You'd think - looking at Maui from Disney's "Moana" - given
this demigod's dimples (more importantly, those eyebrows) that Dwayne Johnson
was always supposed to be this character's voice. But that's where you'd be
"You have to understand that - when we're initially
developing these movies - we typically get them up on reels 5 or 6 times so
that John (Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation
Studios) and the other members of the story trust can then get a sense of what
shape this film is in, where it needs to be improved," explained Eric Goldberg,
one of the WDAS vets who worked on this project. "And - if I'm remembering
correctly - it wasn't until the first or second viewing of our story reels that
Osnat (Shurer, the producer of "Moana") said that 'I think we've got Dwayne
Johnson for Maui's voice.' "
Dwayne Johnson records dialogue for Maui, the character he's voicing for Disney's"Moana." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
So in the days before Dwayne had signed on to voice this
demigod, what then compelled Walt Disney Animation Studios to make an animated
film set in the Pacific Islands? "Moana" director John Musker traces this idea
back to the sea-faring tales that he had read in his youth."
"A lot of these ocean-going adventure stories were set in
the South Pacific, a world that I'd never been to. And because I wanted to
learn more about that world, I began reading Polynesian mythology," Musker
recalled. "Which is where I read this story about how the sun had been slowed
down by Maui."
"Through our readings and our research trips to the Pacific
Islands, we learned that Maui's stories and his depiction vary
island-to-island; he was this trickster, a shapeshifter. Someone who could do
these larger-than-life things like pull islands up out of the ocean by using a
magic fishhook," John continued. "I turned to Ron (Clements, Musker's longtime
collaborative partner. More importantly, John's co-director of such Disney
classics as "The Little Mermaid" & "Aladdin") and said 'You have to read these
stories about Maui."
(L to R) Osnat Shurer, Ron Clements and John Musker stand in from a piece of Maui character art. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
"So - on John's recommendation - I read a bunch of these
stories," Clements chimed in. "I think - to some people, myself included - when
you heard the name "Maui," you might first think of the island in Hawaii. But
everywhere you go in the South Pacific, there are all of these great and varied
stories about Maui. Some of them are different, of course. But a lot of them
have some of the same elements."
"So inspired by the legends about Maui as our jumping-off point,
we fashioned a story set in this world and then pitched it to John Lasseter.
And he really liked that story," John said.
"Mind you, in our first version of this movie, it was really
Maui's story," Ron interrupted. "There wasn't a Moana character yet. She came
from our research trips and learning of the true history of Pacific
John Musker and Ron Clements talk about some of the aspects of Oceanic history &culture that influenced "Moana" 's storyline. Copyright DisneyEnterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
So while Musker & Clements sorted out their story,
veteran Disney character artists like Bill Schwab & Sue Nichols then began
exploring what an animated version of Maui might look like.
"And because he is able do all of these incredible feats
like lassoing the sun to slow it down, while we were researching what Maui
might look like, we began looking at very strong, athletic men. World's strongest
men-types. Pro wrestlers and football players. Guys who not only have this
massive amount of muscle but also projected this sense of power &
confidence," said Carlos Cabral, "Moana" 's head of characters and technical
And when you start putting together a list of heavily
muscled actors who also project a sense of power & confidence, Dwayne
Johnson would automatically be pretty high up on that list. Which is why the
filmmakers then began considering him as a possible voice for Maui.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.All rights reserved
And then when you factor in that Johnson had already worked
for the Mouse (He starred in "The Game Plan" and "Race to Witch Mountain" for
Disney in 2007 & 2008, respectively) - more importantly, that Dwayne can
actually trace his family's heritage back to Oceania (While standing onstage at
last year's D23 EXPO and revealing that he'd just joined "Moana" 's vocal cast,
Johnson proclaimed that " ... I am proudly half-Samoan and half-black") ... Well,
that certainly made this casting decision a whole lot easier.
"I remember that - when we learned that Dwayne was going to
be the voice of Maui - that I said to the people who were building the rig for
this character that we'd now probably need more dimple controls," Hyrum Osmond,
the co-head of Animation on "Moana," laughed. "But that said, I also have to
say that where we landed with this character's design was pretty much locked
before Dwayne officially came onboard as the voice of Maui."
Mind you, what's kind of ironic about all this is - given
that Johnson, in most of his film appearances, favors an extremely
close-cropped haircut or even a clean-shaven head - that there was an very early design done of
Maui that then explored what this demigod might look like if he were bald.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
"Bill Schwab did a lot of drawings of Maui like that. And
that version of this character did look an awful lot like Dwayne. But after
consulting with Hinano Murphy of the Oceanic Story Trust (The group of Pacific
Islanders, which included anthropologists, linguists, master navigators, master
tattooists, choreographers and cultural advisors that Musker & Clements met
during their trips to consult on their film to then make sure that "Moana" was
as steeped in its Pacific inspirations as possible), she said Maui needed a
full head of hair - that's where his mana is located," said Mack Kablan, the
animation supervisor for Maui. "And so Bill incorporated long, curly hair into
his final design."
"That's what's ultimately hard for so many people to
understand about the animation process. I mean, a lot of people will go to
'Moana' and then look at Maui & think 'He kind of looks like Dwayne.' And
they'll then assume that that's what Disney did. Just created a character that
sort of looks like the actor who voices this character,' " Eric Goldberg
concluded. "But that then overlooks all of those months of meetings, the
thousands of drawings that went into deciding how Maui should look. Not to
mention the people who then had to build a rig that was malleable enough to
allow a character to be this athletic & agile. And let's not forget that
it's the animators who actually work with that rig who then give performance to
Maui. Who take Dwayne's great vocal work and - using all of their skills, all
of their life experience - then make that character really come to life."
So you know how there's that African proverb which states
that " ... it takes a village to raise a child" ? Well, when it came to Maui, it
took all of the numerous departments & disciplines working at Walt Disney
Animation Studios to then craft a character who was able to raise islands up
from the ocean's floor.
This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Wednesday, November 16, 2016