Utah-Born, Disney Raised: ‘Moana’ Producers Visit the U

moana-svg Kamryn Broschinsky

Characters, scenes, images and clips from Disney’s upcoming film, “Moana,” drew crowds to the U’s Film & Media Arts auditorium Wednesday. The room was so full that it was standing-room-only by the time the event was set to begin at 2 p.m.

Representing Disney were two former Utahns, surprisingly enough: Hyrum Osmond from Provo and David Derrick, Jr. whose roots extend to Farmington. Osmond was the co-head of animation on “Moana,” while Derrick’s contributions to the film came from his work in the story artist department.

Both were engaging as they discussed their passions for the work they do at Disney, painting their careers as dream jobs they certainly consider worth the enormous amount of effort they put into them.

Osmond’s fanboy attitude toward animating, and Disney animation in particular, was easy to see throughout the discussion. He talked about how he found his passion for animation, referencing such films as “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and “Pocahontas,” which he watched as a kid and instantly fell in love with.

Clearly, his love for Disney has not dimmed, judging by his excitement at the number of “Easter eggs” the animation team was able to throw into the movie. Disney is known to hide intentional inside jokes or hidden messages in its films and Osmond said to look for “Frozen,” “Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” references. “They’re in there,” he said.

There seemed to be a little extra passion for “Moana” in particular from both of the speakers. For Derrick, part of that came from his background — as someone with Samoan ancestry, he felt himself drawn to the story in a personal way. “It was important for us to walk with our ancestors,” he said, referencing a film research trip to the Polynesian isles with his family. “As artists, there are always characters that we gravitate more to,” he said, and for him, that was Moana. He added later that this film provided a “rare privilege to experience and connect with this [Polynesian] culture.”

Derrick also delved into the importance of knowing your roots and knowing your history. He returned to that theme throughout the discussion, after explaining it as “knowing your mountain”: “You can’t know who you are or where you’re going until you know where you came from,” Derrick said, quoting a Polynesian style of thought.

As the two explained their contributions to the film, Osmond emphasized various animation aspects of the movie with clips featuring lead character Moana’s sidekick, a pig named Pua, transformation scenes for second prominent character Maui, voice-acted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and clips of mini-Maui, one of the character’s many tattoos. Derrick, on the other hand, discussed the process of storyboarding, which requires a skill for fast drawing, loads of creativity and a willingness to scrap ideas almost as quickly as they are imagined.

In addition to “The Rock,” a few other big names — or should-be big names — are featured in the film. This includes composers Lin-Manuel Miranda — which, at this point, is a name practically impossible not to recognize; Mark Mancina, a Disney music great who is known for such work as “The Lion King”; and Opetaia Foa’i, a Polynesian musician whose sound informs all of the music for the film, in addition to all the other individuals who made the movie a possibility.

Speaking to artists in the audience, Derrick often turned to the importance of drawing from your experience as you create. “As an artist … you draw from your own experiences,” he said. “Always try to get those experiences,” and then use them to inform your work.

“We’re all storytellers,” he said.

“Moana” is set to release in theaters Nov. 23.