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How Directors John Musker and Ron Clements Found ‘Moana’s Voice
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Moana directors John Musker and Ron Clements

Moana marks the seventh time that John Musker and Ron Clements have collaborated together for a Disney animated film, but this is the first that uses the popular CGI techniques. We were fortunate enough to join fellow journalists for an early preview of the film where we saw clips, the technology used to bring these characters to life, and the research trips they took to develop the script. We have all of what we learned from the trip in our exclusive 65 Things To Know About Disney’s Moana piece, which was posted earlier this morning.

However, after watching some rough footage of the film, the two directors stuck around to answer a few of the journalist’s questions about the title character, the message, and the creative signature. Check out what they had to say below.

Geeks Of Doom: Who was first, the actress or the character?

Ron Clements: The design came first.

John Musker: That design was set before we found the voice.

Ron Clements: We don’t normally look for actors who match the way the character looks. It’s more of how they sound and how they come across. In her case, a majority of the auditions I don’t even look at the actors. I think it might be worst for the actors, because when they look at us, we would have our heads down because we are animating. Voices are recorded before they get animated. As an animator, you just have to stay on track trying to bring it to life, so you try not to be swayed by the way they look. But certainly, it is a wonderful plus that she looks like her.

Moana

Geeks Of Doom: What is the overall message of this film?

John Musker: Really it has to do with identity. Moana is 16-years-old in the movie. Auli’i was 14 when she was cast, she is 15 now, and she will be 16 before the day the movie opens. I think it’s still dealing with issues that you deal with as a teenager, with all the outside influences around you. Particularly if you live in a world where you seem not to fit in somewhat because of the culture around you and the importance of listening to the inner voice, to what’s inside you, in terms of discovering who you are and who you’re meant to be.

Ron Clements: It also has to do with finding your way as your way is a part of this. The culture itself is a little lost in this movie. They’re kind of separated from who they were. Maui separated from who he was. Moana is trying to get in touch with this inner voice she hears through the course of the voice. It is trying to tell you to listen to that inner voice that’s telling you who you are and respond to that.

Mini Maui in Moana

Geeks of Doom: Is there a creative signature in terms of story or design that you put in Moana?

Ron Clements: In all our films we try and approach them in how could we do this in animation that you couldn’t do in live-action. We tried to that in Aladdin. We tried to do that in Little Mermaid. There has never been a Little Mermaid live-action because it’s been a hard one to pull off in live-action.

John Musker: Well there will be one soon.

Everyone laughs

Ron Clements: But in this one, making the ocean a character, building around Maui, making the a character.

Also, we love fantasy. We love musicals. We started as Disney fans before we worked at Disney, so these Disney films of Walt Disney were a huge influence on this. I think the element of still trying to create a world that you sort of enter, spend an hour and a half, and feel like you’re transported a little bit and that you come to believe the characters and the situations are real. When the movie is over you kind of feel you’ve experienced something and that’s what Disney films did for us as kids. That’s why I would go back and try to see them as much as I could before they left the theaters.

Ron Clements: Years ago a producer I worked with here said a good analogy: these movies are like tree houses that we are building for people. I built a treehouse in my own backyard. Treehouses give you a different vantage on a normal world. You see it from a different perspective. It’s fun. It’s adventurous. It takes you to a different place and you see things from a different perspective and I think that’s what these movies can do.

Moana opens in theaters on November 23, 2016.

Moana (L-R) Directors Ron Clements and Jon Musker

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