BuzzFeed News spoke one-on-one with Moana directors Ron Clements and John Musker in July during a press event at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. And after hearing from a bunch of other key creative voices behind Disney's latest animated feature, here's the coolest stuff we learned.
1. Moana was deliberately designed to have a "realistic" body type.
2. Flounder from The Little Mermaid and Olaf from Frozen both appear in the film.
3. Clements and Musker, along with a team of Disney Animation artists, traveled to the southern region of Oceania on two extensive research trips for the film.
4. Over the course of those two trips, they formed the Oceanic Story Trust. The Trust is a team of experts — anthropologists, academics, educators, linguists, navigators, and cultural advisers — who collaborated with Disney's creative team.
5. The original story for the movie focused on Maui — the demigod trickster played by Dwayne Johnson — and Moana was a secondary character on a mission to rescue her love interest.
6. But after their first research trip, the filmmakers became more focused on navigation as a theme.
7. They also wanted to make the central plot of the movie revolve around Moana's own issues and finding herself, and "not her relationship with a guy."
8. Clements and Musker wanted voice talent involved in the film to have some connection to the Pacific Islands.
9. They didn't open up auditions for Maui — they only wanted Johnson, and reached out to him directly.
10. Clements and Musker watched videos of Nicole Scherzinger on YouTube before casting her to voice Moana's mother.
11. "Moana" is both a name and a word in the South Pacific — it means "ocean" and is not a gendered name.
12. The directors were aware of Robert Flaherty's 1962 documentary film Moana before they named the project.
13. When compared to other Disney Princesses, Musker believes Moana is most similar to Mulan, but "more extreme."
14. The filmmakers saw so many roosters and pigs on their research trip to the South Pacific, they decided that they needed to include them in the movie. So they added Pua and Heihei.
15. All the noises Pua makes are real pig noises — he isn't voiced by a human.
16. Heihei's voice is an interweaving of Alan Tudyk voicing rooster sounds and real recorded rooster sounds.
17. Musker and Clements auditioned hundreds of women for the voice of Moana, from ages 14 to 30.
18. It's a complete coincidence that Auli’i Cravalho looks so much like Moana. The character was designed before she was cast.
19. The characters' hair in Moana was unlike any other hair the animation team had designed before. They had to create new processes and tools to manipulate hair in order to have it look naturalistic and dynamic.
20. Also, the animators originally envisioned Maui as being bald.
21. For Maui's body type, animators used wrestlers, football players, and Johnson himself as inspiration.
22. Animators also used video of Johnson's recording sessions to help flesh out Maui's movements.
23. Maui's dimples and eyebrow raise are directly based on Johnson's.
24. Animators and the special effects team spent a lot of time envisioning how to create the ocean as a character, so that it didn't just look like a serpent coming out of the water.
25. The effects team built an entirely new system called Splash for Moana that would allow them to animate water.
26. In addition to Splash, the team also used a system called Matterhorn to handle the movement of the lava on Te Ka — the living volcano — and the sand on the beaches. Matterhorn was originally created to animate the snow in Frozen.
27. About 80% of Moana has special effects. For comparison, only 46% of Big Hero 6 has special effects.
28. Neysa Bové, a visual development artist, designed the characters' clothes to be historically and regionally accurate — she only used materials in the design that would have actually been available on Moana's island, which limited the color palette considerably.
29. Whenever Moana wears red, it's a nod to her royal roots.
30. Bové included a slit in Moana's skirt so that she could run and jump more easily.
31. Bové went through more than 40 designs for Moana's iconic necklace.
32. She finally decided on an abalone shell divided to look like a split between the land and the sea. The stars are a nod to Moana's identity as a navigator.
33. Moana's producers met with and recruited Lin-Manuel Miranda to work on the film before Hamilton became a massive success. They had loved his work on In the Heights.
34. Clements believes the central message of Moana is "discovering who you are and who you're meant to be."