Fish Guy', which makes me insanely jealous. Never mind a Nobel Prize: if I ever get a credit on a Pixar film, I'll be a happy little scientist.

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