Visual artist discusses Disney’s upcoming movie ‘Moana’

Neysa Bové, a visual development artist at Disney, spoke to students about the design of the upcoming Disney film “Moana” Tuesday afternoon in the School of Communication. Evelyn Choi // Staff Photographer
Neysa Bové, a visual development artist at Disney, spoke to students about the design of the upcoming Disney film “Moana” Tuesday afternoon in the School of Communication. Evelyn Choi // Staff Photographer

When watching an animated movie, it’s easy to forget that what you’re watching is the culmination of hundreds of hours of work by animators, voice actors, directors, writers and other professionals. There’s so much that goes into creating an animated feature,  as UM students learned during a special presentation with one of Disney’s visual development artists, Neysa Bové, held at the UM School of Communication. Bové, who headed costume design on Disney’s upcoming movie “Moana,” discussed her career and work environment, and also shared production details and clips from “Moana” with students.

“Costume design captures who a character is,” Bové said. Moana, the titular main character, is strong and athletic, so Bové accounted for  increased movement in the outfit designs for this action-princess character.

Bové dealt with all the aspects of a character’s overall appearance, including props, accessories and even hair. During the movie, Moana is seen wearing a top-knot, one of Bové’s hairstyle ideas that made it into the movie. “As a girl, when you get down to business you put your hair up,” she said, which is exactly what Moana does during a serious situation in the movie.

While this was one of Bové’s successful ideas, there were certainly challenges. She discussed the creative process and the disappointments when a design failed to meet expectations. Bové mentioned how she made more than 30 designs for Moana’s unique necklace before coming up with an idea that aligned more with the directors’ thoughts. While Bové admitted designing could be frustrating at times, she also spoke about how the environment, the people and the love for her work motivated her to overcome those creative blocks.

Due to Moana’s distinct Polynesian setting, Bové discussed how a research team that was organized to ensure that the movie was culturally accurate. The research team worked to educate all departments working on the movie about the culture of the oceanic islanders. Disney’s expansion into cultural diversity is being executed in a conscientious way with the development of the “Pacific Trust,” an advisory group of Polynesian natives, elders and experts that approved and reviewed everything in the movie to ensure it was all culturally correct. Allowing those whose culture is illustrated in the film to have a voice and be at the forefront of their culture’s representation is a huge step toward inclusiveness, said Bové. Even Moana’s voice actress, native Hawaiian Auli’i Cravalho, has ties to the culture.

Learning about the culture of people in the movie helped shape its direction. “Know your mountain,” an island proverb meaning people must remember where they’re from to know where they’re going, encompasses the spirit of “Moana.”

“This story is about discovering your identity and purpose, about finding your true self,” Bové said. Moana is a product of her culture, but her story is the same as many others discovering their own identity and place in the world.

UM students enjoyed Bové’s presentation and were excited to learn more about her career and the upcoming movie. Junior motion pictures major Stephanie Cone said she had a “reignited love for animation” after seeing the presentation. Sophomore motion pictures major Mikayla Mobassaleh said she felt “inspired” by the event.

“Two things,” Bové said when asked what she’s excited about the audience seeing when watching “Moana” for the first time. “First, the story, because it’s fantastic. Second, all the details from beginning to end. You’ll want to watch it four times to see everything.”

“Moana” comes to theaters on Nov. 23.