I recently received an invitation to spend a day at the Walt Disney Animation Studios as an introduction to their newest animated feature, “Moana.” (I know. Shut up.)
“Moana” is a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. “Moana is the 16-year-old daughter of the chief of Motunui,” says director Ron Clements. “She’s athletic, nimble, compassionate and incredibly smart. She has a never-say-die attitude and a profound connection to the ocean.”
I have attended other early press events at the Disney Studios and they are always super fun as well as inspiring and informative. Because Disney.
The day began in the beautiful Frank G. Wells Building on the Disney Studios lot where we were treated to a screening of clips from Moana.
From there we were shuttled over to the Tujunga building (the Animation Studio itself is currently under renovation, but that’s not important right now) where we had the chance to interview some of the lead creators of the movie.
They described for us how the story came to be and gave us the why and how of the design for Moana. Disney, as you well know, has mastered the Art of Detail. The animators and creators painstakingly research every little thing that goes into the design of the film
BUILDING A LEGEND
Three thousand years ago the greatest sailors in the world voyaged across the vast Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. The Moana production team, led by directors Ron Clements and John Musker ventured first to Fiji, Samoa and Tahiti, and later to New Zealand.
“We wanted to, as much as possible, avoid the ‘touristy’ things, to go deeper,” says Clements. “We wanted to meet people who grew up on islands; we wanted to listen and learn what makes these Pacific Island cultures so remarkable.”
In a presentation by Jared Bush (Screenwriter), Dave Pimentel (Head of Story), David Derrick (Story Artist), Sunmee Joh (Story Artist) we were treated to how the Disney animators go about taking all that research and how they craft the story.
As we went through each presentation, from how they do the effects, to how they created the characters, to the mythology behind the legendary Maui, I couldn’t help but again be impressed by the attention they gave to the details. They say, “God is in the details.” Well, apparently, so is Disney.
They painstakingly researched every single thing, from the environment, to the clothing, to how natural hair reacts to wind and rain. (I paid particularly close attention to this, because we Curly Girls know the struggle is real.) And of course, Disney got it right. Perfectly right.
My hands- down favorite part of the day was learning about the character of Maui.
Maui is a demigod—half god, half mortal, all awesome. Charismatic and funny, he wields a magical fishhook that allows him to shapeshift into all kinds of animals and pull up islands from the sea.
Maui was once considered the greatest hero in Oceania; his body is covered with tattoos of his extraordinary feats, including a mini-version of himself that acts as Maui’s conscience.
Embarking on an important journey of self-discovery alongside Moana, Maui brings his super strength—as well as his super-sized issues. Filmmakers called on Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson to provide the voice of Maui.
According to the filmmakers, they all fell in love with Dwayne himself. You will recognize Dwayne Johnson’s dimples as Maui smiles, as well as the infamous raised eyebrow. I just loved that.
Maui’s entire body is covered with tattoos which tell the stories of his great feats. Within this body art is a little tattoo figure of Maui, which the animators began calling Mini Maui. While the film is animated in the newest CG technology, Mini Maui is done old-school. He’s hand drawn and full of punch. He acts as Maui’s alter ego and conscience. It’s a beautiful thing.
Our day ended with an amazing South Pacific lunch as well as traditional Polynesian music and dancing.
This day. The clips from the film. The time spend with the animators. The incredible privilege of being in the Disney studios and experiencing all the fun. This all was just a teaser.
Like an appetizer, I’ve had a taste of the magic of “Moana,” and I totally want more.