Bringing Moana To Life

Moana

How the art and science of CGI animation comes together at Disney, by Drew Turney.

Animation is a funny art in the modern studio age. Where the great animators of old sat at drafting boards with pens and paper, today directors must deal with armies not just of designers and art directors but CGI and software engineers, often speaking a very different language than they themselves ever learned.

Even aside from the ever-changing technology that builds it, CG animation is put together kind of backwards. Live action means you start with raw footage that’s then treated and manipulated long after your actors have gone home. The raw footage in animation is what you’re trying to get to from literally nothing, the whole film becoming a post-production exercise just to get to the working shot or scene.

Disney’s Moana employed 90 artists just in the animation department – that didn’t include art people, designers, effects crews or the operators driving the software to put it all together.

And it seems the secret sauce is all in the way the elements click. Character art director Bill Schwab and lead animator Amy Smeed worked closely together even though their jobs were very different. “There are two major parts to my role,” Schwab says, “one is coming on very early and working with the directors and production designer to design the characters with the design team.

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