We spent a morning at Walt Disney Animation Studios meeting with some of the talent behind the new feature film Moana, out in theatres November 23, 2016. We learned fun facts about Moana and got a sneak peek of Moana footage with Head of Animation Amy Smeed, Head of Story Dave Pimentel, and Story Artist Dave Derrick. We also got to have an animation lesson with “Mini Maui” Animation Supervisor Eric Goldberg, a seasoned animation artist whose worked on numerous feature films, and got behind-the-scenes info and fun facts with Development Sr. Creative Executive Jessica Julius.
15 Fun Facts about Moana, an original story
- Moana means ocean.
- “Know your mountain.” You have to know your history going back generations to really understand who you are and where you’re going, to know you and who you are as part of your community. That really found its way into the story in that you don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been. This theme permeates the entire story and came out of the research trip.
- “You must speak gently to the ocean.” The people of the Pacific Islands believe that the ocean is alive, that it is part of their world in a way that it unites the islands, rather than dividing them; it’s a sea of islands. The Polynesians saw the ocean as something that unites, not divides.
- Water is as much a character in the movie as any of the main characters. The effects team worked on the natural effects of water and also simulated water through their Splash water effects engine. Because of the role of water in the movie, the special effects team ran huge water simulations to elicit beautiful flowing water effects. The “toddler test” was one of the first water simulations they performed.
- There is about a 1,000-year gap in the voyaging that was done throughout the Pacific Islands. There are theories, but no one really knows why it stopped and why it began again. This intrigued the writers and filmmakers and it’s part of the reason they chose to set the story in the time period they did.
- The Oceanic Story Trust: anthropologists, linguists, fisherman, archeologists, dancers, elders, tattoo masters all help keep the story grounded in respect to the culture that inspired it. Filmmakers pitched ideas for blessings and guidance throughout the entire production, and the film would not have turned out to what it is without their guidance.
- Music is a huge part of the Pacific Island cultures. Contemporary song blended with deep roots of the Pacific. Pacific Island musician Opetaia Foa'i, Oscar-winning Mark Mancina, and Tony Award-winning Lin-Manual Miranda.
- The role of Moana was the last role cast in the movie. Auli'i Cravalho is incredible. She’s the most poised yet animated girl I've met yet in this industry. She is the PERFECT Moana. Watch for our interview in November.
- The animators struggled with transformations: water, Maui into a hawk, etc.
- The animators do calisthenics tests to make sure the characters they want to add to the movie have the range of motion they hope for before they get added to the story. Pua the Pig is an example of a character that they did this with.
- Hei-Hei the Rooster was originally going to be very stern and testy. He didn’t end up that way in the final video.
- Maui is a legend through out the Pacific Island although he varies a bit from island to island.
- Mini Maui is a 2D, hand-drawn animated character on a CG character. Check it out, we got to draw Mini Maui! “Mini Maui” Animation Supervisor Eric Goldberg walked us through an animation lesson and taught us how to draw Mini Maui.
- As Walt Disney Animation Studios always does, they created new software called Quicksilver to make Moana’s hair more lifelike. It’s an engine dedicated to hair simulation and it moves the hair around instead of the animators drawing what they want the hair to do.
- If the spirit moves you, bang the drum.
I’ve been invited to an all-expenses paid trip to LA. As always, all opinions are my own.
If you liked this post, you might like to read about the new Disney Short Inner Workings.
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