Movies, Books & Disney+

Disney “Moana” Filmmakers Talk Research Trips and Oceanic Story Trust

Hi everyone!

Back in July, I had the opportunity to spend the day at the Walt Disney Animation Studios Tujunga Campus to learn about the film Disney Moana. It was a fun day filled with tons of information about how different aspects of the film were made. I already posted an article covering screenwriter Jared Bush talking about the extensive Moana collaborative process. Today I wanted to share a little of the research trips involved in making the film.

Originally my second article was going to be about something different, but a special feature on the Beauty and the Beast disc changed my direction. I’d just arrived back this month from France – it included a day trip to the Loire Valley and Chateau de Chambord – and the newest version of Beauty and the Beast had arrived at the house. The bonus features (carried over from the previous version) included animators and filmmakers touring that area of France. Chateau de Chambord was the inspiration for Beast’s Castle in Beauty and the Beast. I hope the special features on the Moana Blu-ray next year include research involved in creating the film. We did see clips of filmmakers on the trips, and I found it a fascinating look at how the movie was made.

For Moana, several research trips were taken. The initial trip took place in October, 2011. With hundreds of islands in the Pacific, the filmmakers had to narrow it down to just a few during each trip. The first research trip consisted of Fiji, Somoa, with Mo’orea and Tahiti in French Polynesia. The second trip was a few years later, in March, 2014 and encompassed music and story. They attended a music festival in New Zealand that included traditional dance, costumes, etc.

We were told the main reason for research trips was to understand the “sights and sounds and smells” (told while a plane flew loudly overhead from the Burbank airport, which seemed funny at the time), and to discover things they might otherwise not have known. One other major reason for the trips is to meet people. In the case of Moana, there was an Oceanic Story Trust created, which includes archeologists, historians, artists, elders, tattoo artists and more. It ensured authenticity while creating the characters and crafting the story, from the clothing to customs and design. And this Oceanic Story Trust was there for the filmmakers during every part of the process. For example, the different islands have different perceptions of Maui (played by Dwayne Johnson in the film). Filmmakers worked with the Oceanic Story Trust to put together an authentic character that encompasses the various perceptions.

Disney Moana opens on November 23rd, 2016 and I really look forward to seeing the finished film and hopefully – a few months after that – learning even more about the research trips and Oceanic Story Trust that helped form the movie when the movie arrives on home video.