Directing CG for Moana
Barbara Robertson
January 26, 2017

Directing CG for Moana

Although Moana isn’t their first experience with 3D computer graphics, Directors Ron Clements and John Musker hail from a tradition of 2D animation. Together, the two directed the traditional animated films The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet, and The Princess and the Frog, Moana is their first all-CG feature, so we asked whether directing this film brought any surprises.

“We had a shape-shifter in Aladdin,” Musker says. “The genie. Eric Goldberg drew him. On paper that’s pretty easy. You do a few drawings to change one into the other. In CG, you have to build a model for each of those things. That’s a harder task.”

“The other thing I didn’t realize,” Musker continues, “is how different the pipeline is. People gave us tutorials. It seems like there’s more setup time, and it takes a long time. And then things move quickly. With hand-drawn animation, you have pieces of paper and go to town. In CG, you have to build models. You have issues of look and how things deform when they change. It involves more hands to set up.”

Clements adds: “And there are so many iterations, it’s hard to keep track. In hand-drawn animation, you have rough drawings, cleanup with effects, and final color. Three stages. There were so many stages of seeing things on this movie as we improved things, it was a running joke. ‘Is that the right sky?’ ‘No, that will change.’ ‘What about the trees?’ ‘No, they will change.’ ‘Well, what are we supposed to look at?’ ‘This little thing in the corner is what we’re deciding on.’”

“It took us a while to get used to that,” Clements says. “Lighting is complex. The hair. The sails. Technical animation is a huge thing we hadn’t dealt with before. But, the technical animators gave us elaborate hair that moves in a fashion that feels rich and alive. Freedom with the camera. The lighting. The textures….” 

Musker: “The computer gave us a scope and scale we wouldn’t have realized in a hand-drawn film. We wouldn’t have 400 Kakamora fall into the water in a hand-drawn film. CG gave us the chance to go over the top. I loved the CG. The artists we worked with are great talents. I think people will take note of this film. It’s one of the most beautiful to come out of this studio, hand-drawn or CG. It’s pretty staggering.”