Directors Ron Clements & John Musker on Their Journey from ‘The Little Mermaid’ to ‘Moana’

     November 23, 2016


Inspired in part by oral histories of the people and cultures of Oceania, the Walt Disney Animation Studios feature Moana is a sweeping adventure about an adventurous teenager (voiced by newcomer Auli‘i Cravalho) who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. Equal parts brave and compassionate, the16-year-old daughter of the chief cannot deny how drawn she is to the ocean, so when she must journey out on her own to find Maui (voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), demigod of the wind and sea, and save her people, she lets her strength and determination guide her.

During both a press conference and a 1-on-1 interview co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin) talked about tackling their first CG feature, the research that went into bringing this culture to audiences, making the ocean a three-dimensional character, their hopes for Moana’s place among the other classic Disney characters, and the potential of further stories in this world.

moana-posterQuestion: As veterans of hand-drawn animation, what was it like to tackle your first CG feature? Was that something you were nervous about, at all?

JOHN MUSKER: We really didn’t know much about it. We loved the CG films we had seen, like Tangled and Frozen. The things they could do, we knew were amazing, particularly for this movie. We knew we wanted to do a living ocean, and to do that hand-drawn, it just wouldn’t have the effect that it has here. That also goes for all the fabrics and all of the texture of that world, and even the volumetric quality of that universe. The people’s faces have planes and with the landscape of those islands, it felt volumetric and not flat. They gave us tutorials, as they were getting into this, and they explained the pipeline and the jobs that exist, and how it goes from one thing to another. It wasn’t the path we were used to.

RON CLEMENTS: And that was important because that part of it is really different. Things like scripting, story and voice recording are all the same. But, the production process is significantly different. It’s more complicated. It’s simpler in hand drawing. You’ve got layout, rough animation, clean-up animation, animation with effects, and final with color. It’s very easy to tell the difference in each stage. There are definite steps forward. It’s all over the place in digital. You’re seeing things, back and forth, in so many different stages. You’re seeing scenes where you’re only supposed to be focused on one specific aspect of what you’re looking at and you have to trust that other things will be what they’re supposed to be. It’s complicated.

MUSKER: In some ways, the scariest thing was working with CG character animation. It’s not just changing the technique, but we had worked with the same animators, over a number of years. This is a whole different group of people, so we relied heavily on our heads of animation, who knew the talents of these people, and then we got to know them. Now, I know these 90 animators that do it and I’m unbelievably impressed with how they do it. A lot of them are younger, in their 20s and 30s, and they’ll say things like, “I got into animation because I saw The Little Mermaid when I was eight.” It’s great to hear that. And then, they say, “And I get to work on a movie with you old guys!”


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