Time was spent correcting the UV map for the coral. The reasoning for this was an attempt to have the shader's progression up the coral correlate better with the contours of the geometry.
The methodology seemed straightforward: Cut apart the UV map at each split zone, modify the UVs to give a flat-on shape, straighten everything out. As can be seen in the picture below, the new strategy allows the gradient map to better follow the flow of the model.
Using a shader gives me some freedoms, as it means we do not have to completely unfold the model in order to get the desired result and anywhere that appears non-existent (such as side-on faces) on the UV plane is not stretched to moment-ruining distortion.
A after a tweak to the shader the quality is solid enough that it can be consideredpresentable. As well as well as a sequence showing the coral growing from a bud, a turnaround was also created to show the model as it would look in the final render.
As well as these tasks, The strange growths to the body of our fish were added to the body. The initial plan of using a lattice as discarded. This fell flat when the eye wasn't considered in the original plan, but this was compensated for, as the manual application turned out to be rather therapeutic and progressed relatively smoothly and promptly.
Above is a breakdown of the animation, with each line being a cluster of blendshapes.