In using 3D and other special effects in different scenes, you were certainly subtle with your approach. It wasn’t overload, and it was just enough. 

Exactly. And I don’t want it to feel gimmicky which I think it can. What I really wanted to do with the 3D was to use it to draw the audience into the frame, and I particularly wanted to use it for the opening and then for the night ballet—the times that we’re underwater in Winter’s world and swimming and to kind of give the audience the feeling that they’re underwater with [Sawyer] and the dolphin, and they’re in that world. The only time that I really thought well I’ll just have some fun with 3D was when the toy helicopter escapes. I thought the little kids will love that . . . but I wanted to try to be subtle with the use of [3D].

Talk about the moments of lightness or comic relief in Dolphin Tale such as Rufus the pelican, the dialogue of the characters or even some of the set design.

That was exactly what I was thinking. I wanted to lighten things up a little bit. I was concerned that you know it’s a very kind of dark and sad story at times. I wanted to have the flip side of it. One of the first things I did when I got involved, I wanted to make the world of the aquarium fun for children so that kids in the audience, or adults for that matter, would think what a wonderful place this would be to have all your own dolphins and turtles and all these wonderful animals. And put Hazel on a houseboat which was so fanciful with her own crow’s nest, you know? Things that little kids would look at and really enjoy.

And then that was the same idea with Rufus. I wanted to kind of think of a character that would be fun and would be around there and would be kind of commenting on things and lightening it up, but still be just on the edge of believability. Actually, you know originally my idea for Rufus was to make him a seagull. I thought it would be funny to have a seagull around that does funny things, but then the producers said well they had a pelican in a film before. They said what about a pelican instead, and I said that’s a great idea and so I changed him from a seagull to a pelican. And I just think it adds an element of fun that is a nice counterbalance to the sadness of Winter losing her tail and Kyle’s story—you know the soldier coming back.

In depicting some sadness and the stories of animals on-screen, Dolphin Tale brings to mind beloved films like The Black Stallion, Where the Red Fern Grows and Old Yeller. Were there any past films with animals that you drew inspiration from in the making of Dolphin Tale?

Well, you know that’s great that you mentioned The Black Stallion because that’s a movie I’ve always been inspired by. And I actually looked at it again before starting on this because of how beautifully that film deals with children and animals. I acted in Never Cry Wolf which was also directed by Carroll Ballard, the same director that made The Black Stallion. And in Never Cry Wolf . . . it’s  another beautiful film of man and nature. We did put some comedy in, and you know I was certainly to blame for that but so was Carroll Ballard. You know with the guy eating the mice . . . and all the various things that he was doing. There were a lot of nice little comic moments, and I think I sort of drew from having worked on that and tried to capture some of that same contrast between the serious stuff and a little bit of a lighter tone [in Dolphin Tale].