As part of my recent Disney trip I previewed parts of the new movie, Moana, that will be released in November. I have been on several of these movie trips and each and every time I marvel at the attention to detail that goes into the production of these films. While audiences watch a beautiful product, they have no idea the years spent doing research, and the happy accidents that happen along the way to make these beautiful masterpieces come to life. The fact that I get a peak into this makes my appreciation for the entire process grow every time. It is absolutely fascinating and I will try to convey some of my own enjoyment and fascination in this article with the things that I did and learned! First, here is a little about the movie:
Three thousand years ago, the greatest sailors in the world voyaged across the vast South Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, for a millennium, their voyages stopped – and no one today knows why. From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes “Moana,” a sweeping, CG-animated adventure about a spirited teenager who sails out on a daring mission to prove herself a master wayfinder and fulfill her ancestors’ unfinished quest. During her journey, Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) meets the once-mighty demi-god Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), and together, they traverse the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous fiery creatures and impossible odds. Directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (“The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “The Princess & the Frog”), and produced by Osnat Shurer (“Lifted,” “One Man Band”), “Moana” sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016.
Moana is not a true story, but it is based on the actual history of the Pacific Island people. My review later in the year will include more of those details. Our presentation and chat was with the Head of Animation Amy Smeed, Head of Story Dave Pimentel, Story Artist Dave Derrick, “Mini Maui” Animation Supervisor Eric Goldberg and Development Sr. Creative Exec Jessica Julius. This session only included a few choice pieces of the movie as it was not yet completed.
We learned about the trip these folks took to the Pacific Islands to research this movie. Historically there were wave riders that traversed the Pacific Ocean many years ago, and there was a period of a thousand years where this traveling halted for some unknown reason. This is why the story of Moana was created and inserted, she is the impetus to start the traveling again. Here she is in various drawings as the animators try to see what works best! Here you can see some of her animated evolution:
We also learned about Maui, a demigod, who is in fact part of all of the various Pacific Islands mythologies, in one form or another. Clearly there was some great relationship between the entire expanse of Oceania that we would not have thought possible without modern communication. Historically there is fact and real world mythology built into the story line.
Promoting Pacific Island culture through this movie is also a great education for us all, I had no idea that before the great European expansion across the oceans, there were wave riders navigating the Pacific Ocean from one end to the other without modern navigation instruments. They saw the Pacific Ocean as “a sea of islands, not islands separated by the seas.”
The music for Moana has been created by three men: one is a famous Pacific Island musician, Opetaia Foa’i. Another is Mark Mancina. The third is Lin-Manuel Miranda, you may have heard of him from a Broadway play, this opportunity was presented to him before he became famous for Hamilton!
As part of our education, we all became animators that day, here is my drawing of Mini Maui:
Clearly I am on my way. The single most fascinating part of the day was listening to “Mini Maui” Animation Supervisor Eric Goldberg explaining to us the evolution of the character, a living embodiment of Maui’s history as told through his tattoos. The truly fascinating part of this discussion was listening to Eric tell us how at times this was actually double animation! There is a scene where Maui’s belly button moves, and Mini Maui’s center is also big Maui’s belly button and they had to move in synchronization. It was amazing to listen to these experts discuss hw they accomplished this! What you will see in the movie flows seamlessly, what these folks had to do to get that seamless look took days upon days of intricate animation. This is the information that I love hearing about!
The happy accident I referred to earlier was all about how Mini Maui became a bigger character than originally intended. Everyone thought the idea was so interesting that they decided to increase the role of this character. It wasn’t planned, it is part of the way a movie takes on a life of its own and dictates to the writers what might work best. Lastly, hearing how the animators had Mini Maui actually pull back some of Maui’s skin to snap it back to get the big guys attention, is just remarkable. Mini Maui does not talk but acts interactively with Maui, behaving as his conscience, making sure he does the right thing. Again, it seems seamless when we sit it in the theater, but the process of animating all of this story is a huge undertaking, and you and I would never have known!
Lastly, we have all seen the amazing shorts that precede every major Disney animated movie, and this year’s entry is bound to be up for an award as are so many of them:
It reminded me of Inside Out, except in this case we are watching one man’s organs react to the stimuli of the life around him. It is fantastic.
“Inner Workings,” a new short from first-time director Leo Matsuda (story artist for “Big Hero 6,” “Wreck-It Ralph”) is the story of the internal struggle between a man’s pragmatic, logical side and his free-spirited, adventurous half. Created by a small team at Walt Disney Animation Studios in a unique, fast-paced style that blends CG and traditional hand-drawn animation, the short explores the importance of finding balance in daily life. “Inner Workings” opens on Nov. 23, 2016, in front of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Moana.”
The short is brilliant and entertaining. I love how such a small animated piece can put me through a full range of emotions without any words being spoken. You will love this piece!
Disclosure: Disney invited me on this press trip and paid all of my expenses. No other compensation was received. All opinions are always 100% my own and honest.