ByElise Jost, writer at
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Elise Jost

"Moana" means "ocean" in Hawaiian, so it makes you wonder who really was the main character of 's new animated feature: the young lady named , or the ocean itself? Either way, both are closely connected, as it's the ocean who's chosen Moana to restore a precious gem to its rightful place, and bring back a peaceful natural order.

The fact that the ocean is a character doesn't just show in its ability to high-five the chief's daughter, however. It was a particular challenge for the animators to render the fluidity that would make the water seem alive, and the wondrous effect of the tools they've developed to make that possible can be felt throughout the movie.

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How Do You Get Your Main Character To Become Friends With The Water?

Speaking to IndieWire, one of the two directors, Ron Clements, explained how they had to give a personality to the ocean, because it was going to develop a special relationship with Moana:

"The idea was that the toddler would meet the ocean and they would become friends, but we didn't know how we were going to do it."

And as for pretty much every animated movie, the solution was to develop a new tool set, this one called Splash, that allowed for a more natural feel to the water and smooth movement of the waves — especially the one that hugs Moana from time to time.

'Moana' [Credit: Disney]
'Moana' [Credit: Disney]

The variety of the bodies of water showed in the film was another reason to update their tools. As technical supervisor Hank Driskill put it:

"We ended up with a new solver because there were so many things we were called to do with the shoreline water, with deep water, with lagoons, stormy seas. We were well into shot production hammering out the issues. Layout needed to see and define the behavior of the water within a given sequence in their interactive viewing tools."

We're not so far off from the "behavior" of the water that was at the center of many a discussion between the animators of Finding Dory, the other Disney box office hit relying on the big blue ocean this year.

To Make Its Characters More Expressive, 'Moana' Draws From Traditional 2D Animation

'Moana' [Credit: Disney]
'Moana' [Credit: Disney]

Another one of the factors in why the ocean in Moana has more personality than plenty of human characters out there lies in the background of the directors, Musker and Clements. According to Musker, there's an expressiveness to hand-drawn animation that CG can't achieve just yet — so they mixed both:

"The greatest thing of hand-drawn is the expressiveness and the animators were happy to push it with tricks to break the CG and make it bend more. We also really loved working in the hand-drawn elements like the moving tattoos and the special Mini-Maui character."

You'll probably feel like you've already seen that mini-Maui in Hercules, and that's no coincidence: Musker and Clements also co-directed the adventures of the Greek demi-god.

Have you seen Moana? Who was your favorite character?

(Source: IndieWire)


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