Chatting With Moana Directors And Golden Globe Nominees Ron Clements & John Musker #Moana
Okay y’all, this is exciting stuff. If you’re not huge Disney geeks, you may not get it right away, but just stick with me for a minute here and you can geek out with me….DISNEY STYLE! While I was in Los Angeles last month covering the red carpet for Moana; I had the opportunity to sit down and chage with the diirectors (and, now, Golden Globe nominees) Ron Clements and John Musker! There are so many amazing facets of Disney and you could be a super fan in one area, but completely not be up to date in the other, so if you’re not familiar with who Ron Clements and John Musker are; PLEASEEEEE sit back and let me tell you 😉 Ron Clements and John Musker, collectively, have a history with Disney movies that goes alllll the way back to 1977 (The Rescuers, Ron Clements). Together, Ron and John worked on The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet, The Princess and the Frog, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, and now Moana! WHEW! Super stinkin’ amazing, right?!? Yes, these two men have had their hands in a LOT of Disney and I got to meet them! EEEEK! Listening to them talk about creating some of my favorite Disney films and all of the hard work and research that goes into each film was so, super amazing! Have fun as you read through the interview and learn a little bit about how the Disney magic is created on the big screen 😀 Be sure to check out My Moana Gift Guide, my interview with Auli’i Cravalho, my interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda, and my interview with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson!
The first question was about how different Moana was from other films Ron and John have done. This was their first primarily animated film.
Ron Clements: Some things are the same in terms of the script and the storyboarding and the voice actors. I mean that really isn’t different. But the actual production process is quite a bit different. We had to actually have tutorials before even the movie started.
John Musker: Steve Goldberg worked on Pros and 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 sort of 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 got to create the world they work in. So, it’s a longer set of time.
Ron Clements: All the environments, every leaf on every tree, it all has to be kind of–.
John Musker: Also, we go to these review sessions when the movie was being done in CG, where we’d look at it and say okay, ‘so is that the real sky in that shot?’ And they say ‘no, that’s just a placeholder. Forget the sky.’ And we go ‘okay, but those trees, we should take those’– ‘no, the trees, we’re going to trade those out later for the real trees.’ And then we’d say, ‘so we can ignore those rocks?’ No, the rocks are the real thing. And we wouldn’t know looking at it why one was real…
Ron Clements: It’s very complicated. There’s so many different stages.
John Musker: We had people helping us all the time.
Ron Clements: There are amazing things. I mean with, with the camera movement and the textures and the hair.
John Musker: And certainly, the ocean in the movie. We were able to do stuff in CG.
Ron Clements: And the lighting. There’s a lot of, a lot of cool things you can do. But a lot of things even 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, and there were a lot of things just to figure out how to do it and a lot of really smart people that sort of said we actually don’t know how to do this. We don’t even– but we are confident that we will figure it out.
John Musker: We’ll figure it out before the end of the movie. And they did. They really did.
So, you guys have directed three out of the now five movies of princesses of color for the Disney film franchise. What steps did you take to respect the culture but yet share it?
Ron: 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 and….
John: Yeah, we got to sail in Fiji and navigators and we really tried to connect with those people. You got to go to Tahiti for three weeks. 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.
“…if you don’t know your mountain
you really don’t know who you are.”
Ron: 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, 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.
John: Then he said this all in Tahitian, translated to us. 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. But then when some people saw it from Tahiti particularly they said no, no, no, long hair is part of his power. He’s got to have long hair. He’s going to have long hair. So we looked at this great Polynesian football player’s long hair and people from the islands we had seen these great dudes with great manes of hair. And so we gave him that kind of hair.
Ron: Moana has great hair too.
John: It’s a good hair movie.
I read somewhere that the movie started about Maui and it evolved to Moana. Can you tell us more about that?
John: I was intrigued with the area, 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, you know, shape shifter. He had a magical fishhook. He could pull up islands. He had tattoos, 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.
Ron: Based on the myths of Maui.
John: And it was even called the Mighty Maui actually, was sort of the original title. Then John’s like you got to do research. You got to go to the islands. 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 Maui 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….
Ron: ….at least a flawed, seriously flawed demigod.
John: But she’s the focus of the story and so it was a challenge, when we were making the movie, always to keep her at the center. Sometimes Maui, because he’s kind of a magic character, he could start to rise up and we said ‘no, this has got to be in the service of her story.’ Our producer was very strong in terms of keep the focus on Moana when Maui threatened to take over sometimes.
Ron: 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. She really finally proves herself and becomes the person that she’s meant to be.
How does it feel to have worked on The Little Mermaid and now on Moana? Did the transition of 2-D to 3-D change the way your vision developed for the end result?
John: Well, it was interesting even just in a superficial way in that a lot of the animation we work on the CG, a lot of them are in their 20s and 30s. They saw Little Mermaid when they were eight years old, and there like ‘this is what got me in animation’. I’m working with you old guys, you know. So, that was kind of fun.
Ron: 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. It was really great.
John: It was fun on this movie, though, because in terms of the CG and the hand-drawn we got to use both. Eric Goldberg, who did The Genie in Aladdin, did mini-Maui, this tattoo. So, we were able to incorporate hand-drawn elements. 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. That’s been the really fun part of all this.
I have noticed some Easter eggs, with Squirt in the very beginning, which was adorable and of course Sebastian in the end credits. Are there any others?
Ron: Did you see Sven? He’s the easiest one. Yes, there are a lot of them. There are many others and we will not tell you what they are. We will give you some clues. 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.
John: In a tricky way. Flounder from Little Mermaid is in there briefly. You may have seen Flounder, and actually, Flash the sloth, from Zootopia. Baymax was in there.
Ron: McGilla Gorilla is in there. All those are actually in there, but it is like a where’s Wally. You got to kind of look at the right part of the screen to find them.
John: Wreck-it Ralph and is in there very briefly. You may have seen Wreck-it Ralph.
Ron: He’s in the end. And the reason he’s in there, some people ask why. Why is he in almost one of the last images of the film? The reason is there’s been a little tradition in the last few years that, that there’s something acknowledging the next film. Our production designer at the last minute said, let’s put Ralph in the credits because he’s going to come up. So, we saw and we liked it and said yeah, let’s leave it in there.
About Disney’s Moana:
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” is now open in theaters everywhere!
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