A Voy­age of the Heart

Animation Magazine - - Features -

Vis­its to the peo­ple and places of the South Pa­cific in­spired the crew of Dis­ney’s Moana to dig deeper and use ev­ery tool at its dis­posal make a movie that lives up to the re­al­ity. By Tom McLean.

A New Kind of Hero Voiced by new­comer Auli’i Cravalho, Moana her­self is a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter — though her fa­ther is her is­land’s chief, she’s not a princess in the tra­di­tional Dis­ney fash­ion. Con­ceived as a vi­brant, tena­cious and com­pas­sion­ate 16-year-old, get­ting the right look for her was es­sen­tial, says char­ac­ter art di­rec­tor Bill Sch­wab, who sought bal­ance be­tween a dis­tinc­tive look for the film and the Dis­ney tra­di­tion. “We want them to feel like they came from Dis­ney, but we also want them to have their own style,” he says.

De­signs went through a rig­or­ous process of test­ing to en­sure ev­ery de­tail was cor­rect. “We re­ally do sweat the de­tails,” says Sch­wab. “We’re look­ing at Moana from ev­ery an­gle so that we can put the cam­era any­where and she al­ways looks great. We spend a lot of time on all these things — anatomy in gen­eral was a big thing on this film — and make sure it looks great.”

The ver­sion of Maui that ends up in the film is an amal­ga­ma­tion of the var­i­ous in­car­na­tions of the de­ity that ex­ist across the dif­fer­ent cul­tures of the South Pa­cific. Voiced by Dwayne John­son, Maui has a long mane of curly black hair and is cov­ered in tat­toos that chron­i­cle his many feats of hero­ism. He car­ries a mag­i­cal fish hook, and has the abil­ity when wield­ing it to trans­form into an­i­mals or birds.

“When Maui trans­forms, it is ini­ti­ated by a big an­tic­i­pa­tion and then an ac­tion, push­ing from one form into the next,” says head of an­i­ma­tion Hyrum Os­mond. “We’re do­ing it in a way where you al­most don’t need the light­ing and the ef­fects, it just feels right, the con­sis­tent move­ment from one form to the next.”

Mak­ing Maui even more unique is one of his tat­toos is a char­ac­ter in his own right. Dubbed Mini Maui, the tat­too is an­i­mated in 2D and fol­lows in the tra­di­tion of Pinoc­chio’s Jiminy Cricket.

“More than any­thing, he is Maui’s con­science,” says an­i­ma­tor Eric Gold­berg, who worked on Mini Maui. “Since Maui is a bit of a trick­ster, Mini Maui is there to pull him back from some of his more trick­stery at­ti­tudes.”

An Ocean in Mo­tion Set­ting is es­sen­tial to the story of Moana, which means that the ocean is as much a char­ac­ter in the film as Moana or Maui.

“Wa­ter is per­va­sive in this movie,” says Hank Driskill, tech­ni­cal su­per­vi­sor. “We knew that Moana and Maui would spend a lot of time on the wa­ter. It’s also an im­por­tant part of the cul­ture and the mythology as well, so we wanted to be re­ally am­bi­tious with our wa­ter.”

The crew de­vel­oped a new way to solve wa­ter in the com­puter that was dubbed Splash and was used to gen­er­ate open wa­ter shots of the ocean. For shots where Moana’s ca­noe is seen in the wa­ter, the area around the ca­noe was cut out of the Splash-gen­er­ated wa­ter so ef­fects like the wake, splashes and foam could be ap­plied; it was then rein­te­grated into the shot with the Splash-gen­er­ated wa­ter.

Splash op­er­ated us­ing dis­trib­uted com­put­ing, which al­lowed the solver to run on mul­ti­ple com­put­ers that could com­mu­ni­cate with each other and op­er­ate like a sin­gle pro­ces­sor.

This is just one ex­am­ple of the heavy ef­fects work on Moana. About 80 per­cent of the shots in the movie fea­ture ef­fects, com­pared to about 45 per­cent for Big Hero 6, says Hank Driskill, tech­ni­cal su­per­vi­sor.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the ocean is also a char­ac­ter in the movie and the ef­fects crew had to fig­ure out how it was go­ing to in­ter­act with Moana and Maui.

Head of ef­fects Dale Mayeda says an ocean wa­ter rig was set up to al­low an­i­ma­tors to cre­ate a per­for­mance with the ocean. A fluid sim­u­la­tion was done to flow wa­ter along the sur­face, while splashes were added to ac­cen­tu­ate the per­for­mance and another fluid sim­u­la­tion

was done in­side the shape of the an­i­mated sec­tion of ocean to make it match the rest of the wa­ter ef­fects.

Keep­ing It Real On the other end of the ef­fects spec­trum was Te Ka, a gi­ant crea­ture made of lava who stands in the way of Moana and Maui’s quest. A lot of vari­a­tions were done on Te Ka, who Sch­wab says turned out to be an epic un­der­tak­ing.

“Ev­ery depart­ment had to be in­volved, even from a de­sign stand­point: How does lava work? What kind of lava is it go­ing to be?” says Sch­wab. “Some­thing like that could eas­ily go too real and find­ing that bal­ance was tough.”

Mar­ry­ing the char­ac­ters to the en­vi­ron­ment was another key goal that re­quired a lot of prep work on be­half of the an­i­ma­tion team to achieve.

“We spent about a year just fig­ur­ing out the char­ac­ters, how they act, so once the an­i­ma­tion team rolled off Zootopia and we started an­i­mat­ing on this film, we had a pretty good grasp of who Moana was and who Maui was and that way we could give all that in­for­ma­tion to the team,” says head of an­i­ma­tion Amy Smeed. “We re­ally want Moana to feel 16, and we re­ally want Maui to feel pow­er­ful. … We try to do as many an­i­ma­tion tests as we can to learn through that process: how they should move and how they should act; what makes them unique from each other and from past films we’ve been on.”

“We al­ways say you can’t an­i­mate a charac-

Crew trips to the South Pa­cific were key to de­sign­ing Moana’s en­vi­ron­ments and char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing Moana her­self, Maui and Moana’s beloved pig, Pua.

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