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Erica Galindo
Celebrating Food, Faith and Family
Last edited on: February 7, 2017.

Just in time for the holidays, Walt Disney Animation Studios presents the exciting new animation film Moana. The sweeping CG-animated fantasy adventure chronicles the heroic journey of a Polynesian teenage girl to save her people. Along the way, she discovers the power of love between friends, and the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.

Drawn to the ocean, Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) convinces the mighty demigod (half god, half human) Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson-Fast and Furious 6, The Tooth Fairy) to join her on her mission. Reluctantly he helps her on her quest to be a master wayfinder as they voyage across the open ocean encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds.

Disney animator Mark Henn 'Moana'

Moana travels on a daring journey to save her people.

Moana is directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin), produced by Osnat Shurer, and features music by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa‘i.

When John Musker and Ron Clements began research for this film, they dove deep into Polynesian mythology, culminating in a trip to Tahiti, Samoa and Fiji.

During the trip, Musker and Clements worked with archaeologists, linguists, village chiefs and Polynesian people. They became fascinated with Polynesian navigation. Historically, great Polynesian sailors masterfully navigated the vast Pacific, discovering the many islands. “We learned about dead reckoning, where they sailed by their knowledge of the stars and the currents,” explains Musker. “It was very much a source of pride to them that they were the world’s greatest navigators in doing so.”

Folklore about the demigod, mythical Maui, which abounds in several cultures, presents him as a shapeshifter and trickster with the story of his life tattooed across his body. He pulled the islands up out of the sea with his magical fishhook. “His bigger-than-life exploits and personality really seemed like it could be rich to see in animation, and I had never seen anything in film of that character before,” says Musker.

Ultimately, they cast Maui in a significant supporting role but shifted focus to a teenage girl. “We thought it would be very appealing to do a female empowerment story that didn’t center on any sort of romance,” says Musker. “We saw it as sort of a True Grit-type story: the determined girl who teams up with a washed-up guy. They have this adventure and she finds her true calling—and saves the world in the process.”

Disney animator Mark Henn 'Moana'

While on her journey, Moana crosses paths with the mythical legend, Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson

Sonoma Christian Home interviewed Mark Henn, 2D Animator for Moana. Mark began his career at Disney where he was mentored by legendary Disney animator Eric Larson (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Bambi, and many more)  after successfully completing the character animation program at California Institute of the Arts.

Before joining the Moana team, Mark Henn (2D Animator) served as lead 2D animator on Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Oscar®-winning features Frozen and Big Hero 6. His skills were also tapped into for the live-action feature Saving Mr. Banks. Previously, Henn served as supervising animator for the two characters of Winnie the Pooh, and Christopher Robin in the 2011 classic film Winnie the Pooh.

Since joining Disney, Henn has risen through the ranks to become one of the industry’s most respected artists. In his first stint as a supervising animator, Henn animated the beloved characters of Basil, Dr. Dawson, Olivia, and Flaversham, in The Great Mouse Detective.

Since then, he has continued in his role as supervising animator, bringing life to Oliver, Dodger, Jenny and Fagin in Oliver & Company; Ariel in The Little Mermaid; Bernard and Bianca in The Rescuers Down Under; Mickey, the Prince and Goofy in the animated featurette The Prince and the Pauper; Belle in Beauty and the Beast. 

His other impressive credits include Jasmine in Aladdin; Young Simba in The Lion King; the free-spirited and irrepressible heroine in Mulan, as well as her father Fa Zhou; the hula dancers in the opening sequence of Lilo & Stitch; and Grace in Home on the Range.  He also served as an animator on the title character in Pocahontas.

Disney animator Mark Henn 'Moana'

Moana bravely battles to save her people.

In 2000, Henn traded his pencil for a director’s chair and directed the award-winning short John Henry, based on the popular legend of the African-American folk hero.

Moana hits theatres in 3D nationwide on November 23rd. This highly-anticipated family film was produced by the award-winning creators of Frozen (the fifth highest grossing box office film of all time, over $1.29 billion).

In an exclusive interview with Sonoma Christian Home, Mark provided some incredible insight. SCH Editor At Large Dr. Diane Howard reports.

SCH: Tell us about the role of a supervising animator? 

MH: An animation supervisor oversees a character’s or characters’ development throughout the animation process. They ensure quality control and continuity.

SCH: What was your specific animation role for Moana?

MH: I was a hand animator, especially for the tattoos for Maui.

SCH: What do Maui’s tattoos reveal about him?

MH: Like on an illustrated man, they reveal his backstory.

SCH: How do you determine to picturize the culture and traditions of the story?

MH: On-site research revealed the influences that informed the languages, styles of dress and foundational folklore, which are Pan-Pacific, a blend of Fijian, Tongan and Samoan cultures and more. The research trips provided for a baseline of authenticity, which was important for all aspects of the movie: characters and environment, including the sunset and the water.

SCH: How do you determine how to depict the characters?

MH: It starts with on-site sketches and then ongoing design by a team or committee.

SCH:  How and why did you animate the ocean to respond to Moana’s movements?

MH: The ocean becomes anthropomorphic as a character. Technology today enables fluid movement. We could have a living ocean which reacts to the movements of Moana (whose name means “ocean” in several languages) with anthropomorphized reactions. Onsite talking with Polynesian people revealed their deep respect for the ocean.

SCH: What was your process in in depicting the Polynesian environment in this action-packed movie?

MH: New, hyper-fast moving computer technology enabled the fluid, swirling visual picturization of the world of the Pacific with natural elements like trees, ocean, sunset. New computer technology provides for roundness and fluidity. New technology enable a greater sense of realism.

Disney animator Mark Henn 'Moana'

The demigod (half man and half god) Maui, helps Moana on her quest.

Moana breaks new ground in many ways. There is no love interest in this movie and Moana looks different from her forebears in other ways. The main character Moana has a sturdier build, one which would believably allow her, in Musker’s words, “to hold her own in the demands of this physical environment.” Her physique evolved in the studio as animators ensured that her musculature lent itself to a girl who could credibly, single-handedly, navigate and survive the perils of the open sea.

Moana is a new kind of character, and the movie is also a first for Disney, as its only animated film set in the Pacific Islands. The influences that informed its language, styles of dress and foundational folklore are pan-Pacific, a pastiche of Fijian, Tongan and Samoan cultures, among others. A first version of its script was penned by New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, who boasts the two top-grossing films produced in his country and left his mark on another popular export, the comedy-band-cum-TV-show, Flight of the Conchords.

Disney animator Mark Henn 'Moana'

Moana may not be a princess, but she’s definitely a heroine.

In this movie, Moana is in turmoil over the clash between her desire to become a voyager and her father’s demands that she stay close to home and grow into her role as the community’s next chief. Maui, as a “demigod,” has both godly and human characteristics, and is viewed as an ancestor to the exalted, ruling class of Hawaii.

In one of Hawaii’s most prominent creation myths, Maui is known for passing on the secret of fire to humans, drawing the Hawaiian archipelago together and slinging the sun so that it moves more slowly. He’s a cultural hero and a trickster.

Moana delights and thrills as it presents a new kind of Disney heroine as she navigates, explores, and conquers in an action-packed animated movie with the latest CG technology. See many wonderful videos: featurettes, interviews, and trailers for this movie.




To learn more about this author, please visit Dr. Diane Howard




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