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EXCLUSIVE: BeautifulBallad Chats MOANA with the Art Director of Characters on the Movie, Bill Schwab

November 15, 2016 - Author: admin - No Comments

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BeautifulBallad had the amazing opportunity to sit down with Bill Schwab, the Art Director of Characters for Disney’s MOANA, and discuss the upcoming film. Bill worked with the Art Director of Environment, Andrew Edward Harkness, to bring the Production Designer, Ian Gooding’s vision to life.

Bill joined production early on; he designed the main characters, worked with the modeling team to bring the characters into 3D, assisted the rigging team (the team who put all the bones into the characters to make them become animated), the look development team, who puts the hair and skin on the characters and also the ones in charge of Maui’s 2D tattoos. He also worked with animation on shot production and did draw overs to make the characters seem more appealing. Anything that it took to get the character up and running, he had a hand in.

You can read our full interview with Mr. Schwab under the jump. Bill did inform us that he has another project lined up at Disney, but could not tell us the name or any details on it. We can’t wait to find out what it is!

MOANA will open in theaters on Wednesday, November 23!

On how he came to be part of the movie:
“I came back from vacation after Frozen and there was a script on my chair. I read the script and went to a kick off meeting and here I am four years later. I also worked with the directors, Ron [Clements] and Jon [Musker] before and really wanted to work with the again.”

On if there were any earlier drafts of the characters that he really pushed to be the final product:
“I am so happy where we landed. Along the way I feel like there’s always touchstones where you think this could be her and, frankly, they could have. And I think that was a part of that exercise of bringing a wide variety of styles into 3D to really get a sense of what she might look like in the film, but I think where we landed is by far the best version. And part of the trick is knowing when to stop.

In character design you can keep going forever or until the film has to get made, but there are points where people really feel strongly about something and it is the director’s call and John Lasseter’s call to know when to stop and I think we stopped in the right spot.”

On the characters changing due to the art director’s vision of the movie:
“The main characters were done and modeled when Andy Harkness joined the team. He really keyed off a lot of the shape language that was in the characters to try and infuse that into the environment. We really wanted them to feel like one world. We wanted the characters to feel like they meshed with the environments.

One thing about having the characters designed so early is we were able to explore a lot of initiatives with them like Moana, for example, there was an initiative to have her be able to interact with her hair and if you watch the film you’ll see more than any other time in any CG film she is able to do all sorts of stuff with her hair. Then Maui’s anatomy was a big initiative and very time consuming to make that work, so luckily we had that time.”

On how excited he was to see Maui’s 2D animated tattoos on his 3D body:
“It was amazing and when I first started on the film there was another artist, Sue Nickels and she had done some imagery of the tattoos animating on Maui and I remember at the time thinking that is a cool idea, but seeing it come to fruition was incredible.”

On working with a costume designer on this film:
“Costume designer, Neysa Bove, she designed every costume in the movie and she helped me work with the modeling team to get the shells right and there were so many very specific details that are specific to the islands that we had to make sure we got right. Certain types of weaving, Pandanus is a woven material that Moana has on her skirt and then she has something called Tapa on her top which is tree bark that has been soaked and pounded and made into a material. She was a huge influence on the movie.”

On what he took away from his own research and from the research brought back from the crew who visited the islands:
“I think the biggest thing I took away from the research was that we are in a specific place, we are making a fictional film, but we are trying to capture a real place and real people and really make it feel believable.”

On using the voice actors’ expressions and mannerisms to influence their characters:
“All of their recording sessions are filmed, so the animators will reference a lot of that footage for the film. We always try to capture something about the actor in the performance. I think it is a nice way of creating beliveability, especially with Auli’i Cravalho (voice of Moana) being a teenager, her hand gestures and her acting I think the animators really keyed off of it. With Dwayne Johnson (voice of Maui) he does this sort of eyebrow kind of signature look that he does that we totally stole and put in the movie.”

On how time consuming that was:
“Days, weeks. All of this is very time consuming. It’s definitely a medium of minutiae. Every little detail, every frame of the film is hand animated, we had a team of 90 animators on the movie, so it is very time consuming. But for the people who love it, like myself, its great and it is very rewarding.”

On if his designs of the characters helped influence cast:

“I don’t know. I know all the casting agents have our drawings, but I don’t think so. I think this was a total coincidence.”

On how Heihei and Puaa came to be in the movie:
“They were in the initial script. They have been around as long as I have been on the film. Who they are changed significantly…Hei Hei was kind of this grumpy old man character that was mean to Puaa and he became the stupidest rooster anyone has ever seen. Puaa was in the movie a lot more. He went on the boat, there were t-shirts being made, at least posters saying “Save Puaa”. Everyone loved Puaa, but the decision to keep him off the boat is definitely the right decision. He would have been too warm and cuddly for her if he had stayed.”

On if Puaa was always intended to have dog like qualities:
“We watched a lot of clips of kunekune pigs, which is what Puaa is, and they are very warm and cuddly. But he has been very anthropomorphized to really be that cute kind of puppy character.”

On the music in Moana and if it influenced their designs:
“Lin-Manuel Miranda brings something super fresh and new for this movie. Te Vaka [who also collaborated on the music for the movie] was a part of the movie early on and we were already listening to his music. Lin’s songs came in piecemeal. He would send demos and the directors would play it for the crew, which was awesome, it was really inspiring. The music is a huge part of this movie, it is a big part of the storytelling of the film and it’s a big influence and it’s amazing.”

On the scene he most enjoyed watching come to life:
“Maui’s song is unbelievable and the first time I saw it it blew me away and I’ve watched it many, many times sense because it’s very special. Maui’s song and Moana’s song are both going to be signature to their characters and really advance the storytelling.”

On if prefers hand drawn animation or computer animation:
“I think they are both totally different mediums. From my perspective, on the design side of things there isn’t a huge difference. Both mediums you are designing characters that live in a world that, hopefully, are capable of carrying a film. What I love about CG is I love the collaboration with the team of people.

So we have what are called character teams at Disney and even though I am designing multiple characters, each one of those characters will then have a team, who will take collective ownership over that character and it becomes a very challenging, but collaborative experience because we then take that character all the way to the screen and in hand drawn a supervisor animator will take on many of those roles themselves because they’re the ones supervising that character.”

On how it feels to have a voice coming out of his character after years of hard work:
“It’s amazing! When you see those first animation test with the voice of the character actually coming out of your character it’s kind of an incredible moment.”

On if he’s ever had a character that didn’t work until the voice actor joined the movie:
“Olaf was designed far before Josh Gad was cast and we had various scratch actors and people from the studio doing screenings and Olaf wasn’t working at all. And Josh came on and infused the brilliance into this character. It was like all of sudden design, voice, animation totally clicked.”

On how this film is different from Frozen:
“They are very very different films. Frozen is much more in fairytale land, where the costumes are definitely inspired by the Norwegian culture, but I think we caricature things far more in Frozen. Where as in Moana, even though it is a completely fictional story, we really are trying to set it in a real time and real place.”

Categories: Disney, Interview

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