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Bringing Moana to Life

We attended the interview as a guest of Disney


Moana is a 16-year-old girl who is passionate, outgoing, and adventurous. She is a Disney princess that girls around the world will admire and look up to after seeing the film. A lot of people came together to bring the character Moana to life, and we were given the incredible opportunity to meet with some of the people who played a role in creating Moana.

Bill Schwab (Art Director, Characters) came on the film 3 1/2 years ago, and there was already design work done on the character. The staff at Disney does a lot of exploration when developing their main characters. “We are always exploring and trying to make our films feel unique. We went from cartoon to realistic. Just playing, trying new stuff, and having fun doing it,” said Schwab.

“The history of drawing at Disney has always been a big part of what makes this studio. A lot of times, we communicate through drawing,” said Malcon Pierce (Animation Supervisor, Moana)


When working on the drawings, they referenced a lot of the photos that were brought back from research trips in the Pacific Islands. “The style of the film should be driven by the beautiful place and the beautiful people who live there,” said Schwab. They then took a lot of the drawings of Moana and built them into 3D models. “Finally, everyone fell in love with one of the models, and we felt like it was Moana,” said Schwab.


Once they had finished designing Moana, they had to bring her to life. Amy Smeed (Head of Animation) mentioned that when they received the Moana final design in their department that her body was in the shape of a T. “We worked closely with the character models to develop the characters. It can take up more than 2-3 hours for one pose. Just in her face there are 181 controls,” said Smead


Finally, there is one of the most important things about creating Moana, the costume design. Disney had the incredibly talented Neysa Bové (Vis Dev Artist) working on Moana’s costume design. “Costume design is an important part of the filmmaking and character development. It helps to tell the story of who they are, and capture their personality with what they are wearing,” said Bové.

One of their biggest challenges with costume design was bringing in uniqueness when only have a few materials to use. They worked a lot with the Oceanic Story Trust that Disney created which is a group of locals who they consulted with throughout the process to ensure they were representing the culture properly.


“Since she is a voyager, and goes on a sea adventure, we wanted her to be functional, so we added a slit to the front of her costume. This allowed her to have more room to run, swim, and jump,” said Bové.

Hair is also important, and Moana wears her hair down a lot in the movie. When she needs to put her hair up, they decided to have her put it in a bun. “It is a very traditional style in the islands. They wear their hair in a bun with a lot of headdresses,” said Bové. They also did some ponytail exploration.

“We put storytelling aspects into the costume design.” Neysa Bové

MOANA visual development. Artist: Bill Schwab, MOANA Art Director, Characters.

When it came to creating her necklace they decided to make it out of an abalone. They carved half of it with a curve to reveal part of the abalone luster, and still show part of the rough covering. It was to represent the land and sea. Because she is a voyager and relies on the stars to navigate, they added some stars to the top of it.

Bové favorite costume to design was the Taualuga costume. “She wears it while doing a special dance at a ceremony as the chief’s daughter. It is red because that is a sign of royalty in the Pacific Islands,” said Bové.

Don’t miss seeing the beautiful Moana in theaters November 23rd. Learn more about Moana on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram #Moana.

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