Directors Ron Clements and John Musker are an epic duo for Walt Disney Animation Studios. The pair have been working together for decades and have helped create some of the most well-know Disney classics like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Princess and the Frog. If you're familiar with these films, which you surely are, you might have noticed that they were primarily hand-drawn. Moana, which was released on November 23rd to rave reviews, is the duo's first jump into computer generate imagery (CGI), but you'd never know it by the looks of the finished product. Moana is AMAZING and I was privileged enough to sit down with Moana directors Ron Clements and John Musker at the Moana press junket last month.
Moana Directors Ron Clements and John Musker
Since this was the pair's first primarily computer animated film, we wanted to know how this was different and what new challenges or new opportunities they faced.
Ron Clements (RC) said, "Some things are the same in terms of the script and the storyboarding and the voice actors... but the actual production process is, is quite a bit different. We had to actually have tutorials before even the movie started."
John Musker (JM) added, "Steve Goldberg gave us a tutorial and said, 'These jobs don't exist in CG. These do exist,' and it's a whole different thing and one of the big things is in hand-drawn you can get going a lot quicker. You have a piece of paper, you got a pencil, you can start exploring the characters. In CG they've got to build the characters, literally create them in three-dimensional space. They've got to rig them, which means they'll put all the armature in there so they can move around. They've got to create the world they work in. So, it's a longer set of time."
The two added that they'd go into review sessions with animators and we're sure which elements were place-holders and which elements of the story were the real thing. It was very complicated and there were many different stages, but CG can create amazing effects - some of which had to be figured out since they were so int
RC: "There's a lot of cool things you can do. But a lot of things that had to be figured out in the movie. Even the idea of a living ocean that has a personality of a monster, a lava monster - some of those things particularly where character animation and effects animation merge, that isn't done usually. So, there were a lot of things just to figure out how to do it and a lot of really smart people that said, 'We actually don't know how to do this. but we are confident that we will figure it out.'
JM: "[They said] we'll figure it out before the end of the movie. And they did. They really did."
Clements and Musker have directed 3 out of the now 5 Disney movies with princesses of color. We wanted to know what steps they took to respect the culture, yet share it.
RC: "Well, the big thing was we did a huge research five years ago when we first pitched the movie. We spent like three weeks in Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti. We met with cultural ambassadors, linguists, anthropologists, sailors and chiefs."
JM: "We really try to connect with the culture and learn how proud they were of their background as the greatest navigators the world has ever seen. They use dead reckoning to find their way across the sea."
RC: "The importance of respect for nature, respect for the environment and also the interconnectedness and extended families, and the idea of your heritage and your legacy. We heard this expression in Tahiti, 'Know your mountain.' And your mountain is essentially everything that led up to you. All the people that led up to you, everything that happened, all of the things that if they didn't exist, you wouldn't exist. They said if you don't know your mountain you really don't know who you are.
JM: "We also heard... 'For years, we've been swallowed by your culture. One time can you be swallowed by our culture?' We absolutely took that to heart. That became sort of our mantra as we did the movie over the course of the years and we kept people involved from the Pacific islands. We had an oceanic story trust that we bounced story ideas off of costume ideas, the way the characters looked throughout this process. We would Skype with them. They came out to visit sometimes. And case in point, Maui, in the early going he was bald. He had no hair. Some drawings were a little more like Dwayne. But then when some people saw it, from Tahiti particularly, they said, 'No, no, no, long hair is part of his power. So, he's got to have long hair.' So, we were like, he's going to have long hair. So we looked at Troy Polamalu, this great Polynesian football player's long hair and people from the islands we had seen with awesome long manes of hair... and we gave him that kind of hair and then I can't imagine without that."
We'd heard the original story of the film was more about Maui, but it evolved into a story about Moana. We wanted to know more about that, so we asked the directors to explain the inspiration behind the movie.
RC: "It was actually John's idea to originally do."
JM: "I was intrigued with the area of the Pacific islands. And then that led me to read Polynesian mythology and then I read about this guy Maui who was unbelievable. He was a shape shifter. He had a magical fishhook. He could pull up islands. He had tattoos, a kind of a superhero. And I was like, 'Why has this never been done in a movie before?' And so I showed it to Ron. We pitched a simple idea to John Lassiter. And it was even kind of called The Mighty Maui actually. That was sort of the original title. Then John's like, 'You've got to do research. You've got to go to the islands.' And when we went there and we heard about navigation and all this and it was really Ron's idea, 'What if we have a character called Moana, which means ocean and we built it around her - someone who wants to be a navigator like her ancestors.' And Moana, we sort of saw as a True Grit type story where she really is this determined, forceful individual and she teams up with kind of a washed up... down on his luck..."
RC: "Flawed, seriously flawed demigod."
JM: "But she's the focus of the story and so it was a challenge when we were making the movie to always keep her at the center. Sometimes Maui, because he's kind of like a magic character, he could start to rise up and we said, 'No, no, this has got to be in the service of her story.' So, we and our producer were very strong in terms of keeping the focus on Moana when Maui threatened to take over sometimes."
RC: "Yeah, it was really a hero's journey. We thought of a hero’s journey for Moana. She's on a quest to save her people. She faces numerous obstacles. She's resilient. She's also empathetic, which is an important part of who she is, and fearless and that she really finally proves herself and becomes the person that she's meant to be.
As you can imagine, going from hand-drawn to CG was quite intense. We wanted to know if going from 2-D to 3-D chanced the way their vision developed for the end result of the film
JM: "Well, it was interesting even just in a superficial way... The CG animators, a lot of them are in their 20s and 30s. They saw Little Mermaid when they were eight years old, and they were like, 'This is what got me into animation. I'm working with you old guys, you know.' So, that was kind of fun."
RC: "Yeah, I was 20 when I started at Disney, been there 43 years. I think John's close to that. So, I worked with Frank Thomas, who's a legendary animator, who was my mentor and he was 62 and I was 20 and now I'm 63 and we're working with a lot of very, very young people that are really excited and gung-ho, and they're just so eager and it was really great."
JM: "It was fun on this movie though, because in terms of the CG and the hand-drawn we got to use both. And Eric Goldberg who did The Genie and Aladdin did mini-Maui, the tattoo. So, we were able to incorporate hand-drawn elements. And a lot of the younger [animators], were thrilled to get a chance to work with Eric where they would do the CG Maui and he would do the hand-drawn part, and they could kind of learn from Eric and see his techniques in terms of the acting and his timing and his comic sensibilities. They were thrilled to get a chance to learn from this kind of living legend of animation. So, it's been fun for us to learn new things and work with new artists. So, that's been the really fun part of all this."
Will there be another Ron Clements and John Musker movie in our future? We asked!
JM: "We don't know what we're doing after this one. This has been five years in the making and we're doing a couple of months of promotion, then I think hopefully we get a few weeks off. Who knows what we're doing. There's a lot of great movies in the Disney pipeline after this from these various directors."
RC: "Some have been announced. There's a version of Jack and the Beanstalk that Nathan Greno is working on. And there's a bunch of cool movies. Chris [Buck] and Jen Lee's sequel to Frozen which is getting going now. There's some great movies coming up."
Lastly, we wanted to know more about one of the most fun elements for us Disney junkies - the EASTER EGGS! We were able to pick out Squirt in the beginning and Sebastian in the end, but we wanted to know more!
RC: "And did you see Sven? He's the easiest one."
JM: "Yes, there are a lot of them."
RC :" There are many others and we will not tell you what they are. We will give you some clues. We'll tell you what they are but not where they are. And they're really interesting and some are very difficult. Some are a little easier, some are not. But Olaf is in the movie. And you might think how can a snowman be in there but he's in there a couple of times."
JM : "In a tricky way. Flounder from The Little Mermaid is in there briefly. You may have seen Flounder. And actually, Flash, the sloth from Zootopia."
RC: "Baymax. All those are actually in there, but it is like a Where's Wally... you've got to kind of look at the right part of the screen to find them."
JM: "And, and Wreck-it Ralph is in there very briefly. You may have seen Wreck-it Ralph in the credits.
RC: "He's in the end. And the reason he's in there - some people ask why he's in almost one of the last images of the film - is there's been a little tradition in the last few years that there's something acknowledging the next film. So, our production designer at the last minute said, let's put Ralph in the credits because he's going to come up [next]. So, we saw it and we liked it and said, 'Yeah, let's leave it in there.'"
Special thanks to Louise Bishop of MomStart for these photos!
Here's official information about Moana from Disney:
Three thousand years ago, the greatest sailors in the world voyaged across the vast Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, for a millennium, their voyages stopped – and no one knows why.
From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes “Moana,” a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. During her journey, Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) meets the once-mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), who guides her in her quest to become a master wayfinder. Together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity. 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.
Check out the Moana trailer here: