Moana: Maui Sings “You’re Welcome”

Posted on November 28, 2016 at 1:36 pm

One of “Moana’s” highlights is this buoyant song from Maui (Dwayne Johnson), bragging about all he did to create the world. You can see the hand-drawn animation of the tattoos, including mini-Maui, and the tapa paper effect Mark Henn talked about in our interview.

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Interview: “Moana” Animator Mark Henn

Posted on November 25, 2016 at 9:57 pm

Copyright Disney 1016
Copyright Disney 2016

I love talking to Mark Henn, one of the greatest animation artists of all time. And I loved seeing his work in “Moana,” Disney’s new animated musical set in Polynesia. Henn worked on the animated tattoos sported by — and interacting with — Maui, a demi-god played by Dwayne Johnson.

How did the idea of animating Maui’s tattoos come about?

First off, there’s Ron Clements and John Musker. Most of their films have been traditional, hand-drawn and I’ve known them my entire career. So since this is their first CG film, I think it started with a desire from their point of view to in some way if possible to incorporate hand-drawn elements as much as they possibly could.

It had been kicked around early on in the development — how can we do this? And so as they researched when they were in the South Pacific they saw that the tattoos and all of that play a big part culturally for the people of Oceana. So, I think it became very apparent very quickly that this was a very simple but very effective way to incorporate the hand-drawn elements that they both grew up with and were involved with throughout their career and blend it with the modern, the CG computer animation that we we’re doing nowadays.

The tattoos have a very flat graphic character and design so we try to take advantage of that. At the early screenings of the film, in its story sketch phase, they would come out of the screenings and almost everybody to a person would say, “We’ve got to have more tattoos in. We need more of Mini Maui and more tattoos which Eric, we both felt… We were glad to hear that… So, they put him in as much as they possibly could and you’ve seen it… We can’t put any more in.

So, it was perfect really, and it worked out so well. And our technicians really made it very easy. We do our animation on paper and then it is practically a one-button push to get that information then mopped on as we call it and placed onto the CG characters. So it opened up a whole variety of visual things because it was not only the tattoos we did that way but part of Dwayne’s song, “You’re Welcome.” A lot of those elements were all hand-drawn, the dancing figures in the background and those singing little faces and the fish and birds and things. So those are all hand-drawn elements that open the door for more visual interpretations. Because of the limitlessness of the medium we could do all kinds of things. So it was just a lot of fun.

Oh, I love to hear that — it makes me so happy to return to an artist’s hands holding a pen or a brush.

Me too. That makes two of us.

What did you like to draw when you were a kid?

I enjoyed drawing and I drew all kinds of things. I went through my car phase when I was younger and then dogs. I had an experience once in Cleveland. I was doing a promotional tour at the time for “Pocahontas,” and I was in between presentations. A gal approached me backstage with those fateful lines: “Do you remember me?” I had to admit that I didn’t. She said, “Well, we went to high school together and I still have some of your drawings that you did on the bus.” And she pulled out drawings that I had done, and she had saved. I think we were in band together and it was probably on a band trip but she saved these drawings all these years and I was really quite touched by that, that somebody would think enough to keep them. I think they were cavemen or something.

What else did you do in “Moana?”

It was primarily the tattoos but tEric Goldberg and myself animated actually the opening part of the prologue when you hear grandmother explaining the history to the kids of how the world in their mind was fashioned. And you see these serpents and you see the crab and the first little image of Maui changing into the hawk, and the Island of the Sea raising up and spreading out. We also did a lot of these tapas which are these illustrated images that comes from Oceana the South Pacific. Those appear in the prologue and then a big part of Dwayne’s “You’re Welcome” song has that tapa look. The tapa paper, the type of paper that they use is similar to papyrus. It’s actually made from tree bark and some other organic materials so it has a real heavy texture to it. The technology allows us to create that look, to make it look like the tapa paper that they saw in person when they went on their research trips and then they were able to then give it a 3-D effect and made it look like it was torn on the edges. It was a lot of fun and as I said, it looks great.

Do you have a favorite classic Disney animated character?

I have many, no question, but one of my all-time favorites is Captain Hook and Frank Thomas, who animated Captain Hook, is still one of my inspirational animators. As for the ones I have animated, I get asked that question quite a bit and I always feel like Frank, who always said that it’s kind of like trying to pick a favorite child. But if push comes to shove and I had to pick one that just has a very, very ever so slight lead I would maybe go with Mulan.

I know your faith is very important to you. Would you like to share a favorite Bible verse?

For me like most people or a lot of people John 3:16 is foundational for me and has always been.

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Behind the Scenes Interview

Interview: Mark Henn of “Frozen”

Posted on November 24, 2013 at 3:59 pm

I always love talking to Mark Henn, one of the top animators in Disney history.  Previously, we spoke about young Simba in The Lion King and the most recent Winnie the Pooh.  This week, we talked about the adorable snowman character, Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad) in the Thanksgiving release “Frozen.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqBU1aKTe6E

I’d think from an artist’s point of view it would be a real challenge to work with a character made of snow and backgrounds made of snow.  That’s a lot of white!

Snow is certainly a real challenge, but the effects team rolled their sleeves up and dove right in and it is amazing what they were able to do.  They spent a lot of time in the snow, quite a bit of research.  They spent a lot of time tromping around in Scandinavia and some of them also went to Jackson Hole.  And snow isn’t always white.  A lot of credit goes to our amazing art director, Michael Giaimo.  If you see paintings of snow, you will see that snow isn’t always depicted as white.  Depending on the lighting you can have orange, blue, pink — it’s like a piece of white paper, very reflective.  You have a lot of options, particularly in how you light the snow.

And you have a character whose limbs fly off and then reassemble all the time.  How do you make that feel believable when he is such a fantasy figure?

You do have some reality to him.  We’ve all built snowmen and they come together in parts and pieces.  He is the most fantasy, magical character in the film so we can take some liberties.  His arms and head can pop off.  He gets discombobulated a couple of times and has to be put back together, whether he does it himself or has someone do it for him.  Those were his assets, what the animators wanted to take advantage of and make him really unique.

There are several scenes where his head is detached and his body seems to have a life of his own.  He says in the movie that he doesn’t have any bones.  He’s just snow and twigs an a carrot and some coal, but he has a warm heart and he’s all about love and hugs.

How does Olaf fit into the story?

He’s comic relief in one sense.  But he’s also a link between the two sisters.  As children they create a snowman when they are playing and it is Olaf.  So he is integral to their relationship and to connecting them.  He is reintroduced when they are adults and Elsa has left but he is a reminder of what they shared as children.  There’s a simplicity to his design.  We all know snowmen, we’ve built them, we know about Frosty who came to life.  There’s something very fun and magical about Olaf.  He’s fun and non-threatening, and has an innocence like a small child.  He’s the character everyone wants to take home.

Do you have a favorite scene?

There are so many!  The music is so strong in this film, so a lot of my favorite scenes grow out of those musical pieces.  When he is dreaming of heat and summer, it is so funny.  You think there will be a rhyme with puddle but he is totally oblivious to the expectations and to what happens to snow in the middle of summer.  The high point of Elsa’s transformation is when she is being attacked by the palace guards and she has what I call her werewolf moment — she is that monster and then quickly realizes what she is becoming and starts to back off.  It’s quick but very powerful.  And I love the scene at the end with the blizzard.  You’ll be buttoning up your collar when you see it.

What do you want people to talk about with their families after they see it?

The story is about sisters, about family.  There are great lessons for families to talk about — the importance of communication.  There are elements of trust and faith for them to talk about.  It’s about taking the time to talk to each other.  If Elsa and Anna had a chance to sit down and talk things out, we would have had a very short movie.

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Animation Behind the Scenes Interview
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Interview: Mark Henn of ‘The Lion King’

Posted on October 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I had a lot of fun talking to animator Mark Henn about “Winnie the Pooh” last summer so it was a pleasure to get to talk to him again, this time about The Lion King, which has had surprise box office success as a 3D theatrical re-release and in its first Blu-Ray edition.

Were you surprised by the support for the theatrical re-release of a 1994 movie?

Yes — seventeen years gone by and this little film that we had no idea how well it would do back then is surprising us again even today.  Still the king of the beasts, I guess, and a nice shot in the arm for hand-drawn animation, which is still viable.

I think it is less due to the 3D than because people want to go to the theater to see a movie the whole family can enjoy.

I don’t disagree.  The 3D is a hook but it is still a great movie.  I haven’t seen it in a long time and even I went, “Wow, this is a really good movie!”  And the 3D on top of it gave it a fresh twist but it’s really a great movie and there’s a whole new generation to see it, too.

You start by going there.  I was not a part of the original research trip but the directors, head of story, head of layout and head of background go on these trips.  I did one for “Mulan.”  They went to Africa and I had the opportunity several years after the film came out to go to Africa to do a promotional trip and when I showed up there, I said, “Oh, my gosh, there’s Pride Rock!  There’s where the wildebeests were!”

It all goes back to Walt Disney.  He believed everything had to be based in reality and fact and then you go from there.  We went to zoos and studied real lions.  Even though there are some liberties with color and things like that, that’s what you can do with this medium, adjust the colors and moods but it is all based in fact and reality.

What was your role on the movie? 

We’re the actors.  In a live action movie we can offer it to Tom Hanks or Brad Pitt but for animation we are usually cast on a specific character.  I was responsible for young Simba, the beginning of the movie through “Hakuna Matata,” those scenes of him growing up.  Animators, like actors, have a variety of strengths, some are better with villains or comedy but I’ve tended to do more lead characters, especially the girls.  The directors, when the sequence is ready to go into production they can sit down with us and communicate what Simba is doing and part of my job is not just the design of the character, what he looks like, but how he acts and moves.  So I act like quality control between the director and the other animators working on Simba, and make sure that what they do is what the directors want and consistent in the way he looks and acts throughout the the film.

One of the highlights of the film for me is when young Simba sings “I Just Can’t Wait to be King.”  How do you make a lion dance?

You have to know how a lion walks and moves first, and how they’re put together.  And then you can break the rules and have some fun with it.   You push it until it looks broken and then you back it up.  It wouldn’t be appropriate for him to get up on two legs — you had the rhythm and choreography but it had to be on all fours.

We have the voice and the music, particularly with songs, but the rest of the score comes in later.  We get the very specific musical beats and highlights and accents they need to hit and the lyrics — you have that to move the character to.

What does the 3D add to it?

It completes it, in a way.  The film was already very vast and epic in the way it was laid out.  We did what we could with the tools that were available in 1994 to make it that way.  If we had this technology then we would have used it.  So the technology has caught up with us to provide the final piece of the puzzle.  It is really something to see Zazu walking the lion cubs out into the middle of the Savannah.  You can feel him floating in the air with the cubs below him and it is really neat, an extra little tool that enhances the movie-going experience.

 

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Animation Behind the Scenes Interview

Interview: Mark Henn of ‘Winnie the Pooh’

Posted on July 14, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Mark Henn was supervising animator for the iconic title character in Disney’s new animated feature, “Winnie the Pooh” and for Christopher Robin as well.  He is a Disney veteran, having served in the same role for Princess Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog,” helping to design the character and oversee her animation throughout the film, and worked on Ariel in “The Little Mermaid,” Jasmine in “Aladdin,” and young Simba in “The Lion King.”  He talked to me about the challenge of taking on Winnie the Pooh, a character the audience knows well and feels very attached to but who has been interpreted by many different artists over the years.

I love the traditional look of this film.

One of the great sources of inspiration for me has been the golden age of illustration.  Early in my career here at the studio I discovered people like N.C. Wyeth, Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, E.F. Ward.

It’s always a little tricky when you’re working with something that’s well-established.  And certainly, Disney’s Pooh is — most of us grew up with these characters, the original three featurettes produced at the studio in the 1980’s, “Blustery Day,” “Honey Tree,” and “Tigger Too.”  We all knew that some of the very best of the studio had the opportunity to animate it.  Now for us it was a great opportunity.  You could tell these guys had a lot of fun with the characters.  It was light, fun, they had these rich characters and charming stories.  We had the same idea now that we had a turn.  And it was important to go back to the original material.  The directors, Steve and Don , went back to the original stories by A.A. Milne to find elements from previously unused stories to put together our current film.  There’s such a charm and sophistication to his story-telling even though it seems very simple.  It’s very elegant.

It was a wonderful chance to stand on the shoulders of what has gone before but John Lasseter also encouraged us to make it our own, bring our own sensibilities as artists and animators as well.  But for me the biggest compliment is to hear people say, “That’s the Pooh I remember.”  Then I feel that I’ve done my job.  After all, that’s the Pooh I remember, too!

I was very captivated by the way the characters interacted with the narrator and the actual text.

Again, it goes back to what had been done.  We screened the originals several times throughout the production and we all loved that, with the narrator breaking the fourth wall and the characters talking to the narrator.  And interacting with the text on the pages — one of my favorites is in “Blustery Day” when the “rain rain rain came down down down” and the lettering gets washed away.  We wanted to build on that and we had the chance with the way the story was structured to take advantage of that.  For me, in one particular instance, Pooh is dejected and he’s walking out of the woods and the narrator is talking and says he didn’t notice that he walked into the next paragraph.  It was just story-boarded that far, with him walking out of the woods.  And he says, “What’s a paragraph?” and he finds the yarn that show’s Eeyore’s scarf tail had come unraveled.  As I was looking at the sequence in a meeting, thinking about animating the scene and thinking about what would be fun, I said, “How about if he picks up the P for Pooh and says, ‘Is there any honey in this paragraph?'”  I liked the idea of his picking up the letter P and looking at it like it might be a box or jar.

It was in everyone’s mind to look at our scenes to see where we could find the entertaining ways to bring these scenes to live within the character and story, which is always the trick.

The backgrounds are beautiful.  Were they hand-done?

Yes, but they use a digital paint system.  It has the same hand-feel as a brush.  It looks like watercolor and the artists still do it by hand but instead of painting on illustration board it’s now done digitally.  You hold the stylus in your hand and all the background painters are terrific painters.  The head of the background department went to the real 100 acre wood in England on a research trip and did a lot of watercolors on site to capture the feel.  They all worked hard to re-create the world that we were so familiar with.

How were you influenced by the original illustrator of the books, E.H. Shepard?

I love his work, I really do.  One of the first things we had to do was settle on which Pooh design we wanted to use, proportions and all that.  When we looked at the films, we realized that each artist that touched the characters had created a slightly different look.  Frank Thomas’ Winnie the Pooh had a slightly different look than Hal Kings, and on down the line.  We all kind of agreed that the work that Hal King did on “Honey Tree” was really the definitive model we should use for Pooh.  So we had our model sheets built around that, but I took it a step further and went back to Shepard to pull out as many images of his throughout the books and created some inspirational model sheets we had all around and in the office so I could always be reminded of what Shepard had in mind and Pooh-isms and poses.

 

 

 

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Behind the Scenes Interview
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